The Blame Game — We Need to Stop Blaming Women for Gender Inequality

One of the more slippery tricks that the patriarchy employs to uphold itself is to further the illusion that gender inequality is really the fault of women themselves, and a natural and inevitable state of affairs. If the gender pay gap exists, it is argued, it is because women lack the ability to negotiate salaries; if the duties of childcare fall predominantly to women, it is said to be because women choose to stay at home; if women are underrepresented in government, it is the female disinterest in politics that takes the blame; if women are attacked by men, it is once again presented as somehow the woman’s fault. This blaming of women is a handy excuse to avert one’s gaze from the problems of gender inequality; if it can be framed as something that is caused by the very people who are its victims, then it can be more easily dismissed and ignored, and members of the dominant group are spared feelings of guilt or responsibility.

Of course, blaming women for everything, or putting inequality down to women’s individual choices, obscures the very real discrimination that women face on a day-to-day basis, and conceals the societal pressures behind the choices that women make. Let’s explore three myths that seek to blame women for gender inequality, and see why they should never be allowed to go unchallenged.

 

Myth 1: Women are generally less successful in their careers than men are because they don’t negotiate for their salary, and are not assertive enough.

From jesadaphorn, freedigitalphotos.net

From jesadaphorn, freedigitalphotos.net

This myth is an absolute favourite of the business world, and is the foundation of countless ‘inspirational’ books for women such as Sheryl Sandberg’s “Lean In”, Gail Evans’ “Play Like a Man, Win Like a Woman: What Men Know About Success that Women Need to Learn”, Lois Frankel’s “Nice Girls Don’t Get the Corner Office – 101 Unconscious Mistakes Women Make That Sabotage Their Careers”, among many others. The recurring theme is that women are currently going about their careers all wrong, and while there is usually a cursory nod to the existence of sexism, the gist of the message is that it is women’s behaviour that needs to change, and if only we could act more like men, gender inequality in the workplace would slowly disappear.

What makes this idea so popular is that there are indeed documented differences between the way women and men behave at work. For instance, in a study by Babcock, it was found that while 57% of men attempt to negotiate their salaries, only 7% of women do. And when it comes to communication in the workplace, Deborah Tannen has found that women tend to be more apologetic, gentle, and indirect. Such discoveries have been pounced on eagerly as evidence of women’s cluelessness in the workplace, as evidence of institutional sexism being merely a small factor in comparison to the enormity of women’s mistakes.

Certainly, women behave differently from men in the workplace. But is this difference in behaviour really a mistake on the part of women, or is it simply a way of adapting to the difference in the way women are treated and responded to at work? Study after study has shown that while men are rated favourably for behaving in an assertive, even aggressive manner, women acting in the same way are disapproved of and punished, be it through social sanctions like isolation and name-calling, or by being rejected for promotions and denied career opportunities. The same is true when it comes to negotiating salaries. Most women choose not to negotiate for a very good reason — they believe, rightly, that any attempt to negotiate will reflect badly on them, something that would not occur to the same degree if they were male. As researcher Hannah Bowles says, “This isn’t about fixing the women. It isn’t about telling women, “You need self-confidence or training.” They are responding to incentives within the social environment… You have to weigh that against social risks of negotiating. What we show is those risks are higher for women than for men.”

Another aspect of this myth that I find irksome is the assumption that the current dynamics of the workplace are immutable, even desirable. There is no link between confidence and competence, and if there is one, research suggests it is an inverse relationship, meaning that it may be the most incompetent individuals who seem the most confident (look up the Dunning-Kruger effect). Quieter qualities like cooperativeness and empathy are essential to good leaders, yet are sadly too often overlooked, or scorned as ‘feminine traits’. In a society where a culture of aggression, over-confidence and reckless risk-taking led to the financial crash, are these really the behaviours that we want to continue to promote?

