I've spent the past 6 years fretting so much about the climate crisis, I've been neglecting some things. Important things. I've never called myself a feminist, but then I've never called myself much of anything to be honest. I dislike labels, not in the least on myself. But largely, i think what this post is going to be about is that I've been duped. We all have. I was born in 1978, and thought, for all intents and purpose, there was sexual equality. Being a kid in the 80s with a working mother was just a small part of it, seeing others my age with working mothers was another, fathers did stuff with their kids, jobs in all fields were at the very least peppered with both sexes (not entirely true, but I'll get there in a minute). At least, outwardly, women were free to do and be what they wished, and female children had every opportunity to follow that lead. An improvement, to say the least.
The reason I'm addressing this issue now, today, is that there have been a series of events lately, international and otherwise, and also some personal "aha" moments that have dealt me some blows. My husband and I have been together for over 7 years now, and while I haven't been directly comparing this marriage to my last, a great many differences have become apparent. It took a few years into this marriage to realize that my ex, with whom I lived for about 5 years was in some ways deeply misogynist. He talked openly about his disdain for his mother. If the topic was some successful woman, he'd mention how she'd probably fucked her way to the top, and how women would readily do anything to get there. He liked to point out things I didn't know, in a patronizing manner. Told me how to do certain things, even the correct method to stir sauce. There's more, but you get the picture. He was 11 years older that me, and I was 18 when we met, I didn't have the maturity to question it all. I try not to have regrets in my life, and that goes for this too. I did learn an awful lot from it.
As a movement, feminism has been around for a relatively short time. Even the 100 years or so since the suffragette movement are peanuts in a historical perspective, and even though that gained women the right to vote at various dates around the start of the 20th century, feminism as we know it got rolling in the late 60s and 70s. It's this particular wave of feminism I credit for, if not creating gender equality on the job market, at the very least getting women on the job market at all (the female welders of WW2 not withstanding). It's this wave that at the very least challenged the way of thinking about women and their bodies. From commodities to autonomous entities. In theory mind you, as a general practice, we're still not there. And it's not like that it isn't any big surprise either, I think we've been aware of the fact that equality in societies is an ongoing process, continually kept in check by the critical voices, the media, the lawmakers.
In Denmark, they're still trying. Men are now allowed to take, or share the one year maternity/paternity leave, but it's still mostly women taking it. Legislature requiring men to take a portion of it is being considered, which is getting mixed reviews, the negative mostly coming from men. For, instead of seeing it as an opportunity, it's seen as yet another governmental dictate on how someone leads their life (obviously, but that's not always negative. Greater social equality has been gained by requiring people to have an education up to grade 9, also a governmental dictate, but the outcome outweighs the intervention). Another law being considered is a requirement of at least 40% female board members, something that is already in effect in Norway. The law in Norway was ridiculed in the beginning much as Danes (mostly male) are ridiculing it now. While I've yet to see empirical studies on the effects, some naysayers have warmed to it at any rate [Danish link], citing better company profiles because of it. In general, the female critics of this law cite that they don't want more intervention, the male voices cite that there aren't enough qualified women out there to fill 40% of the board seats, subsequently bringing the quality down, and not wanting to partake in an experiment of that kind (part of me wants to point out that this whole existence we're partaking in is an experiment, and as of 2012, while some things are good, I'd say there's room for improvement). What's been missing is an actual discussion of what qualities are needed on the different boards, since my impression has been from a few specific people, that they require a board member of f.ex. a software company to be proficient in coding or datology in general, where as I'd argue that a lawyer, or someone with an MBA would do just fine, and there are many females of the kind to be had out there (as far as IT, women are gaining ground, but IT is still a man-strong field). Board members don't necessarily need to be educated in the profession they're a board member in, as I see it, other criteria might even be extremely helpful. At any rate, it seems that what most people are focusing on in this debate is not the fact that gender equality requires legislation if it's going to happen at a rate faster than 20% per generation (that's my totally made up figure btw), and looking at the crises we're heading for (not to mention the society that steered us there), we can't afford to wait that long. By now I think you know that I believe the 40% quota to be a good idea, in more than one area, but I'll get back to that.
