I’m sick of people making light of the word misogyny. I’m sick of dudes telling me that complaining about sexism isn’t legitimate. All these stupid “oh, misogyny is a meaningless word” comments are a way to rob women of their power to complain about systemic sexism.
This happened with the word feminist. It was made light of and robbed of it’s power. “Bra-burner”, “Feminazi”, you know the deal. It happened with the word sexist “Oh, you’re just being overly PC” “You lot will say anything is sexist.”
And now it’s happening with misogyny.
When you make light of the words women have to express the problems we face from a society that treats as as inferior to men, you contribute to the problem. It’s yet another way of dis-empowering women, and it’s not ok.
Here is the ultimate sexism of the pro-life movement: women must pay for having sex. Women must be able to afford to raise children if they want to have sex.
And it’s not as if the blokes aren’t doing their best. They keep offering us remedial advice to help us come up to scratch, women being their own worst enemies and all. We need to lower the pitch of our irritatingly squeaky voices, dress more attractively but more conservatively, speak up but never interrupt, have good ideas but not different ones, stand up for ourselves while working collaboratively, sell ourselves but not be pushy, have kids but pretend we don’t, defer to men but in an assertive way. Pretend to enjoy golf days, talking about football and unfunny, crude jokes made at our expense. Act like a lady and behave like a bloke. Ask for a pay rise but meekly accept not getting one, and cheerfully accept being hired last and fired first. Never cry, never complain and be a team player while never quite being accepted as part of the team.
Just one little thing worries me: is it possible the blokes in power are having such trouble finding the right chicks for the job because they are looking for a woman who simply doesn’t exist?
My awesome and amazing friend Amanda is doing some work about feminism for her university magazine. She’s asked for submissions addressing “why you call yourself a feminist”.
Here is what I wrote:
I think, fundamentally, I am a feminist because I think people – all people – should be able to choose the life that’s right for them providing they don’t do harm to others. At its core, that is what feminism is about.
That freedom has both personal and societal implications. Personally, people should be able to define their identity however they choose. Too often, junk science is used to support the idea there are intrinsically male and female attributes: say that men are better at following directions, or women are more empathetic. While there are certainly slight variations in the average male or female brain, those variations are far less significant that popular culture and society more broadly would suggest. The wonderful The Truth About Girls and Boys – a great introduction to the world of how pseudo-science is being used to reinforce dangerous stereotypes about gender– demonstrates both how pervasive and how destructive the idea of innate male and female difference is.
The problem with these myths is that, as children, we internalize them as we grow. We are treated differently because of our gender, and so our slight gender differences become significant ones. They are not inherent, but cultural. And often, people argue from anecdote about the inherent differences between men and women, and use their experience as evidence that it must be true. But we can’t know from experience whether what we see is inherent or cultural. We can, however, know from science, and the science is increasingly debunking the myth of inherency.
Which gets me back to my original point: I am a feminist because I believe people should be able to choose the life that’s right for them. Unfortunately, as long as we’re told that “men do this” and “women do that”, we face enormous societal pressures to conform to certain gender norms. Our capacity to choose the right thing for us, for our families and our friends, is made far more difficult by societal norms. And this hurts both men and women.
My feminism also comes from the way I see society. When I look around the world, I see such tremendous diversity in terms of gender identity, race, sexuality, yet, frankly, positions of power are still dominated by white men. Yes, we have a female Prime Minister, but if you look beyond the obvious- look at the overall makeup of federal and state governments, look at the makeup of the boards and executive of ASX200 companies, look at the op-ed page of most newspapers- it is white, straight men who retain a disproportionate amount of power in our society. It’s not to say these people didn’t work hard to get where they are, but rather that those same paths to success and power are more difficult for women.
And every time I talk about this, I get the same response: “Oh, but if you say X shouldn’t have got that job, but a woman should have instead, isn’t that reverse-sexism”. That isn’t what structural sexism – which is the term for this phenomenon – is about. It’s not about saying any one act is sexist. Structural sexism is about averages and broad trends. It’s not about saying, say, Ian Robson shouldn’t be the CEO of the Essendon Football Club, but that, of 18 AFL clubs, the fact that not one has a female CEO demonstrates something about the culture. Structural sexism exists when cultural norms preference men- and men who embrace culturally acceptable understanding of their gender at that.
Our cultural institutions – our education system, our political system, our legal system our economic system– were largely developed by straight white men in a time when their power was rarely questioned. Certainly, incredible people have challenged and changed these institutions, but the legacy remains. For example, even when you control for all possible variables, such as taking time off work to have kids, education, seniority, women still earn on average 8% less than their male colleagues in an identical role. That adds up to hundreds of thousands of dollars over their working lives. It’s just one example, but it’s an important one: our society doesn’t allow women to make the same choices as men without being penalized for their gender.
It is, of course, in the interest of the powerful to protect their power. But as long as these social institutions are skewed towards straight white men, it makes the capacity of women to choose to live the life they want even more difficult. While women certainly can and do become Board Directors and CEOs, it’s significantly more difficult for them than it is for their male colleagues.
So yes, this is why I’m a feminist: because I am first and foremost a human being. Because I believe that all human beings should, wherever possible, be able to live the kinds of lives they want. They should be able to pursue their ambitions and develop their identities and gain their education. They should be able wear the clothes and have the friends and build the family structure they want. I am a feminist because I know society isn’t there yet, because it tells women (and men) they should live their lives in certain ways.
I am a feminist because I believe we can change that.
So I kind of casually mentioned on twitter today that it’s a pretty common occurrence for some men to make comments at me when I’m walking down the street. The response was crazy. Heaps of women shared stories of how often it happens to them, and heaps of men were genuinely surprised it happens at all.
I blogged a little bit about it here.
Now, I’m hoping to get other people telling their stories about being harassed. On Twitter, Tumblr, blogs, wherever. Let’s stop acting like this is normal, and start calling it what it is: unacceptable sexual harassment.