 

Myth 2: Women take on more housework and childcare responsibilities because they choose not to work outside the home.

from freedigitalphotos.net

From tiverylucky, freedigitalphotos.net

This myth is annoyingly persistent, and it’s not hard to see why. To some, there is a pleasing symmetry and fairness in the idea of women and men occupying different spheres of work — she in the home, and he in the workplace, happily toiling away at their respective tasks. Yet, not only does this completely erase same-sex couples and non-traditional living arrangements, the idea that women shoulder the brunt of domestic responsibilities within the family in exchange for men working outside the home is completely inaccurate.

While women have been making greater gains in the workplace, with more than 40% of women now taking on the role of primary breadwinners, the division of labour when it comes to domestic chores has not shifted. Women working full-time do more than three times as much housework as men working full-time; even more appallingly, in households where the female partner is the primary breadwinner and the male partner does not work, domestic chores still fall to the woman. Women do not do the bulk of the housework because they spend less time in paid employment, they simply do the bulk of the housework, full stop.

The second part of this myth is the concept of a woman’s ‘choice’ to stay at home, combined with a man’s ‘choice’ to seek paid employment. Let’s take a look at some of the factors that might lead to this choice, starting with maternity and paternity leave. In the UK, women can generally take up to 52 weeks of maternity leave, while paternity leave is only 2 weeks long (though this may hopefully be changed next year). When a heterosexual couple expecting a baby discusses future working arrangements, what makes economic sense? For the mother to stay home with the baby of course. And when one partner has to stay home permanently or work part-time, who will it be? Given that the mother has already spent close to a year caring for the child and is thus a lot more comfortable with the routine of childcare, added to this the fact that the female partner is likely to be earning less than the male partner, owing not only to the gender wage gap but men’s socialised reluctance to be the lower earner in the relationship, plus societal expectations of what a good mother should do, and society’s mocking of men who decide to stay home… given all this and more, it is hardly a surprise that most households fit neatly into the pattern of the man being the primary breadwinner, and the woman taking full responsibility for the domestic sphere. Can this really be said to be women’s free choice at all?

 

Myth 3: Women’s clothing and behaviour lead to sexual assault.

And now we come to the most painful myth of all. On average, 404 000 women are victims of sexual offences every year in the UK, compared to 72 000 men, and 98% of perpetrators are men, making this a crime that is heavily gendered. However, society seems to think that it is women who are to blame for this state of affairs, and up to us to prevent sexual assault. Even as a child, my friends and I were familiar with all the rules we had to live by, and these messages were drummed into us again and again — wearing short skirts leads to sexual assault; drinking leads to sexual assault; going out alone at night leads to sexual assault; taking lifts from strangers leads to sexual assault; flirting or ‘sending mixed messages’ leads to sexual assault; having many sexual partners leads to sexual assault. We were told, in subtle (and often not-so-subtle) ways, that if we were to do any of the things above, we were “asking for it”, and were being stupid, and had no one to blame but ourselves, for “what did we expect, really”?

Except it isn’t women who are causing rape and sexual assault. Women have been assaulted while wearing anything, from dresses, to jeans, to hoodies, to burqas. Women have been assaulted when drunk or sober. And women have been assaulted anywhere, be it a deserted alley, or the bedroom of a trusted friend, or at a crowded party. And there is nothing women can do to prevent these assaults, for they are not our fault. We do not cause them, and so we cannot stop them.

 

*******

These three myths are only a small selection of the myriad ways in which women are blamed for manifestations of gender inequality, and for gender inequality itself. From a young age, boys are taught to exert control over their world, through building, inventing, fighting, and being aggressive. Girls, on the other hand, are taught to internalise this control, to master not our surroundings but ourselves, through dieting, cosmetics, fashion, and being agreeable. Too often, then, women are told to change ourselves, and that if we do not succeed in this society, then it is we who must readjust, and not social structures and societal attitudes that are flawed. This habit of blaming women has gone on far too long, and it is only once we shift our focus from women’s ‘mistakes’ to analysing and overhauling unequal power structures in society, that any real progress can be made.