That's just one debate that's gotten me away from my work with the climate crisis, and gotten me on to some different trains of feminist thought, not to mention literature. Another recent even is the whole Ashley Judd has a puffy face debacle. It's so clear to me now that it's not just men who are the misogynists. Women can be misogynists too, at the very least I think most women have probably played the role of misogynist enablers at least once in their lifetimes. I find it hard to harbor ill will against the implied, misogyny is a paradigm people are born into, and frustrating as it can be, people feel safe by adhering to what they're used to. To get back to Ashley Judd, she nailed it. Women (in her line of work) find themselves in a double bind. If they look too good, they've had work done (and deserve ridicule), if they look terrible, they've had work done (and deserve ridicule). And most of this talk is propagated by women. Women who are not famous have felt this in other ways. We joke about how our husbands don't notice when we get our hair cut. But women seem to notice every little change - "have you lost a little weight?", "have you put on a bit of weight?" , "did you get a hair cut?", or "are you using a new eyeliner?" - we notice it all! And mostly, it's with a critical eye. The fact that our husbands haven't noticed those 2 inches have been lopped off is positively refreshing! Now, I'm not going into any "women are our own worst enemies", that's just too destructive a statement, however, I will say that we were born into a culture where women are scrutinized in just about any way you can think of, and for some reason we've just gotten so adept at it, that we think we're complimenting each other, when we're in fact criticizing. Obviously, that's not always the case, we do have a capacity for selflessly telling others how great they look, but just think what implicitly lie in the fact that while we will tell someone they look like they've lost weight, but we won't tell them the opposite. Too bad "you look healthy" never stuck. I try to stick to "you look happy!", if the situation allows. Luckily, it often does. I don't like the rhetorics of "sisterhood" (or brotherhood for that matter, they're a bit on the propaganda-y side for my taste), and if the purpose of using a word like that is supposed to bind women together in a united front for a cause, I'm outta here. It's all hands on deck. Not just women, not just men, it's everyone on all fronts. Culture cuts across gender lines, it's all or nothing.
It starts early, and I'm not talking about giving girls dolls, giving boys trucks. I remember back in junior high, how it started being popular to degrade girls with their vaginas. A popular comment was to tell someone to close their legs when you wanted to put them down - "hey, what's that smell? oh, it's so and so, close your legs!". As if it isn't awkward enough to deal with budding puberty on your own, you've suddenly got to deal with others directly putting down something that in the long run is going to be your friend in a lot of situations. There were lots of other choice ways of putting others (girls) down by way of their reproductive organs, and it was humiliating, debilitating for some, and downright sad. God knows what triggered all the kinds of complexes we're still reeling with 20-30 years down the line. Oh, the plethora of putdowns that cater specifically to women.
Just yesterday, a lot of Danish people on Twitter followed Christiane Vejlø's livetweets during a Dell conference in Copenhagen. They had invited a Danish ...what to call him...self-professed style expert, debater, agony aunt, and provocateur to entertain the attendees. It must be said, the man is not a comic by trade. But nevertheless he made a show out of cajoling laughs out of the (admittedly, mostly) male audience by demanding that women be kept out of IT, boardrooms, politics etc. etc.. Provocation? Hell yes. And had the man been a stand-up comic, he might just've gotten away with it, but he's not, and unfortunately, he did anyway. The pièce de resistance was when he got all the audience members (again, the males) to practice what they were going to say when they got home to their wives- "shut up, bitch". For some reason, this is still a viable form of entertainment. But if at any time during his "show" he'd used the words homosexuals, blacks, muslims where he used the word "women", you can bet there'd be hell to pay. But women are still fair game. Tough job, but someone's gotta do it?
The aftermath wasn't pretty. This is where the typical rhetoric started flying. Men, and a few women, talked about "over-reacting", about women as a pack of hysterical hyenas were making a bunch of fuss over something that was nothing (that whole animal metaphor is a tricky one, if men are aggressive, they're gorillas, and aggression is socially unacceptable enough that the comparison is imo kosher, but women pointing something out and debating in a tempered tone warrants the wild flock of animals comparison - sexist much?) . This is how culturally imbedded misogyny is. The comments I saw with the tag #DellDK were far from hysterical, and there were even a fair number of men making noise about it, so a flock of females it was not, and the "hysteria" was but a cultural habit that we've yet to shake. I recognize how convenient it must be though to have rhetorical ammunition handy when you feel the need to keep some sub-group of society down. But it's old now. Problem is, once you get this far, you can't go back, and you'll see it everywhere. Just today, an article [Danish link] about the new market in Copenhagen appeared in the paper, where one of the vendors at the market accuses the (male) architect behind it of acting like a "pregnant bitch". Oh yes he did.
It's Pandora's box. All of a sudden, the misogyny is all around you. Or, at least, you see it. And not to say that women are the only victims! Men are put into their very own gender-stereotyped box too, and have their own complexes to deal with on another scale. Let's just agree on that keeping people in boxes that they don't necessarily want to be in is so last year.
So. This has been filling my thoughts lately, partially fuelled by the climate crisis, partially fuelled by the mental break I've taken from the climate crisis. Had I been equally concerned about the climate crisis 15 years ago, I would've demanded that women take over the world. From a mother's perspective, many many waking thoughts have gone to my children's future, and sparked a fear, a grief, and then a manic scramble to do anything I can to ensure it. Pretty sure most people physically caring for their kids on a daily basis go through this to some degree. Arguably, women have been the primary care providers. Not to say men haven't thought about their kids futures, but thinking of my own dad, the future was saved by his chipping into my savings account. Even though he retired early and was around the house every day, I wouldn't say he parented me. My mom did that, despite working two jobs and continually going to school. Equality's changing that. Men are there to physically care for, manhandle (I mean this in a good way), love their children, think about their futures while they're wiping bottoms. It's part of the whole experience. I'm not as militant about it as I might've been 10 years ago, nowadays I'm more militant about just getting our fingers out regarding the climate crisis. Like I said before, all hands on deck. And feminism is definitely a part of the climate crisis. As is inequality in so many forms. Every social imbalance is a symptom of a bad deal for us all in the long run.
