Feminism, gender equality, women’s rights, where do you start? Or maybe that should read where do you stop?
I am a loud and proud feminist and I care greatly about the fact that in no country in the world do women enjoy the same rights and opportunities as men. Let me repeat, IN NO COUNTRY IN THE WORLD.
There are, of course, grades of inequality. In most of Europe and the US we have equality legislation which does give some means of redress whereas in other countries of the world women are denied an education, denied the right to drive, to go out without a male relative in tow, etc. There are huge differences, of course I acknowledge that.
Don’t confuse equality legislation with equality.
Women still occupy relatively few positions of real power. This morning I listened to a politician from Northern Ireland on the BBC Today programme talk about how they needed legislation to ‘protect’ the women and children. The male interviewer rightly took him to him task for being so patronising and suggesting that women didn’t know what was good for them. He blustered and then gave an answer that clearly showed that was what he believed. That happens daily; we hear women talked of in the media in those terms as well as seeing a very narrow stereotype of women on TV and film.
Why sweat the small stuff, Jane?
But, someone recently asked me, why do you write about the small stuff like use of language, (see here for an example When is a Compliment Not a Compliment?) when there were so many instances of real serious inequality, like the numbers of women across the world subjected to rape and sexual assault? Didn’t I feel writing about the small things undermined the bigger arguments, that I weakened my case? It was a reasonable question and one I’ve been asked in various ways since I started this women’s blog.
The answer is I believe it’s all one and the same thing; the small stuff helps beget the climate for the big stuff.
No, I am not as angry about someone telling me I drive like a man (as a compliment) as I am about Page Three in the Sun, and I am as not as angry about that as I am about the statistics on physical and sexual abuse of women across the world. I also write about that and I support WomanKind which is pledged to helping and empowering women across the world. But I think we should all be aware of the casual sexism we all exhibit every day and the effect that has on the status and self esteem of women and the way women are treated within society. And yes, I know women do it too. That shows how all pervasive it is - it doesn’t make it right.
When I write posts about the apparent small things I am drawing awareness to the subtle undermining of women in every day life which most of us don’t even notice, which makes it all the more powerful. The big stuff in many ways speaks for itself; few people would argue that rape or violence was acceptable (although many people will argue that the woman was ‘asking for it’…)
When I work one to one with women I draw their attention to the use of language, to the fact that much research we happily quote about human behaviour has often involved only men and doesn’t necessarily apply to them. How, when they feel they don’t fit at work or want to drop out of the promotion trajectory it’s not necessarily them but the fact that they are trying to adapt in a world primarily designed to work well for only half of society: where all that society has grown up using a language that is male oriented and where almost all the rules that govern that society have been made by men. No wonder the ILM says a major factor in women not reaching the top is a lack of confidence in their own abilities. When I run my courses I draw their attention to it. I don’t hate or vilify men, far from it, but it is a fact: one gender has held sway since time began. I want to empower women to break down the barriers to their advancement and one way I do that is by pointing out some of the subtle sexism they experience.
I want women to feel confident in society, confident enough to challenge long held assumptions about what women can or cannot do, or what values are best in a leader, what makes a good politician, or what clothes they should wear.
Most of all I want women to be able to be able to be women and not have to behave like a man to succeed.
Language and the small things do matter too.
Picture is a statue of Boadicca/Boadicea, rebel queen of England.
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