Monday, March 8, 2010

International Women's Day

is today, how about that.

I think I'd like to say something about it, but I'm not sure what. Feminism can be difficult to talk about (Gosh, really?). If you agree with me, then I'm (uselessly) preaching to the converted; but if you disagree, then our disagreements are probably fundamental and/or quite subtle (& so, either way, probably v difficult to discuss intelligently via interweb). And anyhow, why should you care what I think about it?

But this is my blog, so I'm going to do it anyway.

What I think "about women" – uh, politically speaking – has spiralled around in different directions as I've grown up, I think. As a kid of leftish-lowermiddleclassy parents, I internalised the status quo of 1980s-90s political correctness: there is sexism in the world, women are treated badly and unfairly, this is bad and unfair. But as a teenager it dawned on me that being male wasn't all steak and glory, either; there were unexpectedly bad aspects to being a man in the modern world, too. For example: pop culture seemed to be telling me that boys were foolish and troublesome and evil, most of the time. And I felt like I was being told that girls could do anything, but simultaneously that boys could not. When you're adolescent, any potential unfairness (towards yourself) is a red rag, so this apparent "stupid boys will be stupid boys" meme bugged me a lot. Were girls now getting the best of everything, and always the benefit of the doubt? Had feminism "gone too far in the other direction"?

No. No, it hadn't, and I feel kind of stupid now for even considering sentiments like that. But it took me a few more years to see the world clearly from a few more sides, other than my own. And I had been privileged to grow up in an environment where sexism against women was sometimes less than obvious, I think; maybe that was why it took me a while to see and understand all the things that other people were thinking, the ways that they were acting, the ways in which they were being affected. Actions and consequences, assumptions and beliefs – these aren't always obvious. (Obviously.)

This is what I assume and believe, now: that the similarities across gender are nowhere near as significant as the differences between individuals. I've never known a woman who was more of a woman than a person. But I know most people don't agree with me, they don't believe this; instead, most people think that there are a bunch of crucial, essential commonalities to men and to women, and that these gender-commonalities are more significant than anything else. And to me that's the essential problem of sexism, because I believe that gender is not actually as significant as we make it – or at least, it doesn't have to be. Sexism, like racism, is bad because it's essentially untrue.

So our status quo is messed up, I think. And everyone in our society is disadvantaged by the false assumptions of sexism – that's what I was confused to learn as a young teen, that men (i.e. me) were sometimes being disadvantaged too. But that's not to say that men have it worse overall, because they don't. You can't see the world honestly without seeing that it still disadvantages women far worse than men, I think. (There are so many examples, I'm not even going to get into them; not today, anyhow.)

So. To me, this is International Women's Day: it's a reminder that things are still bad. (Though thankfully much, much better now than they ever used to be; & people sometimes underestimate just how much better, I think.) There are still a whole bunch of big fat sexist problems, all over the place. It makes me feel like I'm always needing to think hard and pay attention and act bravely and behave well, to do my part to make things better. Be fair. Don't be a dick.

International Women's Day: Don't Forget.

So that's what it means to me and what I think about it, I guess.

But, ah, what a serious and humourless post! (Not to mention, possibly patronising, stupid, facile, self-indulgent, myopic, wrong? I don't even know . . . but please tell me in the comments.)

Sorry, folks. To cheer us up, here's a picture of a pony:
Right on.


  1. wow i feel completely unfeminist now - i didn't even know, and now its tuesday. hm.

    this will probably sound odd but growing up i always felt the whole feminist thing was unfair in that why wasn't there a 'masculinist' movement? were males just less angry with the world? again this is probably reflective of the relatively equal environment i grew up in, and as i became aware of things outside my safe little circle i began to understand. there is still a lot of crap in the world, but i don't think that focusing on the differences between genders will make it all better. if you want to be treated as an equal, you have to act like an equal.

    ok so now i've ranted too! :)

  2. Although I am female, I personally have observed more discrimination against men, and have found my gender to be highly advantageous. My own little data point doesn't say anything about the situation more broadly, of course, but it has meant I've also had my views evolve over time as I encountered a wider diversity of experiences. My ideas have grown up a little, but I suspect I still have a long way to go.

    I spent a lot of time believing that many feminists go around *looking* for things to be offended by and ignoring both the advantages women do have, and the examples where men are under-represented or discriminated against. I feel like sexism diminishes all of us, and focusing only on certain kinds really bothered me. Not to mention the fact that gender isn't really binary, and drawing lines in the sand leaves a lot of people with no real place to stand.

    I have at times identified as a masculinist, not because things have swung too far in the other direction necessarily, but because I think everyone needs advocates. To me men are also worth valuing, and any individual case of inequality I see is worth speaking out against. Getting involved in the oppression Olympics serves no one.

    That said, I can no longer keep my blinkers on and pretend that women don't still get a rough deal a lot of the time. But since it's often fairly far removed from my own life I don't feel well qualified to comment much on it.

    The major problem with my masculinist ideas has been that they are easy to misinterpret and end up offending people. It was probably an inappropriate response, despite the fact that I meant well. Provided that feminists want equality rather than female dominance we had exactly the same goal.

    These days what I really try to look for is considering equality in a broader sense rather than attempting to deal with one injustice at a time. I think this comes across a bit better.

    I found this article interesting. And for me it talks about equality in a far more positive way than I'm used to.

    Sorry for the rambling comment. You got me thinking.

  3. Wow, what great & interesting comments! Thanks heaps, guys! (that's "guys" in the non-gender-specific sense, obvs;)

    I'm glad it got you thinking - it's definitely a complicated enough issue to be worth thinking about a lot, I think. And I agree with you both Marie & Anonymous that equality is the key ideal, rather than a focus on differences. Sometimes it seems to me like a lot of the current problems (in our modern world) are arising not because of simple obvious sexism, but because some of our people/institutions/apparata are assuming equality while some others still aren't, or aren't completely.

    To get rid of cultural sexism is such a massive and long-term realignment of our society - so far some parts of our society/culture have transformed really well, but other parts are still a bit stuck, I think; so we're sometimes all weirdly disjointed, as a result.

    (Not to mention, there's always also that massive "easy to misinterpret/offend" problem! Though I hope that might be more of an issue with the older generations than with the under-30s.)

    & Cheers too for the article link, Anonymous - I found that piece a little while ago too, it's a great (& yeah, positive!) read.

  4. What gets me is cultural sexism - rampant, ubiquitous, stale and dead as a rotting hot dog at a hamburger stand. It STINKS!

    Now, if I saw roughly the same amount of half nude men as I do half nude ladies when I open the newspaper, I would be happier :)

    Where the hell is all the straight woman titillation?