I wish I could say I've got it all figured out, far from it. I find myself at a loss for words more often than not in these kinds of discussions. So much of my frustration is based on a lot of feelings of inequality that've become apparent from time to other, without really knowing how it worked. That's because of the cultural nature of it. I picked up this poignant quote on Twitter the other day (@adamserwer): "Sexism and racism are not about mean things people say. They're about the spoken and unspoken rules that govern lives and opportunities". And those rules can be awfully hard to change!
We were at friends' for dinner last week, ended up having a bottle of wine too much perhaps, anyway, juices started flowing. All of a sudden, our friend asks - "what's with this feminist trip you're on?". Again, I prefer not to be labelled anything, but you know, in this case, I guess I'm going to have to suck it up. So we start talking. Beauty pageants, bla bla bla, talking about the differences that appear in parenting the minute someone says "it's a girl!" (he has a daughter, always dressed in pink/purple, dresses, princess outfits etc. etc.). He doesn't get it. Thinks quotas are ridiculous, and women have all the opportunity men do, and that's indeed how he was raised to think. Theory and practice, you know. We run through the facts - women in Denmark earn 18% less than men on average [Danish link], this despite all the progress we've made otherwise. He mentioned the physical differences - "women are soft". Right. You can only go so far with a "it's natural" argument. Social differences based on biological differences alone are one thing, backing them up based on rational arguments that include biology are another, ie. women should stay home for x amount of time after giving birth, etc. But women being "soft" is in my view a question of aesthetics, and in this case cultural aesthetics. Men can be soft too. They're just not "supposed" to be. That's the difference. And it's bollocks. Where my friend did get the last word was when he said - "I'm tired of hearing this crap! Feminism hasn't brought anything new to the table since it began!". And while that's not entirely true (which he's quickly discover if he bothered googling for an hour or so), he's partially right. And while I wouldn't call it an Achilles Heel exactly, I've definitely put my finger on one big thing the feminist movement should focus on more.
I wouldn't say we've been focusing on the wrong thing, I guess each aspect of this (and there are many) have each their own time. Being allowed to vote, and thereby becoming an independent voice is society was a natural place to start. Working outside the home was the next. Getting the same jobs as men the next, same pay, etc. By and large, we've overcome a lot of important hurdles. Reproductive rights too, though they teeter uneasily on the brink in the US as of this writing. State authorized misogyny right there. It's almost amusing that men would so blatantly disregard the benefits they themselves get out of reproductively autonomous women, but I digress. So we've focused on bringing women upwards, so to speak, to the same level as men, to enjoy the same benefits. But that's only one sex, one direction. Now, this is one of those things that had to wait I guess, due to cultural norms being so hard to get moving. So female sexuality has previously been seen as a commodity, a gift, a precious thing to be saved, and cherished and kept pristine until it's given away in marriage. And exactly this type of sexual objectifiction has been for the male heterosexual audience. Where has male objectification been? It's been corralled into a Chippendales-subsection of female sexuality that was, if anything, more entertaining and funny haha than it was in a "we're horny and we mean business" way. Note the lack of male heterosexual prostitutes. I've pointed this out many times over the years, and gotten "there's not a market for it" back. Well, duh. If women are earning 18% less than men on average, dontcha think we're spending what we've got on the kids, or food, or fashion and beauty, as has been dictated in this long and proud tradition of female objectification and commoditization? Perhaps if we had that extra 18% in our pocket, and had an upbringing where our parents gave us a pack of condoms and a pat on our backs at 15, we'd have been here long before.
And this is where I get back to the 40% quotas. Admittedly, there are fields I might find it slightly ridiculous to impose them - construction workers, fisherman - at a later time perhaps. But this is now, and I think the places where it would be timely and socially progressive to impose them are as stated, in the boardroom, but also, in prostitution. Instead of the old "lets do away with prostitution" that's really not gotten rid of the problem as of yet, let's try something new. Let's put male (hetero) sexuality on the market next to the female one and see if that doesn't help men in legislature (still the majority in most government) see the whole kit and caboodle in a different and more objectified light.
I think I'm about done for now. I'll probably have to update this post with things I forgot to get in, and clarifications on things my astute readers no doubt will call me on. Be fair though, I'd had enough, and wrote this out in one long 3 hour session without too much research, I'll be amending that as well.
What I want people to take away from this post is - everything is not as it seems. Bullshit, misogyny, and the patriarchal paradigm just have an inertia factor together of 1000% (totally fictive number on a fictive scale). But it's not as bad when you know what you're up against.