14 August 2008

The Gender Wars

This is a touchy subject for me and possibly some of you reading this post but I wanted to highlight something that has been on my mind for a while. Women hating men and men hating women.

Why have we allowed ourselves to get into gender wars? How did that happen?

I am aware and fully understand that the majority of the atrocities committed in this world in the past and right up until this moment are committed by some men. I understand that some women have had truly horrific experiences at the hands of men.

But there appears to be whole industries geared towards cultivating fear among races, geographical areas (uptown against downtown), young and old, disabled and able-bodied, gay and straight and men against women. We allow it to happen. We buy into these stereotypes. You can see the reality programmes (the format hasn't changed since I last watched television I've been told) and their focus is on how can the woman become less like her real self in order to nab the guy. The grooming to become a racy version of a Stepford Wife does women no justice at all and none either to men. It is insulting and yet we are encouraged to be something that is unreal and we women are surprised that the men are not versions of an imagined 'super hunk' who has just fallen out of a crappy romantic novel.

We have all been set up.

We raise our children to 'act like a boy' or 'act like a girl' - these gender roles are identified and instilled from the breast. Boys are treated differently and allowed to be rough and tough whilst a girl should be feminine and is cute when she moans about getting her hands dirty. We, women play a part in this. As difficult as it is we may need to look within at how we talk about errant partners whilst the children are hearing. Children pick up the negatives and will act out accordingly, even into the relationships they have as adults.

Let me ask you a few questions: If someone of another 'race' exhibits negative behaviours and attitudes towards me, or even causes me physical injury, does that mean all people who belong to that particular group will act in the same way or are even predisposed en masse to act the same? Should I always be on my guard when I encounter 'those types of people' and ensure any contact they have with me is limited and only of the superficial kind? Is that how I should live my life? Substitute gender for race.
I hear it so many times: 'What do you expect, he's a man!' or 'She's a woman - typical!' and other not-so-smart comments designed to provide reasons why a particular person has acted in a particular way but which then includes all men/women within the same category in one fell swoop. I've even said it myself in the past - I am speaking from my own experiences.

The saddest part of it all is that most people are actually nice people - as in, Joe and Joan Bloggs are not too dissimilar to you or I trying to make our way through this sometimes confusing world. We are actually in the majority.
Women are the ones who raise the future generations and I would like to start there. Men have a responsibility too to make those changes necessary for all humans to have a more progressive and productive life.
If you are in a relationship it is important to forget the gender roles and just allow and enable each other to be whoever you are and also any children to grow in a healthy manner.
Don't think I'm knocking men for women or vice versa - I'm just suggesting we pause the next time we say something negative about someone - anyone - due to their gender.
Just my thoughts. What do you think?


Bent Society said...

Nature primes all creatures to sterotype - that's why the hover fly looks like a stinging wasp when it is in fact harmless. The hover fly has adpted to scare off predators that have already been stung by a wasp and learned to avoid wasps.

I expect in the past people learned to avoid people from particular tribes. Imagine the ancient Saxons reaction on seeing a Viking ship landing would they say "hey now look don't sterotype ALL Vikings."

Now the essential survival need to sterotype had been adapted even wider - perhaps becaus ethere are currently not many threats from nature or Vikings. Some people are very bad judges of character - you know spurning good people and siding with bad and always wondering why "all men" or all women are bad.

The trouble is the right lessons on knowing good from bad are not being communicated to our children and history is repeating itself down the generations.

Tom Appleton said...

As usual, good stuff Zee!

You might be interested in reading (if you haven't already) 'The Lucifer Effect: How Good People Turn Evil', by Philip Zimbardo.

Only loosely connected to your post, but some of the stuff you wrote about the irrational behaviour of people reminded me of it. Well worth a read!

Keep up the good blogging! Always a pleasure to read. :)


ccch said...

...how about adding "Men are from Mars, Women from Venus" to your reading list, if you haven't already read it?. Although I can def agree with you on the striving to be a better human kumbayah, I'll never be able to refrain from pigeon-holeing/stereotyping and generally just ragging on the male species, irrespective of how much I do treasure their joystick....but then I was thinking of buying a blown up construction worker with 8inches. Oh boy, how crass, right?.

Sorry Zee, but truly, I'm too much of a womanist(aren't woman the first to suffer, along with children during times of crisis?) and knowlegeable enough about the hand that nature dealt us females to care a fig about the male's sensibilities (read=BIG FAT EGO).

Ralph Dumain said...