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The Pampering Trap

An extremely pervasive idea exists in society— that women are to be pampered, especially by the men in their lives. Everywhere you look, adverts for flowers, chocolates and jewellery encourage men to ‘pamper her’, ‘spoil her’, ‘indulge her’, and even on International Women’s Day yesterday, which originated in 1909 to promote gender equality, my Facebook feed was full of friends and acquaintances talking about what they, or someone else had done for IWD, which usually boiled down to (you guessed it) giving/receiving flowers, chocolates or cards, stripping the day of all political meaning.

spoilhervalentines

From Pajamagrams

Indulge-Her-1

From indulge-her.com

pamperinginajar

But what exactly is wrong with pampering? Isn’t it simply showing your loved one how much you love them? Well, yes and no. First, let’s look at the definition of ‘pampering’ so we know exactly what we’re dealing with.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines ‘pamper’ as follows:
a. to treat with extreme or excessive care and attention
b. to gratify, humour.

And here are the synonyms—cocker, coddle, cosset, dandle, indulge, mollycoddle, nurse, baby, spoil, wet-nurse.

Finally, who are most often the objects of pampering? Babies… children… puppies… and women, of course.

Indeed, there is nothing wrong with the act of pampering or being pampered per se. But when it is tied up inextricably in the arena of gender roles within a romantic relationship, then we have a problem. You see, despite advertisers’ overwhelming efforts to convince women otherwise, being locked into the role of the pampered is markedly disempowering. It presupposes a fragility and helplessness on our part, and our happiness depends, not on our own actions, but on what is done to us. In short, we are once again the object, not the subject, and heterosexual relationships are sold to us as ‘Man and his cherished possession’. The word ‘humour’ in the definition is also telling of the power imbalance inherent in the act. All throughout history, women have been expected to obey and follow their husbands’ desires, and men encouraged to ‘humour’ their wives’ supposedly unreasonable but adorable whims.

Sadly, whenever women rebel against the perception that they need to be treated like precious gems or delicate glass, and proclaim themselves to be independent of men, that too is treated as a caprice, declared by a woman who doesn’t quite know her own mind. The sentiment is neatly summed up in this comic I found bobbing around Facebook:

pamper

By Tatsuya Ishida

Haha, get it? Women don’t really want to be strong and independent, we just say we do! We do want a man to just take care of us, but we won’t admit it! Hahaha! Haha!

Ugh.

Two points need to be made, I think.

Firstly, yes, many straight women today do seem to desire being looked after and ‘spoilt’ by their man. And many women do enjoy the feeling of being kept and provided for, even in a submissive capacity. But does that mean that women have a natural and biological desire for this? Or could all the messages she’s heard in her life, both subtle and explicit, telling her that a man shows his love by showering her with gifts, by giving her flowers, by being overly protective of her—in short, by treating her ‘like a porcelain doll’—have anything to do with it? I believe that it isn’t the pampering itself that women desire, but what it means. And what it means, we are told, is that he loves her.

Secondly, the sentiment portrayed by the comic above is often thrown in women’s (especially feminists’) faces. So you want to be independent? Great, I’ll slam the door in your face then! I’d help you with those heavy bags, but aren’t you a strong, independent woman? Not feeling well? Don’t expect my sympathy, I thought you were an independent woman!

It’s ridiculous that this even needs to be said, but when feminists object to women being placed on a pedestal and treated like we’re weak and ineffectual, it doesn’t mean that we want to be treated badly. We still expect you to be a decent human being. And being a feminist doesn’t mean we think women are, or should be, invincible. It doesn’t mean we shouldn’t need help or care when we’re ill. It just means that we’re human, no more and no less than that.

So please, let’s all love and respect each other like fully-grown human beings, and stop the damaging narrative surrounding relationships between women and men.

Shame in the Patriarchy

Shame can arguably be said to be one of the worst emotions out there. Emotions like fear, grief and jealousy are strong contenders, and yet these feelings, strong as they are, don’t quite work in the same way that shame does. Dr Mary C. Lamia, a clinical psychologist, positions shame as unique in that it “lead[s] you to feel as if your whole self is flawed”, eating away at your sense of self-worth until you can no longer bear to face public scrutiny, or indeed, yourself.

