I’m going to get right to it: sexism in any form helps all of its forms to thrive.
I didn’t quite get it when I was younger but now I see the connectedness between all the parts of the gender inequality jigsaw. It’s another of those things that once seen, can’t be unseen. I understand now that stoning a woman for driving a car in one country is validated by unequal pay in another. It’s not a tenuous link, it’s just a simple fact – either women are worth the same as men, universally, or they are not.
We tell lucky, privileged children in the Western world in a myriad of nuanced and overt ways that girls are less strong than boys, that emotions and words are women’s work while men are out having adventures. In so doing, we diminish the power at the front of the cart of equal rights that is trying to pull the heavy load on the trailer. We glide on the zeitgeist for feminism for the bits that suit us – Kim Kardashian’s ass as an iconic triumph of powerful femininity rather than trashy, objectifying, soft porn. Being pleased that the UK gender pay gap is shutting in full time roles but not focusing on how women in part time roles are still paid almost 50% less than men (and that it’s THESE roles that are most accessible to many women).
We are still pinking and blueing bedrooms and babygros during pregnancies so we can give kids a sense from the get-go, from before they even speak, of which aisle in Toys R Us to be drawn to.
Parents and grandparents ask two year old girls if they like the lady’s nail polish on the magazine cover while pointing out playset train tracks in waiting rooms to two year old boys. Then, when the kiddos land in their gender conditioned situations, one with a dolly, the other with a doctor’s set, we hear it had nothing to do with how they were brought up, women are just better nurturers and men are better workers, investigators and heroes. Parents, educators and carers still stand in playgrounds and tell each other that boys are more violent and competitive than girls. Then the conversation naturally travels very quickly to how girls are bitchier than boys and, the cherry on top, how those girls are hideously unsupportive of one another. These kids are then signed up to reinforcing clubs and tribes and further sectioned off, muted and marginalised, in primary school, by parents and teachers. So we can say that’s just how they are and always have been. Marvellous.
We unhitch horsepower constantly from the front of the good carriage Equality and wonder why we have not been able to pull up FGM, rape and the selling of 8 year old brides to 50 year old men at the rear.
Wouldn’t it be more realistic to just look at humans and expect more of everyone rather than to get comfortable leaning back into prejudiced ideas of limitations and natural ordering?
I zoom out and look at the whole, taking in incredibly strong women occasionally earning a fortune and wonderful stay at home Dads who can sense a toddler’s high temperature at 50 paces. Women in other countries being told it’s their fault if they are raped. Their brothers, trained from childhood to be aggressive and violent and to take what they need from females and call that success and nature. I keep coming back to the same thing. In the vast majority of cases, we see and reinforce what we want to see in our society and in our children’s and our own gender. Zoom back in; we create an enormous contribution to kid’s personalities based on our expectations. Beliefs can often masquerade as truths, if enough people perpetuate them. We create a future depending on what data we input in the present.
For the sake of women and men we have to start hacking away at that colossal tree trunk of sexism that’s standing to greater or lesser degrees in every culture. It’s blocking the light and using up resources in rooms that could really stand to have less shadow and more opportunity. We each need to pick up some kind of tool and basically just get busy with making positive the process of hacking away daftness, nastiness and ill conceived borders of capability.
When my kids were little I sat on too many picnic blankets listening to too many other women telling themselves and their kids that boys are rough and girls are delicate. I sat there, as a woman who can be both rough and delicate and got lost in a fog of over attentive listening and under confidence in my right to disagree strongly. These women were better educated than me and had the speakers up louder on their opinions. These women were older than me and had breastfed longer than my paltry 4 day attempts. These women had children who ate bits of pepper for snacks while mine asked for biscuits. I was outnumbered. Perhaps more importantly, I was outclassed. That knowledge turned my volume down because that’s what another tree trunk in society has long advised we should do. I picked at daisies and guessed it must really be me who was wrong. Then I looked at my daughter (up a tree and laughing) and wondered how no-one else had noticed her.
It’s 2015 now and occasionally I hear a parenting voice in the crowd, stretching over to my own, saying that girls are not all skinny-obsessed bitches and boys are not all thugs to be somehow carved into their own innate intellectual brilliance. Sadly, these voices of sanity are still quite rare. When I hear them though… oh wow…. they’re all that’s good and wonderful. Sometimes, rarely, it’ll happen four times in a week. These words are lights in the dark. Not so long ago, it used to be years between hearing them from anyone at all unless I scoured Gloria Steinem quotes.
As a mark of respect to yesterday as International Women’s Day 2015, I’m making a commitment. I’m going to make sure I am more consistently one of those rare voices that calls out gender stereotyping for the outdated, self sabotaging nonsense that it is. I’m going to make myself ridiculous, in some people’s eyes, by stating regularly that there’s more that makes men and women the same than that which makes them different. I’m going to speak up in a way I couldn’t quite manage to over a decade ago on those picnic blankets because I’m long since over my tendency to feel inferior to people because they’ve had better opportunities, postcodes and luck. I’m going to point out my daughter, up the tree. I’m going to say that Men are not from Mars and women are not from Venus; that the difference is ultimately just a vagina and a penis. I’m going to stop helping sexism to thrive. Simple as that.