While there have been huge progressive leaps in Law and a softening by some religions and cultures, many, if not most women, will still experience some degree of misogyny and sexual aggression: it is quite likely they will have felt intimidated and abused at least once by a man and they will certainly have felt patronised. Considering the news out of India, Africa and the Middle East recently, I appreciate that this is a western understatement because, although too many western men (and some women) still hold this patriarchal mindset, millions of women are literally imprisoned by a near-inescapable religious/cultural force: the perception of Woman as either the angel on the pedestal or the whore on the floor.
Those women are consistently deemed as unreliable witnesses to their own lives – as though truth was no more their property than were their bodies. It speaks to the concept that men can behave according to their natures but that women must have their natures determined for them. This is an inauthentic state of being, with consequences for self-identification and esteem which guarantees a superficial path in which motherhood may contain the only potential for a life of any depth. Under such cultural/religious dogma, the female is reduced to a two-dimensional construct: a doll whose dissatisfaction or abuse is merely collateral damage – to say nothing of the violence so many endure.
This is a medieval expression of how men view the “dangerous” or dark aspect of the feminine principle: through their perceptions of women as irresistible and deliberate temptresses. This is the self-corruption of men who blame women for their own lack of control or desire for brutal domination. The fear that women are dangerous haunts those men while their desire for women to be perfect and malleable haunts the women. Men would contain the light and discard the shadow rather than recognise a woman’s need, indeed any human’s need to reconcile the two. The irony is marvellous: that each sex should feel their gender to be in a hell, both of patriarchal engineering and man’s so-called ‘natural’ instincts. It is as though the straitjacket of misguided and unbearable expectations of a patriarchal world have placed such a burden on its female populace that Patriarchy itself has inadvertently destroyed that which it so treasures.
In the West – in Law at least, women have made gains yet they are still judged by their distance from the ancient pedestal. Often by other women. Women still struggle to maintain self-esteem in the face of self-doubt. Every woman given limelight is categorised according to the superficial standards of appearance and weight. Their life choices and difficulties are up for inspection, judgement and ridicule, not just by the community but to global scale and grotesquely supported by the Media. And just look at America, where renewed and determined efforts are underway to again strip women of their rights over their bodies. Have you noticed how religious extremists are always more concerned for the souls of those they victimise than for their own? Or the debates over the right to walk down the street and not be accosted because your dress is ‘provocative’ or because you’ve foolishly drunk more than you can handle; someone decides that something about you is so tempting that you must surely be ‘asking for it’ or at least expecting ‘it’. The argument is always too much concerned with the woman’s conduct. Personally, I would caution any female to think about her attire and behaviour but actually, she should be safe even if she is naked and passed out drunk.
Women’s suffrage and the feminist movement have facilitated changes in laws and social employment policies etc which acknowledge and respect equality, but the antiquated attitudes of power and predation they fought against still abide within all spheres of experience. I though, have always felt that the Movement was highjacked somewhat and rather let down by those who mistook replication of the masculine as the only vehicle for and proof of equality. I always baulked at the idea of such foolish imitation: I always imagined that all I had to do was to be.
I was born in the Sixties. I learned about the women before me and I watched the pioneers of my own time. And though they made huge inroads; their motives justified and their action overdue, it was the Law that afforded me my rights and not my community. The community was just a platform on which angry, contemptuous and fearful men ridiculed the fascistic arguments of extremists who, as usual were getting the most attention. I have to say too, that some women I encountered backed up such men quite viciously. If you reached for or assumed equality back then you were automatically accused of being a lesbian or a freak of nature: a betrayer of your sex. Yes, that’s how much of a clue some men and women had! And how ridiculous! That is as bad as stereotyping and categorising men according to their masculinity or effeminacy. And any jokes aside, dear Reader, but is this not an essence of the equality issue? It is just as easy for a woman to emasculate a man as it is for a man to infantilise a woman precisely because the rigid assignment of gender roles at the particular expense of one sex, informs the layers of stereotyping. Have men too, not been boxed in by the patriarchal model? What if they are not the ‘strong’ one in a crisis, the alpha in their circle, brave, practical – straight, even? Are they not still men? Intelligence, mental strength, emotional capacity, aggression, timidity, compassion, predation, selfishness etc – these are not gender specific – it was the permission to express them that was.
It’s about time that men and women saw each other as people rather than by a set of gender-based characteristics to be projected and acted upon according to Society’s narrow expectations. It’s surely well understood by now, or it should be, that women are as varied in nature, character and outlook as the other gender. If feminism is to mean anything, it should include this reality. Being equal to men requires nothing more than being a woman. Being Human, in fact.
I came into the world assuming I already had equality. I’ve never questioned it, though many men wanted me to and treated me as less – and some women, too. Maybe I just got lucky in my upbringing and education (it’s always the upbringing and education, isn’t it?), but I have never thought or felt myself to be less equal to any class of man. I’m a human being, therefore I am equal. Simple. Or did racism teach us nothing about such arbitrary nonsense? Society must learn that when it comes to equality, it’s as irrelevant what qualities a gender possesses and expresses as is the colour of a human’s skin. We are equal. And that is that. If a woman, married or single, wants to prioritise the Hearth Stone, she is no less equal to the single professional career woman or the female ‘breadwinner’ – just as the man who tends the home and children is no less equal to the builder, lawyer… whatever. Neither is superior to the other. Not of either sex; not within the sexes. If a woman doesn’t want children, it is her prerogative: it’s not some weird mystery or rebellious spite. Motherhood is not an inevitable desire for all women and for some, it is not even possible, so stop interrogating them because it is nosey and cruel. She is not a traitor or a failure.
A ‘real’ woman and a ‘real’ man are simply those who step into their own power and embrace their own selves as authentic human beings, walking their own talk as best they can, without apology. It’s better to be concerned about whether you like yourself than whether you match with Society’s approval of the way you reflect your gender. And yes, I know fine well that it’s easier said than done but it doesn’t stop it being true.
Respect for both men and women – and all sexualities expressed thereof – starts with respect for oneself and for human beings generally. We are automatically equal by virtue of our species. Through supportive Media, conversation and education we can instil into our children that their bodies and minds are their own; that no one has a right to either without their willing consent; that they must discern their own personal boundaries as they grow into adulthood; to respect that the boundaries of others may not be the same. Nothing will change if we don’t tap into our emotional intelligence and facilitate it in our young.