And my biggest pet peeves when discussing gender and women’s rights issues from this past year
Happy International Women’s Day! #IWD2016 It is my favourite day of the year because I have an excuse to discuss one of my favourite topics: gender justice and women’s rights. If you have me as a friend on Facebook, or follow me on Twitter, you know that I go out of my way to create spaces for dialogue and debate. I want to continue to embrace disagreement and conflict both because it is uncomfortable, and because it fosters that dialogue.
Every now and then I have a friend (typically a woman) send me a private message asking me about how I deal with the loud, brash, seemingly entitled people (mostly men) who enjoy filling my wall or feed with their opinions about women’s issues. I respond by assuring them that I am ok with these comments, that I see them as dialogue and as an opportunity to learn, to challenge, and to practice communicating complex ideas to people who think differently than I do. It can be annoying, and it often brings me stress and even sometimes keeps me up at night. But it is important to be uncomfortable, to challenge yourself and discuss issues (respectfully) with those who differ from you, otherwise I would be just preaching to the choir.
I would like to tell you about some of my biggest pet peeves that I have discovered in creating these spaces for dialogue, and in the process highlight my favourite posts online from this past year.
Here they are:
1. Why do we still need feminism? Isn’t it 2015? Aren’t you satisfied yet?
No. Here are 15 reasons posted here or another 100 reasons posted here of why I am not even close to being satisfied.
- Canada is falling behind on gender equality, we moved to 23rd in the UN’s world rankings
- Many places (like the USA) still do not have parental leave and Canada has been defunding it for more than 10 years
- Politicians still want to try and control women’s health care and their bodies
- Women make less money than men even with the same job and credentials – in Canada it is more than twice the global average. Even the winning women’s soccer team will get less money than the men’s team
- Twice as many men dominate fields of decision making in every career all over the world
- Implicit perceptions of women who take leadership positions as masculine AND that we expect twice as much from them as men
- Sexual assault and harassment is still widespread even in Canada
- Women’s products in stores cost more even when they are the exact same as men’s products
- Women have been erased from history – look at all of the cool women and their biographies we never heard about in our Grade 10 history class
- Or the books by women about our rights that we never read
But also because men are still discriminated against as care providers and kindergarten teachers, that they still also experience a lot of violence (mostly from other men and authority figures like the police); that men are committing suicide at alarming rates; men are losing the right to be fathers in court and feel isolation in fatherhood and pressure to keep working (instead of taking parental leave). The economic recession hits men hardest because of patriarchal ideas of who good men are and how they should be as providers and protectors.
That is why we still need feminism and International Women’s Day, because patriarchy hurts men and women.
2. Women do not have it that bad here – I mean, it is so much worse in other places
According to several UN experts who are from countries that we would label as ‘one of those other places’ are shocked by the level of discrimination against women in the USA. See here and here quoting them by saying, “While all women are the victims of countless missing rights, women who are poor, belong to Native American, Afro-American and Hispanic ethnic minorities, migrant women, LBTQ women, women with disabilities and older women are disparately vulnerable,” the experts stressed.
3. Men and women are naturally…
Naturally what? Naturally better toilet cleaners, cooks, diaper changers? Really? What is it about our brain and vagina that makes us better at these things? According to this study published at the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences reveals that brains aren’t distinctly “male” or “female.” Scientists from Tel-Aviv University hypothesized that if the brain is truly gendered, MRI scans would reveal consistent structural differences between sexes. Instead, they discovered that brain features vary across a spectrum like a mosaic. The study concludes that brains are not classifiable as male or female, but instead vary by the features of each individual.
Also this interesting video dispels some myths on the nature v. nurture debate about how biology is somehow separate from society. The two actually shape each other and are interdependent. So, if you could prove that there are genetic differences between females and males and that this shapes women and men’s behavior, to suggest that it is deterministic makes little sense.
4. Why do we call it Feminism? We should call it Humanism
If we called it Humanism, then we are reinforcing a different (already established) theory that historically left out women and other minorities (such as men without property). We call the movement feminism because it is still important to acknowledge that equality and empowerment for women is as important as it is for men.
“The reason why it’s called feminism while advocating for gender equality is because females are the gender that are the underprivileged, underserved gender,” Shives says in his video response. “You attain gender equality by advocating for the rights of the underprivileged gender.”
—And also the fact that people will still listen to his video response more so because he is a man talking about feminism
Feminism emerged out of women’s rights movements. Thus it comes from a challenge to the inequality of women. Feminism today exists as an agglomeration of past and present efforts to address forms of inequality facing women. This post provides excellent answers to some more questions.
5. Female celebrities who say they are not a feminist
This song found here would be my response if I was musically or comically inclined.
“Just take a look at the checklist: You like voting? You like driving? You’re a feminist,” Goodman sings as images of women’s suffrage flash on the screen. The video, which includes a nod to Gloria Steinem and the work of second-wave American feminists who fought for reproductive rights. When you say these things you just prove how you probably shouldn’t quit your day job and tackle social issues. You might actually hurt social efforts and justice and do more harm than good. So use your power for good and just leave it to people who have given it a bit more thought, or maybe do some further reading.
