Equality and Gender

I am a 24 year old girl and my last boyfriend used to jokingly refer to me as a ‘righteous lesbian’ for my feminist tendencies. I don’t even think I’m that much of a feminist at all. However, when I’m told that girls are not as good at something as boys, I will take the bait and argue every time. I grew up with 2 brothers and 4 male cousins. I am smarter than all of them and they know it. I was smarter than most boys throughout my schooling. So don’t tell me I can’t do something just because I’m a girl. I’ll definitely do it better than you if I think you’re a bigot and I want to prove you’re wrong.

But in general, I wouldn’t call myself a feminist. I believe we all suffer in our own private worlds, we all measure ourselves against others and all feel the struggle of social hierarchy. It is in our nature. Male or female, we compare ourselves to others. Yes, women for years and in some parts of the world today are suppressed and abused. It is easy to take for granted the comparative freedom we have in the UK. I am fortunate enough to not feel restricted by my gender at all.

Perhaps our experience of the world is determined by our perceptions of it. If you expect people to stereotype you for your gender or sexual persuasion, then it seems to you, that they do so. I don’t feel suppressed by anyone and therefore I am not.

It is also our nature to label things; that’s the essential construct of our language, the thing that both joins us and separates us from each other. We name things, we ‘put them in a box’. This is black, this is white; this is male, this is female. We must remember this is just a way of communicating ideas to each other. A word doesn’t necessarily have to have negative associations; but the way we interpret each other’s words depends on our own personal histories; our pains, our pleasures, our experiences. And so, when someone may use a word impartially, it may be interpreted very differently depending on that person’s history.

The key to equality is in each individual being at peace with themselves. It is easy to blame others for your own inner disharmony, but ultimately it is our own personal responsibility and we ourselves hold the key to our gates of change. There’s a lot wrong with this world; but looking at our ancestors, the primate social world is based on hierarchy. We haven’t risen above that yet, despite our so-called higher reasoning, consciousness and ‘civilisation’. We still play by monkey rules. The desire for equality is the most civilised thing we can lay claim to, but we are very far from achieving that on a global scale. The least we can do, is make our own little corners of the world a more equal place. And to do that, we need to stop blaming others and take some personal responsibility; male or female.

6 Comments

  1. Should women take responsibility for the disempowerment they endure as a result of essentialist ideas attached to the physical signifiers of their bodies by more powerful groups?

  2. Ceri

    April 6, 2010 at 12:50 pm

    It is up to each individual whether they let other people’s view of their body disempower them.

  3. I think it’s important to remember that we’re not merely talking about ‘views’ disempowering women, but practical issues that arise from these views: from rape, to the pay gap, to education, to the courts. I’m glad that you have not personally felt disempowered by your gender, but I think that it’s extremely important to remember that not all women have had the same experiences. The privileges of wealth, social status, education (and, indeed, the privilege of democracy) are all elements that enable some women to state that they have felt no pressing need to engage in feminism.

    Though I accept that it’s important for individuals to fight for their own sense of personal empowerment, it is very dangerous to imply that people who fight against injustices encourage injustices through such protest (which is, of course, what feminism is). Gender, sex and sexuality are all realities that we can’t ignore, and I would be surprised if calling for equality encouraged further oppression. Our environment is determined by social pressures, expectations and laws.

    In my opinion, a feminist movement is a call for “individuals” to work together to create an environment where they don’t feel like they need to simply ignore the realities of their society. In an attempt to reach inner peace, I might choose to ignore the victims of transphobia in my workplace, or the pay gap between male and female workers; but I wouldn’t be addressing anything but my own interests.

  4. Ceri

    April 6, 2010 at 3:35 pm

    Ceridwen, I agree with you. Calling for equality is not a bad thing. There is a lot wrong with this world and of course we should stand up for what is right. I am certainly not advocating that we have to take things like rape or lesser pay or access to education.

    But sometimes I think it’s all to easy for people to blame others rather than take positive, empowering action themselves.

  5. Perhaps the difficulty that I’m having is that I don’t know who you’re referring to when you speak about people who “blame others for [their] own inner disharmony”.

    If you are perhaps referring to members of the feminist movement, I would argue that self-defining feminists have already taken a positive, empowering step. Resistance is not, in my opinion, a show of “inner disharmony”. I don’t believe that self-defining feminists are engaged in some form of ‘blame-culture’, but rather acting to educate, and push for positive change.

    If, however, you’re referring to victims of oppression that have not taken the positive step of engaging with feminism, then I would argue that a huge number of people don’t necessarily have immediate access to feminist ideas (as we do in educational institutes etc).

    I suppose the most difficulty that I have with your thesis is that immediately after arguing that “women…in some parts of the world today are suppressed and abused”, you state that “our experience of the world is determined by our perceptions of it”. Perhaps I am misreading this, but it seems that the argument indicates that women in other parts of the world bring about their own oppression, or sense of oppression.

    Either way, it would be good to understand what individuals you are writing about in your article. Who is it that you accuse of “blaming” others for their own subjugation?

  6. I don’t think I can agree with you that it’s a matter of finding inner peace. Inner peace is something nice to theoretically achieve, but not everyone can find it. People who suffer from a gender-binary society often feel confused, lack identity and are unable to express their true nature. How is a person in such a state supposed to find inner peace? If you could wave a wand and give it to them then fine, but, practically speaking, such an argument is about as useful as saying “let’s all get along”.

    I agree that it’s wrong to blame specific people, and even more wrong to blame generalised categories (like “mysoginists”), but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t fight to change attitudes in society. In fact, you could say that the whole feminist movement is all about allowing people to find the inner peace you’re talking about, by changing society so that it’s possible.

    Quote: “If you expect people to stereotype you for your gender or sexual persuasion, then it seems to you, that they do so.”–> I don’t think it has anything to do with expectations. Gender stereotypes clearly exist in society – just watch any advert if you don’t believe it. I agree that if you tell yourself that you are not being surpressed by society then you will not feel surpressed, but some people don’t have the luxury of having the ability to ignore glaring truths.

    On a positive note: I agree with your last paragraph. In a world with unfair monkey rules, it does help if we can all do our bit by taking responsibility for our own happiness. However, it is unfair to expect everyone to be able to achieve this, when monkey rules are so constricting.

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