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Monday, October 29, 2012

Who's afraid of feminism?

It all started with Backlash, by Susan Faludi, a book I read at the ripe old age of 16. It was followed by a series of de Beauvoir's. That was it. I had turned into a feminist.

Or, should I say, I had now discovered I was a feminist. Because, after all, despite all the bad press, being a feminist only means one wants the same rights for men and women.

I was recently reading that anyone who claims not to be a feminist should have to explain why s/he does not believe in equality between men and women. That's what feminism stands for, whether we like it or not.

During my college years, although surrounded by educated, intelligent people who seemed to have a healthy dose of critical thinking, I was confronted to a variety of individuals who claimed that feminism was not needed anymore. At this point in time, they would argue, we have achieved equality. Why still bother with feminism?

I would have loved to take each of these people to my "gender theory" classes. They would have had a blast. I would have loved to shoot at them all the facts and numbers on women's poverty, gender pay gap, spousal abuse, household chores share, glass ceiling, under-representation of women in science and leadership positions (and over-representation of women's skin), etc.

But anti-feminists seem to have one common characteristic that makes it very hard to discuss with them: they are blind. Moreover, they tend to be hard of hearing. Finally, they have a quasi-pathological reticence to reading anything that might suggest they are wrong about the whole gender equality thing. They so want to believe we're done with that topic, it's not even funny.

I know where they are coming from: yes, there has been huge improvement in the past decades. But improvement does not mean good enough, and let's not forget how recent the changes are, from a historical perspective. In the grand scheme of things, we could revert to where we were around the time my grand-mothers were born (they are both still alive to tell you about it if you wish), and it wouldn't even be surprising or unusual. Rights are gained and rights are lost everyday in this world. Just look at gay marriage. So let's not take anything for granted. Vigilance is key. Especially with the rise of fundamentalism we are witnessing these days. This is a small planet. Smaller than we think.

It might feel good to convince ourselves that all is for the best in the best of all possible worlds... but it doesn't magically make our world fair. Feminism is one of numerous examples that inequality remains pervasive; it only so happens that I'm focusing on this one today.

On this kind of sensitive topic, and because of what I have just said, discussions often turn out to be frustrating for both parties. For the sake of some friendships, in some instances I have decided to simply let it go (the topic! not the friendship!)

I have also decided, for the sake of my own peacefulness, that I needed regular breaks from reading, writing and talking about feminism. It is stressful to focus on the dark side of things. As a consequence, feminist issues are not on my mind half as much as they were during my teens and early twenties. I do, however, still notice blatant stereotypes and double standards when I see them. Only this past few weeks, here's what I have inadvertently stumbled upon:

Gender expectations in children

First, a reminder that toys are almost always designed with one specific gender in mind, in a very mutually exclusive way. Even our good old Lego's fall victim to this phenomenon. If you care about the ideas you put in your children's mind when you offer them toys, educational as they might be, please do take a look at the two following videos, and learn what happens when a building catches on fire in Heartlake City, or when someone in Lego City gets hungry.

Well documented. Smart. Undisputable. Priceless.

Nothing wrong, you think? What kind of messages are our children getting? And you think they know better? That it will have no effect on the adult they become? Really?

If you need another example of gender expectations and pressure to conform to stereotypes, take a look at the Cookie Monster costume currently offered for toddler boys and girls. I'm not even gonna ruin your fun by telling you what's wrong with those costumes. You tell me.


Gender expectations in adults

Everybody's entitled their pain and anger when it comes to dysfunctional love relationships or ones that end. But there is a line between experiencing your anger and imposing it on the other person. When I first saw this video (see below), I was appalled at the body language it contained. Pay good attention to how he moves around her. Would you be overly surprised if, in the midst of it, he suddenly hit her? I find it rather disturbing. This is what our kids are watching (and learning from, whether we like it or not).

Finally, as seen on the big screens at the gym: the Indian F1 Grand Prix.

What's wrong with F1, you'll ask. (What's wrong other than it being such a polluting "sport", I imagine is your question.) Did you see the "women in red"? With the roh-so-very-short-skirt? At the race there were dozens of clones of her all over the place. Were they part of the mechanics team? No. Were they photographers, journalists, security guards? Neither. Were they serving refreshments, then? Nope. What they were "doing" was standing there, being pretty, everywhere the winners  went. Lined up in groups of three or more, depending on the location. They were, let's not be afraid of words, mere decorations. They enlivened the decor.

I'm sorry, I did not hear you well... the concept of  "woman as a sex object" doesn't exist anymore? No? Ah. Thank you for reassuring me.

For more on this fascinating topic, please pay a visit to this website.

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