6. Feminists believe women should have more rights than men
Yes, in fact we are angry cat ladies, who don’t shave and have horns.
This stereotype has been fabricated for decades, and negative stereotypes about feminists have actually been created, see here which explains a bit about this history of making you think these things that have little bearing in reality. They are based more on the fear of change than anything else.
7. Feminism does not include me
Feminism has been talking about intersectionality for more than 20 years, explained here. People of multiple minority groups face both distinct advantages and disadvantages. Biases based on gender and race do not always simply pile up to create double disadvantages, for instance. Although feminism at one point in time has ignored certain groups and rendered them invisible, feminism has also learned a lot from this. Those who continue to ignore intersectionality are not up to speed with their theory *tsk tsk*.
8. The gender wage gap exists because women do not want to work and take lesser paying jobs
Skeptics of the gender wage gap say it’s misleading to cite the statistic that women overall are paid 78 cents on the dollar compared to men. This does not account for women’s choices, whether it’s working fewer and more flexible hours, or in industries or college majors that happen to pay less. But advocates say this misses the point. It’s true that the 78 cents figure does not account for different industries and education levels. But controlling for those factors still doesn’t erase the gap—women are paid 7 percent less than men a year out of college even controlling for just about every possible difference other than gender.
The gender wage gap is not only bad in the STEM fields, but also in social sciences. This article talks about how bad the problem of sexism is in the social sciences, such as economics.
9. Policing women’s bodies? Don’t be so dramatic!
Here is a list of items of clothing women have been told not to wear in 2015 – from a skirt that was too short, or too long (or skirts in general), from pants that were too tight and hair for being in braids, from flat shoes to high heels. The list goes on and on. Remember all of those times you or your daughter came home for disobeying the school dress code? Now do you believe me?
I always shock my friends and colleagues who live outside of Canada and the USA when I tell them that women cannot breast feed in public where I live. I mean they can, but there are always the dirty looks and side glances, and even sometimes that person who feels so entitled that they tell you it is gross. Women literally have to hide in toilets or cover their child with a blanket in order to breast feed. My friends do not understand because that is what women’s breasts are primarily for (they are not just play things), and also because nipples are so harmless (especially since we see men’s nipples all the time). We wonder why women get so lonely and suffer post-natal depression and make them feel even worse for being bad mothers for suffering depression. Perhaps it is because we cannot go anywhere because breast feeding is actually very demanding. Don’t believe me? Check out this video here.
Objectification of women’s bodies goes so far that even this study says that certain female students get higher grades because of their attractiveness. Wow.
10. We can empower her by…
You cannot empower someone. Empowerment only comes from within. This means that empowerment is by definition someone’s ability to imagine their world differently and be able to act upon it. You cannot just throw money at her and BOOM all of her problems are solved, she is empowered—doesn’t that sound like objectification? And I find it even more worrying when women’s empowerment is used to sell products that reinforce gender differences, and are ultimately disempowering. For example, this Dove commercial that continues to patronize and remind us that we need to think we are beautiful.
11. Feminism is Un-African
Some of the most popular current feminists are African, so really what are you talking about? Here is a list of 18 phenomenal African feminists: from Theo Sowa, Abena Busia, Osai Ojigho, Leymah Gbowee, and of course Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Liberate yourself from mental slavery, please.
12. Men’s Rights Movement (in North America)
This blog post exposes the terrifying types of men who are part of this movement. “No longer a fringe movement constricted to static ideology, MRAs have become a persistent, often violent force online, stooping to rape and death threats when defending their stance.” I recommend reading this post of an interview with one of the leaders and those attending an annual conference. This movement is an injustice to men’s issues and men everywhere. The issue of disproportionate suicide for men, experiences of violence (from other men) lack of access to formal health services, isolation in fatherhood are all symptoms of the same system that also hurts women – patriarchy. One of the most destructive forces in our social construction of masculinity is this notion of having to be the tough guy, the provider who does not feel emotion (until he explodes) or feels so much pressure resorting to violence (even to oneself). This same construction of masculinity is part of the reason that holds men back from accessing services, such as child care and health.
The men’s rights movement recognizes these issues, but places the blame not on social gendered norms, but on feminism. I know, I don’t really get it either. The worst part is when women’s issues come up and are raised, the conversation gets diverted (i.e. #notallmen) making issues to be again all about men. If I was a man, I would be more horrified with the level of misplaced anger that the men’s rights movement has – #notinmyname seems appropriate.
Please share the post, resources and leave comments debating these points. I know the resources are not gold standard or peer reviewed. I know the facts are communicated in definitive and simplistic ways – but this is my attempt at being clear, concise and interesting. I assume you will take issue with something – and I respect that. I look forward to what you have to say.