When the invitation was waved in front of my nose, to blog for International Women’s Day (if I hadn’t jumped in
willingly, I am sure Janine Ripper would have twisted my arm or blackmailed me somehow), I was excited but I felt at a loss.
I don’t think gender should be an issue – as in that it is such an accepted part of life that it ceases to be part of what identifies you unless you wish it to be. And so, I wondered, “What am I going to discuss?” especially as I see a lot of issues as being human issues, complicated, yes, by gender inequality and gender-based attitudes and so on, but nevertheless human issues – things that every human irrespective of gender has a stake/interest in solving.
So I did what I usually do at three in the morning: I attempted to crowd source the question. I figured this would also help add a bit of publicity to the event so I asked my FB circle of some 400 plus people (so it’s not that big but still…): “What do you as a woman or as a man, want me to discuss? What do you want me to write about?”
The responses were varied – here are some:
Joanne: “How women can share their stories to inspire others?”
Mandy: “The experience of marriage in general – the feelings and roles in marriage.”
Anupama: “Is all feminist dialogue simply juxtaposition? Redefining feminism.”
Renee: “Write about [women] the world over who need our help.”
Alison: “Who is more liberal/openminded – men or women? And has having a female PM changed Australia?”
Hasini: “How the issue of domestic violence is portrayed in the media and why no one is attempting to change the culture that creates the problem? Does the label ‘women’s issues’ mean that men get the message that it has nothing to do with them even if they are the perpetrators?”
Alma (who had a long list): “Global sex trafficking and sexual slavery, female genital mutilation, the fight for women’s rights in the US, lack of sex education, honour killings…”
And as I read on through the responses I got and I responded to them, I felt I identified several things:
- Women from five different countries responded, all of them with different backgrounds and experiences, their most obvious common links being that they were female and knew me. And they all thought this: “We are still not equal / There is more work to be done / We have a ton of problems relating to women that we need to solve”.
- Most of them work in an industry/have the background that would dictate that they can communicate their ideas efficiently. But they still felt the need to have me discuss issues they thought were important. Which leaves me with the impression (justifiable or otherwise) that we as women seem to be rather time-poor to do anything about issues that we feel strongly about. Is this a trend? Is this part of why so many things we thought would be resolved by now, aren’t?
- No men responded. Now men can be feminists too, there is no reason they cannot support, advocate and fight for women’s rights. But clearly the men in my circle feel they cannot comment on “women’s issues” if they aren’t women. Or that they wouldn’t know what’s worth fighting for if they aren’t women. But you don’t have to be of a particular gender to be able to see that something isn’t quite right and something needs to be done. If you don’t know and you support equality, then you just grab the nearest woman and ask: “What do you think needs to be done?” Or you get out there and look at what’s happening.
- That there is not one, not two, not a few but a lot of issues that need to be resolved, sorted out or fixed. And that they relate to women because women seem to, especially across the world, get caught up or get adversely affected by these issues. And that that leads to this feeling amongst women especially that something must be done, that these are our “sisters” (even if some of us don’t use this word to describe the feeling) and somehow by mere fact that they share a gender, we must look after our “own”. Strangely enough, none of the respondents said anything about how to get men involved. Is it something they see therefore that men cannot possibly understand or participate in? I doubt that. I think it’s most likely that they feel men aren’t aware and possibly don’t care enough to be involved. Perhaps the idea that the patriarchy is the problem means that women equate men with the problems. Either way, I see no reason why men cannot be included in making sure these issues are tackled.
So why isn’t more being done?
And I suspect it’s because of the following:
- We are, even if we are lucky, privileged, whatever word you wish to use, we are time-poor. And we, by and large, do not know how to reorganise our lives to not be so time-poor.
- We are, even if we live in more developed nations, with equality being something everyone agrees on as being important, still fighting for equal rights for ourselves within these nations. We are still fighting to not be harrassed at work, to not be discriminated against, to have equal pay, for choice over what to do with our bodies, for the right to choose our religions, for the right to own our sexual orientation whatever it might be and so on.If we are fighting for ourselves, every day, it becomes harder (unless you fight the same issue on a global scale – say, equal pay for everyone, instead of just focusing on how to get it where you are) to fight for our gender worldwide.
- It takes a lot of resources to achieve even if it is a charity based goal. It takes resources that you can quantify like money or people or a product and resources that you cannot quantify like continual motivation and desire, energy and so on.
And we already have a few obstacles in our way especially if as women we don’t get equal pay even in the most developed nations. How the hell are we supposed to sock cash away for our rainy days as well as some sort of process to help women in another country?
- We burnt bras in the ’70s and won the rights to go to work, to vote, to serve on juries and then for some reason we thought that was it. We didn’t realise we have more work to do. And now, we also have an additional obstacle in terms of the attitude people have to anyone professing themselves a “feminist”. Because men have a right to campaign for equality for the two genders as well.Feminism itself has become something adopted by academia to the extent that there are post-modern feminists and I can’t even begin to tell you what the differences between all these subworlds of feminism are.The point is that calling yourself a “feminist” or an “equalist” or a “humanist” now carries a stigma and perhaps you, yourself, don’t care what others might think of you but to achieve your goal, you don’t want to just preach to the choir, you want to convert people. So I do think we have to rescue the label and its associated words.
We have to make sure that the following words aren’t attached to stereotypes: “women”, “woman”, “female”, “male”, “men”, “man”, “girl”, “lady”, “boy”…
And I include the labels for the male gender in there for a reason. Too often, it’s easy to see “women” as the opposite of “men” and vice versa or to see each gender as part of a relationship between the two. So we need to change the attitudes about men as well as the attitudes about women. Equality is more about raising women to the status of men – it’s about acknowledging differences and similarities and making sure that those do not become issues of contention or issues of inequality between the two genders.
So can we still do it? I believe so.
If this celebration, promotion, banner waving, flag raising of International Women’s Day, International Women’s Week and Women’s History Month does only one thing for you, be you man or woman, let it be this one thing.
Let it be that it gives you hope.