Thursday, March 26, 2015

Fighting the wall: How a discussion on gender-equality taught me about white-heterosexual privilege.

Over the last week or so, I have been part of a Facebook discussion on gender-equality (or the lack of it in our society), and the emotions, disillusionment tainted with hope, and RSI in my thumbs, have led to some interesting personal thoughts and insights into society; some I am not sure I truly like. I have learnt I am not fighting for equality as much as I had realised. I am part of the problem as much as the solution. I need to change that.

The discussion focused mainly on how women don’t accept or –in these modern times- foster a man’s need to protect… well… everyone and everything. It started as an initial post on Jason Robillards’ Facebook page titled:
“Ever notice we see the life expectancy of minority groups as an indicator of their relative powerlessness within our society, yet men live, on average, seven years less than women?” ,
then morphed into another thread on,
“Why is there so much disdain against feminism?”.  I was apparently the token feminist.
Oh, and tag in the thread regarding how Men are more willing (and expected) to lay down their lives for women and their country. How women should accept some restrictions on their personal freedoms for the security so men can do this.

This is where I had a big issue. I don’t expect or wish anyone to die for me. If there is a battle that needs fighting, I want the opportunity to fight my own battles: On the front line if I need to. I was brought up by my Cop-Father to stand on my own feet – in everything.  However, to respect the male need to protect me, I am not allowed to do this. This was when the “feminist” chant was levelled at me.

The thing is, I don’t see myself as a feminist. To me, feminism concentrates on asserting the rights of one sex over another. I don’t want that. I would love to see a world where everyone can be who and what they want, without having to explain or petition for the right to do it. I think, as a society, everyone should have the same rights and responsibilities. I like the idea in some cultures that there is not a binary attitude to gender. We are not always Male or Female, and we are not restricted to the social stereotypes that are associated by these narrow definitions. Gender is a spectrum. Society should allow us to be who we truly are.

That is where the problem lies: Society. Men and women are biologically different, but as my brief trips into Google-land showed me, societal expectations and pressures overwhelm biological factors influencing behaviour. The way we think and act; the rules we apply to others and ourselves, are a societal convention not a biological one.

Just because society deemed something right –like men protecting women for the expansion of the human race – thousands of years ago, does not mean that it is appropriate or in fact morally right in the age we are living in now. Just because the male concept of protection is essentially for their partner with whom they wish to procreate with, doesn’t mean that protection HAS to be forced onto women who share similar characteristics (child-bearing aged women), or withheld from women who don’t meet your expectations (for example, prostitutes). Men shouldn’t be ridiculed or executed because they do not want to fight on the front lines, because they feel war is not the way, but then let those who dictate the fight, stay off the front lines.  You can’t enforce a blanket rule, but then create vague and subjective exceptions and then expect everyone to understand where they stand.

This has what has caused the war we have on gender bias: Confusion.

Three days of RSI inducing thread posts; being the lone, token “feminist”, posting evidence-showing exceptions to the blanket rule; being questioned and ridiculed in some cases from multiple quarters, I finally resigned myself to the inevitable. I was saying the same things, to the same people who didn’t want to listen, no matter how much information I gave them. To them the evidence I gave were just the exceptions that proved the rule, not evidence that negated it. That’s when I lost it – diplomatically (I didn’t call them wankers), but passively-aggressively. After three days of calming stating my case, my five minutes of losing it, proved what they all suspected; women cannot rationally discuss this topic. In one short reply, I negated everything I had tried to prove.

There was a great sense of frustration, sadness and anger (not only at the people I was discussing the issue with, but myself). In my head, my line became more engrained. My stance was becoming more polarized. My previous experiences of gender imbalances, morphed from being unfortunate and rare exceptions, to being generalized to the whole of the male gender. My thinking changed from saying “A few men..” to “All men…”

I knew at that point I was becoming part of the problem. I decided to see what positives I could bring out from this. The conclusions were not pleasant.

I read an article posted by another friend of mine about gender-bias in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) industries. The article had a list of the most common gender-biased difficulties that many women in STEM industries suffer. I agree with all of them. Its sad, but in my years in STEM, I encountered all of the issues listed, but had to live with or ignore them, because when you are one of only four or five women in a department of ninety, your voice is very small. The results from the survey when race was factored into the survey were even more upsetting. That’s when I realised I have it easy.

I maybe female, but I am an educated white female, (and despite my bi-sexuality) in a long-standing heterosexual relationship. I only have one disadvantage. I only have one battle to fight. A fight I have not really done before. My life has been pretty easy.

In societies levels of privilege I am in the top pile; just underneath white men.

What I have had to experience over the last few days: calmly laying down my case, only to be rebuffed by the adage, “this is the way it has always been”; to be taunted and bombarded from every corner – left to be the only one stating the case; to have to provide all the evidence before I am considered, without any information being passed back in the discussion; to finally be so frustrated and weighed down that you lose it, thereby proving the rule that society is right; and realizing my ideologies were being irrevocably polarized, even when that wasn’t my aim.

The last few days have been exhausting, demoralizing and frustrating. 

The. Last. Few. Days.
I do not deal with this on a daily basis.

I am part of the white privilege. I am the exception. It made me realize, that when I talk to friends of different racial or sexual orientations about the issues they face, I was paying lip-service.  I had no clue. Even now, I don’t, but I am beginning to realize that.

I said, I was looking for a positive spin over my experiences from the last few days. After writing this I have one.

I am not going to pay lip-service any more. I am going to try and be more active in changing this crazy binary, white-biased society we live in. The bias we have in this world are not biological, they are societal. Society is wrong, and it needs to change.

One of my comments on the thread was:
“This isn’t a war between men and women; it’s a battle against society to allow us to be who we want to be, without boundaries”.

This war has nothing to do with being a man or a woman. This is just a straight out war against the established rules in society that prevent us being who we want to be without boundaries.

Let battle commence. I am ready to fight on the front line for this one.

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