Warning: this is a rant about gender equality. It is long and I do use cuss words. Also spoilers.
My mother is a fiercely independent woman. She taught me to never become dependent on someone else, always pay my debts, and to be a strong, opinionated young woman. It did not occur to me that there should be any reason why I could not do, and be, all of those things.
I remember that when she was studying towards her translation degree, she became fascinated with etymology. The masculine roots of words such as “mankind” infuriated her: Why do we still use the word “mankind,” which ignores the female portion of the population, when “humanity” is gender neutral? Why did I pick a clipart graphic of a man for my elementary school paper, and not a woman? For the record, I didn’t think it was a big deal and there wasn’t one of a woman.
I didn’t think any of it was a big deal. The only gender differences I was aware of were those which existed between my brothers and I. Specifically, that I always got my own bedroom because I was the only girl and…actually, I think that might be it. I also didn’t grow up ever feeling intimated by, or scared of, men. I was given all the standard warnings a young girl typically gets – don’t go out alone at night, never leave your drink unattended, don’t get in to a stranger’s car – but overall I was very comfortable around men, both large groups and small, without ever feeling unsafe. Maybe it’s because I had brothers, maybe it’s because I was naive…who can say?
I was aware there used to be significant disparities between genders, but that was THEN and this was NOW and the women’s movement was amazing but it was over because we didn’t need it any more because everyone was equal now.
I honestly believed that we, as a first world North American society, had progressed beyond systemic sexism. Because how could we not? I honestly believed that if I refused to accept certain realities, they would not be real, or true, or happening. Sure, there would always be differences between genders, but these were surely only physiological and bore no weight on our societal status, perceived ability, or treatment. I thought that modern feminism consisted primarily of overreactions to inconsequential things, like whether we use the word ‘mankind’ or ‘humanity’ in a sentence.
I thought we were better, and I lived in my beautiful little bubble where we were better, and I simply ignored all evidence to the contrary. I also rejected anyone who did not share my views on egalitarianism. They were, quite simply, banned from my bubble.
Then I grew up, and ignoring reality doesn’t seem to be working any more. I see it everywhere, and it infuriates, and deeply saddens me. I’ll be honest, people, I’m having a hard time with it. One of the most difficult things is seeing people close to me, who I love, holding sexist, misogynist views, and my not being able to change them, yet still loving them anyway.
Equally difficult is constantly questioning the validity of my perceptions – am I overreacting? Is this really happening, or is there another explanation? Maybe they didn’t mean it that way. Maybe there’s more to it that I don’t know. Maybe this is an isolated case. Maybe their data is flawed, or maybe their research methodology is not sound. Do they control for education? Maybe they’re not aware of it. Maybe I’m sending the wrong signals. Maybe this is my fault. Maybe I’m not trying hard enough. Maybe I’m trying too hard. Maybe I should be carrying pepper spray.
But then, fuck the pepper spray, right? Why should I be responsible for the actions of someone else? Why is prevention put squarely on my shoulders? When in the hell did society decide that women are the gatekeepers of sexuality and men are sex-crazed automatons who can’t help themselves? It is immensely offensive to both sexes!
But I do need that pepper spray. I need it and so much more. But what I want is to not need it at all. In my bubble, I don’t need it at all.
I’m doing little things to try to achieve better equality in my own life and to reject stereotypes and perceptions that are bat-shit crazy. For example, it is insane that I should be embarrassed or ashamed of my period and the effects it has on my body. It is natural and normal and a byproduct of the ability for our species to reproduce. So I don’t care if you see my tampon, or if you know I have cramps, because THOSE THINGS ARE NORMAL. Periods are hard enough without having to try to pretend they aren’t happening.
I’ve also decided that I am going to try (operative word being try) to not care what I look like in pictures any more. What I look like is what I look like, any other discussion on the topic, other than maybe “do I look happy?” is completely irrelevant.
I’m also working on knowing my worth, and taking ownership and acknowledgement of my accomplishments, instead of diminishing them, or deferring the compliment/praise/kudos/credit to the ‘team’ instead of to myself (when I earned it, of course. Sometimes the team is legitimately amazing and needs to be recognized for their efforts too).
Listen, I’m not claiming to be the next UN Ambassador for Women’s Rights or anything (shout out the Emma Watson), but my bubble has been popped and I can’t put it together again, so now I’m trying to deal with the aftermath.
I am not blaming men for this. I think we have a systemic problem which is propagated by constructs which are so thoroughly engrained that they have survived all movements for equality to date. I think we are all to blame – everyone. I think that men also have to deal with stereotyping and discrimination and we don’t hear about it as much because their issues are perceived as “less than” when compared to those faced by women and minorities. I think that is short-sighted, but I think that’s what is happening. I think that our binary understanding of gender is also problematic.
Full disclosure, I watched The Hunting Ground last night. Obviously, it struck a nerve. Between that and the recent verdict in the Jian Gomeshi trial, I am feeling less-than-confident in our institutions and government. I’m feeling pretty in favour of vigilante justice right now.
I recently found out that there is a game on steam that randomly assigns character gender, resulting in some male players having to play as female characters. And those male players are losing. their. shit. Which is actually hilarious because all the female gamers in the world give zero fucks because WELCOME TO OUR WORLD, BITCHES, HOW DO YOU LIKE THEM APPLES? Also women are badass so I don’t know what you’re whining about.
Feeling incredibly disappointed in society last night, I picked up Second Foundation to take my mind off of reality before falling asleep. Isn’t it just my luck, then, that I happened to be at the part of the book where Asimov introduces us to a new character – a 14-year old girl who is cautioned by her father to not appear too old because it might make it harder for her to find a suitor when she’s 25. I nearly threw my book across the room.
For a society set in a fictional futuristic world, Asimov seems to have failed to account for the enlightenment of gender equality in his books. His female characters are surprisingly one dimensional, and even considering the historiographical context of the period in which the books were written, Asimov fails here. How can a society evolve in every other way except equality the sexes?
But Catherine, it’s a woman who stops the Mule from first discovering the location of the Second Foundation! Yes. True. But she only does that by making the Mule care for her after being motherly towards him for months. She is not strong for defeating him; he is weak for caring about her. See the difference?
But maybe I’m overreacting, maybe it’s not really there. Maybe I am reading too much in to it. Maybe I’m not being fair to the historiographical context of the books. Maybe Asimov fixes all of this in the second half of Second Foundation (I’m only halfway through). Maybe everything is fine and as it should be.
I miss my bubble.