My friend GG was twelve when he gave a speech on the importance of feminism at his elementary school graduation because, as he still maintains, feminism and its associated issues are the only things that have ever really moved him. This would be unusual enough for any young male but especially for one born and raised in Latin America where, as he says, it would not be uncommon for fathers to be role-modelling manhood by telling their sons about their numerous female conquests. GG’s father wasn’t like that and his mother told her sons that she was raising them to be men, but not macho men and that there would be no gender roles in their home, only equality.
Feminism, in a world that denies equality, seemed obvious and important to him but it wasn’t until he moved on to encounter the study of gender in higher education that he started to get seriously angry…and to wonder why other people weren’t. He describes feeling that academic awareness opened his eyes in a very harsh way to the constant drip feed of sexism that pervades every aspect of everyday life and in particular to the ways in which individuals constantly reproduce and reinforce it. He felt compelled to do something about it, not just at a campaigning level but personally too by calling attention to sexist practice, attitudes and language wherever and whenever he witnessed them. The problem was though that this was pretty much everywhere all the time and it definitely wasn’t appreciated. This moved him rapidly to a point where he had to make a choice between maintaining either his principles or his social life as his friends complained about his ‘anger’, not because it wasn’t justified but because it was too much so, a fact that made them uncomfortable.
Sev, now in her early twenties, describes the same kind of feelings and the same kind of reactions from others. Coming also from a home where gender equality was the norm she found what she describes as ‘the rampant sexism of the secondary school environment’ to be totally unacceptable. Open sexual harassment of girls was a norm that both girls and teachers accepted. When she raised it with her peers she was ostracised and labelled as ‘uncool’ for questioning male dominance and the submission to sexism that girls accept in order to get boyfriends and then to try and keep them. When she raised it with teachers she was labelled a troublemaker. Like GG she was angry at what she was constantly witnessing and experiencing and was totally unable to understand why no one else was.
Both GG and Sev describe how experience has broadened their understanding of the ways in which sexism links to other ‘isms’ of discrimination, denigration and disadvantage. But it hasn’t lessened their anger at the general blanket acceptance of this as a state of social normality and at the ways in which individuals who try to counter this are bullied and socially bludgeoned into silence.
This process is bad enough in general social existence, in emotional relationships it’s far worse. In conducting gender research over a number of years I found that women of differing ages, cultures and backgrounds described how trying to establish and maintain gender equity within relationships becomes a process of attrition that frequently results in them having to accept inequality in order to maintain the status quo of those relationships, a stance which is an uncomfortable echo of the attitudes of teenage girls.
They describe having predominant responsibility for domestic work and childcare whilst having significantly less personal time and disposable income, even when in employment themselves. Attempts to redress the balance produce conflict and accusations of them as ‘angry’ and unreasonable from their partners.
Angry is a word that appears a lot in considerations of gender. Those who see the tyrant of gendering for what it is are angry and those who don’t want to see it are angry when it’s pointed out to them. ‘Angry’ is the label put on those who question the norm of acceptance, making ‘angry’ a form of perverse and unreasonable pathology. I have no doubt that Big Pharma will, sooner or later, make this diagnosis official and produce a pill to counter justifiable social indignation and I have no doubt that it will be pink.
The gendered patterns of dominance and coerced submission and subordination that we learn from birth replicate themselves in every aspect of our collective social existence. They’re the template that we use to build everything on, from our most personal relationships to our national economies and our international interactions. No one escapes their destructive effects. From starving to death to stoning to death, the dominance driven en-genderment of violence, violation and exploitation claims an ever-rising toll.
Nothing happens at the broader levels of our existence that is not already happening right in front of us, in and around our everyday personal lives. The personal has always been political, so take a very close look around you. You might just get angry…it’s a good place to start.
Gendering is bullying, that’s how it works and the bully won’t back down until we call it out. So if you want to do something significant to change the world in 2012 then become an everyday provocateur. As GG says:
‘I’m still angry most of the time but in a good way. Angry as being focussed and remaining intelligent towards all the bullshit that takes place but I’ve gotten better at not letting the aspects of everyday sexism, homophobia, racism and ableism fade into the background of my life.’
How about you?
Gaia Charis …. http://www.gaiacharis.com