Wednesday, 4 March 2015

"I'm not sexist, but..." - Some questions for the Men

So, you're not sexist right? Come sit beside me, and we’ll chat for a while. I've got a few questions to ask you. You might not like some of the questions. You probably won't like the answers. I wonder if you'll recognise yourself at all? Ok, let’s go:

 If a woman is strong, opinionated and confident, do you think of her as bossy and argumentative? Would you ever describe a man as such? How easy do you find it to take orders from a woman? Has this even ever happened? How do you feel about women in leadership? Do you think of them as being equal to men in leadership roles or do you consider them outside the norm and unorthodox?
Do you expect your voice to be heard before anyone else's? Do you expect your views to be taken more seriously than other people's? Do you listen seriously and thoughtfully when people criticise you? Do you ever take their comments on board or do you dismiss them out of hand? Consider how your reaction might be different depending on who is saying it, for example, do you value the opinions of men more than women?If you work in a leadership role, is it possible this tendency to be heard more has overlapped into your personal relationships?

Do you ever apologise? Genuinely and sincerely? Do you find this easy? Do you think it's necessary? Have you ever considered the fact that women apologise  continuously, due to the socialisation that demands girls be polite and “nice.” We apologise for standing in someone's way, for sitting down on a bus, for not having our wretched clubcard with us at the checkout, for our baby screaming, for not being in when someone calls, for not replying straight away to a text message, for not having done the vacuuming, for being ill, for not having done our hair that day, etc, etc, sorry, sorry, sorry. Do you??

Look at your relationships with your kids. If you have sons and daughters, do you treat them the same? Do you give your daughter as much freedom as you give your son? Do you have the same expectations for both? Do you allow your son to hit and kick and call it “play fighting?” Do you accept the same behaviour from your daughter? Have you ever excused your son’s behaviour by saying, “that's boys for you?” And have you ever considered how this attitude might be a self-fulfilling prophecy? Have you ever thought about how imposing or restricting your son to a traditional model of “boyhood” which precludes dressing up, dancing, role play with dolls etc, and overemphasises rough, physical play might be damaging? Do you even believe that boys have masculinity foisted upon them or do you think it's innate? If you believe it's innate, what would your reaction be to a child who didn't conform to your ideas of gender? And do you realise that by pushing masculinity as something for your son to aspire to, you're actually guilty of misogyny, since what you actually want is for him to be anything other than feminine? And are you aware that concepts of masculinity and femininity are socially constructed codswallop anyhow? No?

Do you find yourself describing women primarily by their physical characteristics, for example, the blonde, the pretty one, the fat one? Do you automatically value a woman more, in the first instance at least, if she's attractive, young and slim? Are you conversely more likely to dismiss a woman if she's old, fat and unattractive? Do you have a model in your head of how women ought to dress? Do you think that women should have to shave their legs and under their arms? Are you disgusted by women who don't? Are you derisory about such women? If so, have you considered how you are colluding with patriarchal norms?

Do you use pornography? If so, have you considered how this might be damaging to women and girls? Have you thought about the links between pornography and violence towards women? Do you think about the women who are involved in pornography, or do you ignore their personhood while you consume images of them? Do you think that the objectification of women is a bad thing? Can you see how this can't be contained just within the porn industry; that it inevitably spills over into everyday life and attitudes? Are the women you look at real women to you, with families who love them, with real identities, thoughts, hopes, dreams…feelings? Do you dismiss this by telling yourself that they've chosen to do it, so that makes it acceptable? Have you ever considered that choices made within a system of patriarchy, aren't really choices at all?

Do you do your share of the housework? Shopping? Cooking? Do you expect a pat on the back for cooking for your partner every once in a while, or putting a load of washing on? If you've got guests over, do you make the tea or does your partner? Do you claim to be inept at certain tasks, such as cooking dinner or baking, operating the Hoover or iron, sorting laundry into brights, whites and darks, even making a cup of tea, yet claim absolute superiority over driving the car, booking holidays, controlling the finances, general knowledge…most other things that aren't housework or childcare?

If you've got children, are they mainly your partner’s responsibility? Who puts them to bed at night? Who gives them their bath? Who gets up with baby in the night? Do you change your fair share of nappies? Again, do you expect your partner to be grateful if you do these things? Do you feel as if it's inherently her job and you're helping her out? Who liaises with the teachers at your kid’s school? Who washes the P.E kits? Who makes sure the school shoes and uniforms fit and who goes to buy new ones? Who makes the packed lunches? And helps with the homework?

How do you spend your spare time? Do you fit this around the family, or is your time your own? Is watching the football/going to the gym/playing on the Xbox/going to the pub, sacrosanct? And the family must fit around it? Does your partner enjoy the same freedom? Has your career been disrupted or put on hold so that you can have a family? Or does your career come first, and not necessarily for financial reasons? If there are compromises to be made in this area, who makes them; your partner or you?

Do you believe that the fact that women have a womb makes our brains significantly different to men's? Do you think that our ability to create life and nurture it makes us less able to do other things? Have you not considered that our ability to do something that men can't, actually gives us additional skills? Why has this one biological fact been used as an excuse to suppress women rather than celebrate us for the one thing we are capable of doing which men can not? Mentally, do you automatically designate certain tasks as being something that women are naturally good at? Such as caring for small children and the elderly? Have you ever considered why this might be? Have you never noticed how all the jobs involving care tend to be poorly paid, have long hours and inevitably, overwhelmingly are done by women? Do you think this is a coincidence?

Let's take a look at the books on your bookcase. How many were written by women? Would you be happy to read something written by a woman, particularly if it's characterised as “chick lit?” Dig deep now; do you inherently assume that men's literature (note: literature, not bloke lit or some other equally derisory term) is more serious and intelligent? Have you not noticed how women's writing is denigrated by downgrading it with a cheap and fluffy label?
Do you enjoy women's comedy? Consider women to be as funny as men? Ever wondered why comedy panel shows are overwhelmingly filled by men? Have you even noticed there is a male-bias in certain sectors? What about prime time entertainment shows? Have you noticed how often they are presented by young women coupled with an older man? Can you think of an equivalent example where the opposite is the case; a young man paired with an older woman? In fact, have you even noticed the complete dearth of women from the television once they reach a certain age, and yet men’s careers continue to flourish? How the currency of men increases the older they get, but women's value diminishes?

Do you acknowledge that the reason for all these things is because we live in a patriarchy? A world ruled overwhelmingly by men, for men, servicing their needs, wants and desires. A world where men have the power and women are largely excluded. A world where men dominate politics, most leadership roles, exercise overwhelming moral authority through our churches, schools, criminal justice system and the media, and have control over the majority of property and wealth. Do you see how this obviously filters down into our day to day relationships with one another? Our daily interactions? Our familial relationships and how we connect and engage with one another?

Perhaps you don't agree. Perhaps you don't think we live in a patriarchy. Maybe you even want to challenge the very notion of the word. But please, have a moment of inner honesty and ask yourself if the reason you don't want to help overthrow the patriarchal system (denying its existence amounts to the same thing) is because you, as a man, benefit enormously from keeping things just as they are? Do you agree that women are oppressed? And if so, do you see how it's possible to collude with that oppression, in ways you might not even have been aware of?

Are you a sexist?

Yes. You sure as Hell are.

Ps: #NotallMen ; )

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