Beautiful without makeup

Given the deep-reaching effects of shame, it is not surprising, then, that it makes a remarkably effective tool for maintaining the patriarchal order. Women are shamed for a whole host of reasons— for being fat, being ugly, being hairy, being an airhead, being sexually promiscuous, being sexually conservative—the list goes on. Men are shamed when they behave too much like women—when they show emotional sensitivity, when they dress like women, or enjoy traditionally feminine activities, or when they (horror of horrors) allow themselves to be subservient to a woman. The result is a preservation of the status quo, where men act in dominant, assertive, stoic ways, and women walk the fine line of adhering to decorative ideals, but careful not to take it so far that they are labelled ‘sluts’.

It all seems pretty straightforward when laid out this way, but the waters are muddied by the invisibility of these forces. Indeed, it would make things far less complicated if we could identify a group who had nefariously and deliberately devised these rules for the purposes outlined above. When a man laughs at another for being “pussywhipped”, he (usually) isn’t consciously thinking, “My friend doesn’t have power over his girlfriend. This is a threat to the position of men and women in society! What should I do? I know- I’ll mock him and make him feel humiliated. Everyone must know that this is an unacceptable position for a man to be in!” Likewise, when a woman talks about how fat another woman is, she isn’t trying to make a statement about the female obligation to always maintain our sexual attractiveness. No—they’re doing it because this is what they’ve always known, because they’ve never lived in a society that gave them an alternative lens through which to view men and women. And from a societal point of view, it doesn’t matter that their statement was merely a throwaway remark; the effects are the same as if we’d all pulled together and orchestrated it.

Next time we hear a friend engage in a bout of casual shaming, let’s make sure they have a little think about what they’re really saying. Let’s ask them why they feel that a woman’s worth is bound up with her sexual activity. And why they gave their male friend a high-five for sleeping with loads of women. Let’s ask them why Hillary Clinton’s appearance is relevant to her role in politics. And if they continue to think it appropriate to criticize politicians for completely random and irrelevant traits, ask them why they never thought to judge Obama’s competence based on his pottery skills. Ask why no newspaper has ever run a feature on how ugly David Cameron is. Finally, let’s ask them why they’re telling their sons that ‘being a gi-rl’ is the worst thing he can be. And what message that sends to their daughters.

Then let us reserve shame for activities that actually deserve it. Let violence, rape, and the exploitation of women be shameful. Let the horrors of war and mass murder be a source of shame, not glory. Let the next generation of children grow up knowing that shame will never touch them for abandoning gender roles, and give them a world defined by love and harmony, and not by domination and power.

International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women – What Will You Do Today?


Today, the 25th of November, is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, ratified by the United Nations General Assembly in 1999.

Here are some sobering facts, taken from the United Nations site:

  • Up to 70 percent of women worldwide experience violence in their lifetime.
  • According to World Bank stats, women aged 15-44 are more at risk from rape and domestic violence than from cancer, car accidents, war and malaria.
  • In Australia, Canada, Israel, South Africa and the United States, 40 to 70 percent of female murder victims were killed by their partners.
  • In the Democratic Republic of Congo, an average of 36 women and girls are raped every day.
  • Between 500 000 to 2 million people are trafficked annually. 80% of them are women and girls.
  • More than 130 million girls and women alive today have undergone female genital mutilation, and 2 million girls a year continue to be at risk.

And lest we fall for the illusion that this is merely a problem in the developing world, here are a few stats that are a little closer to home:

In the UK, 1 in 4 women will be a victim of domestic violence in her lifetime, and an average of 2 women a week are killed by a current or former male partner.

In the US, approximately 1 in 5 female high school students reports being physically or sexually abused by a dating partner. 74% of Americans personally know someone who is or has been a victim of domestic violence.

Even Sweden, one of the most gender-equal countries in the world, has a problem with gender-based violence. An Amnesty report in 2005 highlighted how incidents of domestic violence against women were climbing, and the country was urged to take steps to curb it.

