Sometimes there are weeks where I feel like I am having the same conversation over and over again, each time with a different person. The subject matter remains the same but the participants are new each time. Recently, that conversation has been on the subject of gender roles, everyday sexism, and the double standards that continue to dominate our society.
Not one of these conversations has gone by without everyone in the group telling how they have experienced some form of sexual assault or gender-based verbal or physical assault, or someone they know who has experienced it. The prevalence of this within our daily lives is shocking. It infiltrates every level of society, and while huge strides have been take in the fight for equality over the past 100 years, there are still areas of the world and our society where there is so much work to do.
Now, before this post is dismissed as another ‘angry feminist rant’, let’s just be clear on what the actual definition of feminism is.
That’s it. It’s not about superiority. It’s not about man-hating or believing men are stupid or incapable. It seems that all too frequently people get feminism and misandry mixed up.
Here in Tanzania, the prevalence of everyday sexism is frightening. Just walking down the street I am faced with stares, catcalls and sometimes full-scale harassment. As a tall, pale, lanky woman with bright red hair, I understand that I am easily picked out of a crowd on an East African city street – however, the acceptance of this happening from the people around me is astonishing. In bars and clubs, I am approached by men who seem to be oblivious to what the words “No, thanks. I don’t want you to buy me a drink.” and “Sorry, I’m not interested.” and “Can you please leave me and my friends alone?” mean. They continue to pursue and harass with absolutely no respect for the choices of the woman they are talking to. I can’t help but wonder what is wrong with society when boys are raised up to be young men who think this is okay.
Now, I’m not saying this is all men. I know for a fact it is not all men who do this and I have a huge number of male friends who stand up for feminism and equality. However, that doesn’t mean it isn’t happening.
The thing is, it’s patriarchy that says men are stupid, monolithic, unchanging and incapable. It’s patriarchy that says men have animalistic instincts and just can’t stop themselves from harassing and assaulting. It’s patriarchy that says men can only be attracted by certain qualities, can only have particular responses, can only experience the world in narrow ways.
Feminism believes that men are capable of more. Feminism holds that men ARE more than that.
The recent uproar in the USA over the transgender bathroom bill which allows people to use the bathroom that matches their gender identity is another example of just how far we have to go. The bill seeks to protect transgender people from discrimination in public spaces. This bill is about civil rights. However, it has been met with a huge amount of fear-mongering opponents claiming that passage of the bill will make women and children less safe. This is just not true. Mashable published a picture of a young transgender girl that illustrated the point clearly. Protecting the civil rights of transgender people doesn’t permit others to break the law. More United States senators have been arrested for sexual misconduct than transgender women.
The fight for gender equality and respect is not a woman’s issue. It’s not an LGBTQ issue. It’s a human issue!