You really are asking for trouble, aren't you? OK, you asked for it, some unpopular observations:

(1) Where predatory social relations prevail, both sexes are predators, because they don't know and have never experienced anything else. Women aren't just helpless victims, they're co-conspirators.

(2) Some men like to go to less advanced societies to find a more traditional, which I presume means subservient, mate. But I don't trust traditional women.

(3) It is difficult to tell how much of the fundamentally antagonistic relationship between men and women is just bad habit accumulated over millennia, and how much may be biologically programmed. But how ever you cut it, I think there remains a difference, which occasionally has its charms but I more often find irredeemably irritating.

(4) I don't think you can even put the gender difference on par with racial and ethnic differences. The latter are rather trivial; the former run much deeper, essentially. Which is not to say that loyalties run the same way. For example, no matter what anyone says, it's far more important that Hillary Clinton is white than that she's a woman. And white people will stick together before all women stick together, you can bet your last dollar on that. But in terms of basic psychological differences, men and women are miles apart.

(5) I cannot believe that most people are nice people.

(6) "Reality"--i.e. amateur acting--shows are deliberately designed to turn the clock back. This started, I think, with a certain generation of dating shows, esp. when live cams were added to dates rather than the individuals involved simply reporting on them afterwards. Real dating is horrendous enough, but acting like a jackass on camera has sent us back to the stone age.

(7) Women who complain about men need to put some thought into how they raise their sons, including a reevaluation of the double standard.

(8) In the absence of critical thinking and a wide range of experience, bad experiences turn into stereotypical, formulaic thinking. I could go into this at length relating my observations of black women here, but then I wouldn't be allowed to live.

My Autism Insights said...

Just a brief comment from a mom raising a son and a daughter. I try my hardest not to, and very rarely, get into gender roles with my kids. The exception is when my daughter does something like kick her legs up in the air when she's in a dress, and even then the comment has to do with the clothing and not with 'being a lady.' I don't stop her from getting dirty and I love the fact that she's got such a strong personality. When it needs to be tempered, it's about treating people nicely, not about behaving like a lady. In terms of my son, I usually tell my daughter that she can't make her brother wear princess jewelry because he's not able to do it for himself, and he has enough trouble navigating society, why make his life harder. Other than that, I'm not big on gender identifying my kids - they'll figure those things out for themselves. I'm just trying to raise people who can treat other people with respect. I expect that will get harder as they get older and are influenced more by the external world. If you happen to know of a nice ivory tower I can lock them away in, please let me know. ;-)


Zee Harrison said...

Robin/bent society: I agree nothing seems to have changed. Valid points.

Tom: Thanks for the info re The Lucifer Effect- haven't read it but will add it to my 'must read' list which means its now book number 49!
Thanks again and I like how you are developing your site. Good stuff to you too!!

ccch: I have had many opportunites to read Mars/Venus but there was something about John Gray's style of writing that stops me from getting further than the third page. I will try again sometime.
I wonder how you define the word 'womanist'. I wouldn't define myself as a womanist, I'm too much of a humanist.

Ralph: Eloquent as ever. You have made some excellent points. Point 1 and 8 are especially poignant. Thank you.

Andrea: I think being a parent is one of the most difficult jobs in the world. Trying to get the balance right is hard work and then your kids later on have an opportunity to grade your parenting skills, usually from teenage years upwards! It sounds like you are doing your best in the current circumstances and that's all you really can do.

Thanks everybody for your comments - I truly appreciate them even if it takes me a while to acknowledge them.

Ralph Dumain said...

You can look "womanism" up in the Wikipedia, or see my scathing commentary:

Alice Walker's New Age 'freethought'

Ralph Dumain said...

My apologies for forgetting this the last time around. Even more to the point is my blog entry:

Womanism revisited.

justrenae said...

Finally, a person who feels as I feel! If everyone could just appreciate others differences and want to learn about others cultures, wouldn't this world just be a peaceful wonderful place.

I am a single white woman (41) raising my grandchild. I have always taught my children and now grandchild that all differences are wonderful. Wouldn't it be a boring world if we were all alike?

I could care less about someones race, gender, religion. If someone has a kind heart nothing else should matter!

You are a very smart lady! Thank you so much for writing this piece!

Love and hugs!!!! Renae

Zip n Tizzy said...

Beautifully stated.
I grew up around women regularly complaining about the men in their lives, and often justifiably so. Then I grew up to marry an absolutely wonderful man, have great male friends, and gave birth to two boys. It makes me cringe when I hear women male bashing now while my boys are around, I will usually take them aside when the kids aren't within earshot, and ask them to consider how this affects my boys to hear them speak this way.
Thanks for the wonderful post.