This is a global problem, and it has to end. Whether it’s ritualized violence like female genital mutilation and honour killings, organized violence like trafficking, or interpersonal acts of rape and assault, it all stems from the same notion – that women are not so much human as objects, to be bought and sold, to be brought under control, to serve, to please, and to be disciplined when we step out of line.

Collectively, we have spawned these norms, and collectively, we can change them. But we must do more than simply not be violent ourselves. We need to question and change the underlying attitudes towards women, question and change the link between violence and the assertion of masculinity. For the men reading this, you might be interested in The White Ribbon Campaign, which brings good men together to call attention to these issues, and to help the next generation of boys and men learn that violence is never the answer.

Too often, people don’t realize just how much power they have. Do something today to help raise awareness of the plight of women throughout the world, and make your voice heard. You may already be in the ranks of the brave women and men who work against violence everyday, but even if you aren’t, simple things matter– write on your Facebook wall, start a discussion with a friend, drop a letter to your MP, tweet about it– you’ll be surprised at the impact it can have.

International Day of the Girl

The 11th of October is International Day of the Girl. Today, we raise our voices in support of girls worldwide, and pledge to double our efforts to invest in their future. Not only will today go down in history as being the first ever Day of the Girl, it is also made especially poignant by the case of Malala Yousafzai, who lies unconscious in hospital, having been shot in the head by the Taliban for speaking out about the importance of girls’ education.

Reading about the tragedy two days ago, I kept thinking of a picture I had seen a while ago, and I decided to look for it again:

 

And that’s what the Taliban’s actions have revealed in the end – fear. Because Malala is not just any 14-year-old girl. By publicly condemning the actions of the Taliban and advocating for the education of girls, she represents an idea, a spark towards real social change. And by making an attempt on her life, the Taliban have revealed that they, too, know just how powerful she is.

On this day, then, let her be an inspiration to us all, and while she is silent, let us be her voice, and multiply her message a million times over. Let us express outrage at how 140 million girls and women have undergone female genital mutilation. How every year, about 10 million girls are married before the age of 18. How women in South Africa are more likely to be raped than to learn to read. How at least one out of every three women worldwide has been abused in her lifetime by someone known to her.

But outrage is not enough. We need to join the fight alongside women and girls everywhere, and there is no better weapon against all this than the education of girls. Please watch this incredibly moving video from It Only Takes a Girl:

 

To take action for girls, please visit the links below:

Because I am a Girl – Plan UK

The Girl Effect

Campaign for Girls

UNICEF – Girls’ Education Campaigns

Girl Up

The Working Group on Girls

The Elders

Most importantly, let’s not let the cause be confined to one day in a year. Every day and every girl matters in the struggle for full gender equality.

The Clothes That Bind

Walking through the slushy snow of London yesterday, I was struck by the number of couples I saw, in which the woman was walking nervously, carefully along, holding on to her male partner for support.

Now having a feminist turn of mind, I found myself wondering why this was the case. Are women inherently less skilled at moving on ice? The female-dominated sport of figure skating seems to show that this is not the case. Perhaps, then, the couples were conforming to standard ideals of masculinity and femininity, with the woman exaggerating her role as the helpless damsel in distress, and the man acting the part of her gallant protector? While I’m sure this dynamic does indeed play out in many relationships, and is worth a whole blog post in itself, the answer in this case was breathtakingly simple. All I had to do was look downwards.

The shoes were the culprit. While the men were, for the most part, wearing boots or trainers, the women’s shoes varied widely. I spotted the inevitable high heels, ballet flats, boots with spindly heels, and furry “winter boots”, which look pretty and wintery but absorb water like a sponge. What all these shoes had in common was that they were blatantly unsuitable for walking in snow. So why were women wearing them?