Dori said...

I love this post. I so agree that we should get away from the practice of pulling all of one gender or color or nationality into the line of fire just because of the actions of one individual. Great, thought-provoking post.

Renee said...

I tend to agree that the gender binary is ultimately problematic however man still gain far more than women do under this patriarchal structure. When we move away from the social construction of gender all sexes can be validated. Gender is fluid and is not nearly the stationary thing that we think that it is.

ccch said...

Well said, Renee!

Zee, my definition of a womanist (which I subscribe to) is as follows: one who upholds and fights for the rights of girls and women, not to the detriment of the opposite sex, but if need be....

Eg, one of my childhood friends from my island of birth, divorced, living with a new guy who sexually abused her young daughter (13yrs) to the point where the child got pregnant. The whole small community where she lived, including my friend and some members of her family called this child (her own daughter!) "fast" and that "she obviously wanted it as she never confided in anyone"....to make a long story short, I hunted that piece of excuse for a man, investing all my money to get him imprisoned. I paid for advertisements in the local newspaper citing where he lived and what he'd done, till he got fired from his high paying job. I fought and succeeded with my (ex) friend to get her daughter to testify against him. I then invested in therapy sessions for my (adopted) Goddaughter. She's 18yrs now and I'm paying for her to attend college in Florida. She wants to be a nurse.

There's a lot to be done. Until then I won't rest. So yeah, gender wars continue, the least of our issues.....

Zee Harrison said...

Wow, all these comments are amazing! Definitely give me food for thought.

Ralph: Thanks for your posts re. womanism. It is notable and interesting that womanism is so linked to supernatural beliefs.

Justrenae: I'm pleased when people can truly look beyond the superficial in order to connect with other human beings. Not to say that some people don't suffer severe and barbaric injustices and of course steps should be taken to ensure those injustices cease as quickly as possible.
Good for you!!

zip n tizzy: You have made my point with your example. Not all men are bad or good and the same for women.

dori: Thanks for your contribution. (It's interesting how we have swapped continents!)

renee: Of course the imbalance is there and at times very visible but what are we going to do to change that? My point is that moaning and complaining about someone because of their gender helps no one. I previously worked in an environment where you were encouraged to identify problems and only concentrate on the win-win solutions and that is what I propose. What will be best for everyone? The solutions may not arise in our lifetime but it is worth a try isn't it?
I totally agree with you that gender is not as fixed as some may believe - sexuality is also not fixed. Relating my previous works (again) I had a real struggle with a company who couldn't understand why I insisted on mot just have two gender categories listed: male or female. I preferred people to define their genders in their own words. I felt this was more inclusive and was in the end accepted and welcomed by the LGBT communities who I liaised with on this matter. It was a real battle though!!

ccch: It sounds as if we have similar cultural backgrounds so I feel at liberty to make the following points:
The child who was sexually abused was raised in an environment with other women around. I could also recall hearing those same words spoken about a child (aged 14) who was suddenly found to be pregnant when I was growing up. The abuser was a family friend and the community was up in arms about how 'faasss' this 'gyal' was to be 'wid belly'. No word of admonishment to the paedophile. No police, courts, jail, etc. All the communities wrath was aimed at the 14 year old child. Now the question is: What were the women's role in all of this? Why did these women feel it necessary to protect this paedophile and berate the victim of the abuse.
I applaud you for taking the actions you did to protect and show this young girl (now woman) that she is valued. I commend you heartily. But...womanism as a description doesn't quite do it for me. If it had been a young boy in the same position would you say your actions were 'womanist'? We need to get away from attaching labels when we really don't need to divide the already divided. Let us say if we see injustice and we have the capability and capacity that we will do our best to challenge it and improve the lives of those around us whenever we can. Regardless of their gender and without the need to call it something other than what it is.
Thank you so much for your contribution and you have made me pause to consider this at some length!

Each time I see in my box that I have another comment I feel such glee - someone has connected. Someone wants to share their opinions. Great. Appreciated. Thank you.

Cori said...

Perhaps an interesting addition to this is the idea that we all fall somewhere on a masculine-feminine line, meaning that some men may fall more on the feminine side of the scale and some women more on the masculine, meaning that apart from the physical differences there's a lot more of a mix-up between the genders allowing for a lot more connection than this chasm we often experience.

There are hateful men and hateful women, and patriachal societies have definitely caused a lot of damage. Keeping that in mind the fact that many women in especially third world countries are still suffering a lot at the hands of men, I'm totally with you that we need to look past these differences to the stuff that really matters.