I’m not for a second ridiculing these women for their choice of footwear. I too, have been (for many years) blind to the absurdity of inappropriate shoes, and have suffered for it. I’ve put on 4-inch heels for a night out dancing, even when I knew that I would regret it by the end of the night. On those occasions I would then proceed to experience the awful ball-of-the-foot pain that most women are familiar with, meaning that my enjoyment decreased as the night wore on, to the point where forgetting about the pain was an impossibility. It took quite a few of these experiences to finally make me promise myself to make comfort a priority, and I’ve gained a bit of a reputation for choosing to wear trainers to clubs. But that’s the thing – departing from the norm had to be a conscious decision. There are clothing expectations of women, just as there are for men. Women will wear women’s clothes and footwear, and ditto for men. So the question isn’t really ‘why are women choosing to wear these shoes’, but rather- why is the shoe fashion for women the way it is?

Clothes have always played a big part in the oppression of women. In 19th century Britain, impossibly tiny waists were the fashion, and women had to lace themselves into the tightest corsets to achieve that look. In the Chicago Tribune, this practice was denounced:

“THE SLAVES OF FASHION, through Long Centuries Women Have Obeyed Her Whims

It is difficult to imagine a slavery more senseless, cruel or far-reaching in its injurious consequences than that imposed by fashion on civilized womanhood during the last generation. … the tight lacing required by the wasp waist has produced generations of invalids and bequeathed to posterity suffering that will not vanish for many decades. … And in order to look stylish, thousands of women wear dress waist so tight that no free movement of the upper body is possible; indeed in numbers of instances, ladies are compelled to put their bonnets on before attempting the painful ordeal of getting into glove-fitting dress waists.”

Before the 20th century, fashionable women in China were required to have their feet bound, breaking the bones and preventing further growth, forcing them into tiny ‘lotus shoes’, all in order to make them look more dainty and feminine. In “Splendid Slippers; A Thousand Years of an Erotic Tradition” by Beverley Jackson, one of the reasons for its appeal is explained:

“For men, the primary erotic effect was a function of the lotus gait, the tiny steps and swaying walk of a woman whose feet had been bound. Women with such deformed feet avoided placing weight on the front of the foot and tended to walk predominantly on their heels. As a result, women who underwent foot-binding walked in a careful, cautious, and unsteady manner.”

Besides the pain and discomfort that such fashions cause women, it can also lead to needless loss of life. A book by Kat Banyard, The Equality Illusion, cites an example. In 1991, when Bangladesh was hit by a cyclone, 90% of the casualties were women. One of the reasons for this was that women were not allowed to leave the house unaccompanied by a male relative. The other reason was that their clothes made it difficult for them to run or swim to safety.

Nor should we think that repressive clothing rests in the domain of history and the non-Western world. Let’s have a look at some of the clothes that most Western women today have worn at least a few times in their lives:

-skirts so tight that taking large strides is impossible
-dresses so low-cut that one avoids bending over
-high heels that cause pain and limit mobility
-skirts so short we have to cross our legs when we sit, and again refrain from bending over, to avoid accidental exposure

It almost seems as though, while designing women’s fashion, there have been two rules of thumb:

1. Does the item of clothing in question enhance her sexual desirability?
2. Is the item of clothing physically or psychologically restrictive enough to ensure that she doesn’t behave in an overly boisterous fashion, thereby undermining her ‘femininity’?

Even young girls fall victim to it. Placed in pink, frilly, poofy dresses from a young age, how can she be expected to run around, climb trees and play ball the way her brothers do? Parents often croon about how much more active their sons are, compared to their daughters. How can she possibly be as active as they are, when she is hampered by layers and layers of material, coupled with advice to sit ‘like a lady’ (read: don’t move too much) while wearing the dress?

But since we were talking about shoes, let’s get back to that. A post on this blog covers the history and appeal of high heels rather well, and contains the following sentence: “high-heels alter the tilt of the pelvis, resulting in more prominence of the buttocks and displaying of the breasts, creating a “come-hither pose” also described by Rossi as the “pouter pigeon” pose, “with lots of breast and tail balanced precariously on a pair of stilts.” Now that sounds chillingly like the reason for the popularity of foot binding.

Also of note in her post are the health repercussions of wearing heels, with the statistic that (according to the American Academy of Othopaedic Surgeons) women are 9 times more likely to develop a foot problem due to their shoes than men are. In a study from the Journal of Applied Physiology, it is shown that frequent walking in high heels shortens fibres in the calf muscle, which makes the Achilles tendon stiffen instead of flex with each step. Over time, the natural position of the foot changes, and wearing flats to exercise actually increases their risk of injury. I could go on about the damage high heels do to our feet, but simply googling “high heel injury” would give a wealth of information which would be too extensive to fit into this blog. Suffice to say that, while not as drastic in its effects as whalebone corsets or lotus shoes, the practice of wearing high heels to appear attractive falls into the same patterns of physical restrictions, and the altering of women’s bodies for the sake of fashion.

I would love to proclaim, “Let us dump these inane fashions immediately and embrace comfort forevermore!” but unfortunately I know it isn’t so easy. Many of us work in environments where high heels are part of the dress code, and wearing flats may make one appear less professional, less attractive in the eyes of clients. Insisting on wearing comfy shoes everywhere, even to dinner parties and balls, may cause society to label one as an eccentric. But I suppose I’d ask this question. Should an emergency occur, should a fire break out in the building, should a murderer go on a rampage, should a natural disaster strike– do we really want to find ourselves in a dress and high heels?

“But What About Men’s Rights?”

In any discussion about feminism, this question is bound to come up sooner or later.

“Figures for gender proportions in domestic abuse are wrong, because men don’t report rape and abuse.”
“There are hardly any support groups out there for male sufferers. They are disbelieved or ridiculed.”
“Girls have it easy. You can wear dresses or jeans, play with dolls or trucks, but if a boy doesn’t like sports or loves dressing up people call him gay.”
“People think lesbians are hot, but gay men are laughed at.”

And so on. What strikes me though, is that these people always seem to think that these are counter-arguments to feminism. The way they see it, it’s women’s rights on one side, men’s rights on the other. But this simply isn’t the case at all. What they don’t realise is that we are all fighting the same enemy, namely, a society that values men over women, masculinity over femininity.

We see it everywhere. I do a form of boxing called Muay Thai, and over the years, I have had many ‘compliments’ that run along the lines of, “You fight like a man.” Sometimes, I let it go. Men are indeed generally stronger, it is true, so I’ll reluctantly let that pass. More often than not, though, they specify that they aren’t referring to strength, but my attitude when fighting. Why thank you, thank you very much, mister.
For a man, on the other hand, the worst insult he can possibly receive is to be called a woman. In Secondary school, when a male schoolmate was complimented by the teacher on his sewing skills in class, the general reaction was sniggering, and he was extremely embarrassed. Imagine that–embarrassment at having a talent, just because it was seen as a female skill! Men behaving like women is a running joke in popular culture – in “Friends”, the competitive Monica frequently refers to the underachieving Chandler as a girl, and men dressing up as women is always a source of hilarity, and a form of humiliation in certain sexual activities. It is no surprise that it is men who are usually far more homophobic than women. It is my belief that homophobia is mainly the anger that men feel towards other men for sullying male power by acting as a woman might. They mock them, believing them to be undeserving of the male body, the male identity, and that they are shaming themselves and men in general.

Ironically, this sexism towards women has negative consequences for men. Because men have to conform to a narrow definition of manhood (strength, power, dominance over women), to admit that they have been hurt by a woman, that they need help, is to invite ridicule from society. On batteredmen.com, a male victim of abuse tells the story of his failed attempt to get help from the police. The police took one look at him, and told him “to go home and sort her out [him]self.”

So let’s call a ceasefire and recognize that we can solve this problem together. When women are no longer seen as inherently inferior, when both women and men can be good, or bad, gentle, or strong, weak, or fierce, victims or perpetrators, keep house or run the country, only then can we all be free.

PS. To anticipate the question, “So why don’t feminists concern themselves more with addressing the issues that impact men?” my answer is this.

Do a google search of the word ‘man’, and you get 6500 million results. Search for the word woman and you get 1850 million. Add the search results for the word ‘girl’ to that number and you still only get 5860 million, while ‘man’ + ‘boy’ go up to 8660 million. So please forgive us if we want to take centre stage in our own writings. Heaven knows it doesn’t happen often.