WHY THE PICTURE?
I chose the picture as, for me, it reflected times in my past. My father, who I always considered to be a gentleman, always walked on the side of the kerb nearest to the traffic when with my mum, myself or any female. It was automatic that he did this and it used to amuse me if we crossed over that we had to swap sides and Mum and Dad would swap linked arms, this also involving a shifting of handbag from one hand to the other. I am sure that he would not have felt right, to be fulfilling his role as a gentleman, dare I say a man if this hadn’t happened.
I wonder how many people still feel this way – or do you see that it is sexist, that the man doesn’t need to act in this way, as a protector, women not wanting or needing protection. I have asked around. The results to this very informal asking showed a range of feeling. Some women, including both younger and older women saying that although they considered themselves to be independent that they liked their partner to show this type of behaviour. At the opposite end of the spectrum, a couple of responders, both what I would call ‘younger’, would be really offended if this happened to them as they are totally able to fend for themselves; it was sexist behaviour. I presume that this wide range of opinion around sexism is also reflected in other, probably far more meaningful areas.
I remember that when my father was struggling to walk very far, even at a sedate pace, due to arthritis, he would still swap sides if we crossed the road. Whilst my role had changed and I was the physical supporter, to him, his role of pavement protector remained paramount. He was too frail to offer any other form of protection be this physical or emotional as he also struggled with Alzheimer’s, yet this engrained behaviour remained with him.
Is it considered sexist to have doors held open for you? I have to say that I always accept this and say ‘thank you’. I also do the same, no matter what the gender or age of the person is. It can often lead to chuckles as I stand holding the door open as more people follow. But then, chuckles are good, and I have no problem with offering such a simple courtesy rather than letting the door close into someone’s face.
TURNING BACK THE YEARS TO CONSIDERATIONS IN SCHOOL
When training to be a teacher, I included work in class on how we see others, including discrimination based on ability/disability, race and colour as well as gender. We are going back over thirty years, so this was a simple male/female comparison. In the late 1980’s early 1990’s when this activity took place, the drawings were probably not too far astray from reality. Doctors were predominantly male as were fire fighters, police officers. Nurses and shop assistants were predominantly females as were primary school teachers. Add in the gender bias that was prevalent in early years and primary reading scheme materials, that bias was reinforced in the children’s minds. Throw in the different toys that boys and girls were provided with, the pet names they were called and that bias became even more deeply engrained.
I previously wrote a blog, in 2017, on gender stereotyping and how it can affect our children.
I remember a hospital stay in the early 80’s. I was on a female post surgery ward. A male nurse came in, stood in the middle of the room and clapped his hands, announcing that he was just as capable as his female colleagues when it came to helping us with bed pans etc, so there was no need for us to lie there with our legs crossed until one of these colleagues came along. I got the feeling that one or two of the older ladies continued with their leg crossing. Attitudes can take some time to catch up with the actuality of a situation and the breaking down of some gender biases.
A report from the Equal Opportunities Commission on sex stereotyping, was published in 2000. The stated aims of the EOC being explained as – ‘Sex stereotyping is one of the EOC's key themes. The main focus of this theme is to raise awareness of the pervasive nature of sex stereotyping and the social and economic damage it causes, to increase young people's opportunities and to act as a catalyst to bring about a reduction in occupational segregation.’ They accept that whilst ‘Much of the EOC's work on this theme concentrates on young people in secondary education and the move from school to training, further or higher education or work. Despite this, attitudes towards gender and what is seen as gender appropriate behaviour are formed in early childhood.’ I wonder if there have been any changes within early childhood settings since this report that have enabled sex stereotyping to be appropriately tackled at this age?
I sincerely hope so, for sex stereotyping, gender bias, can only lead on to sexism if the issues are not addressed at all levels from the familial, educational through to political and societal. Sexism being discrimination based on a person’s sex or gender. An issue that has certainly become a lot more complex in recent years with transitioning, gender fluidity, and the introduction of so many new associated labels. Apparently I am now considered a ‘cis woman’ as the gender on my birth certificate matches the gender with which I identify. I feel that a lack of understanding, among more than a minority of the population, of the labels, the implications and how individuals are affected by such gender issues is leading to a whole new area of sexual discrimination. An area that is going to take time and patience from all to reach a state of full understanding and harmony. An area that is meeting with pressure from some parents that children are not even introduced to the concept of same sex partnerships, even though the chances are high that several children within the average sized school will have two mummies or two daddies.
SEXIST LANGUAGE AND COMMENTS
There can be a sexist tilt on pet names that we use for children. Supposed compliments given to us at any age can also have a sexist spin to them. Comments such as a woman being able to give directions, or map read. I was on the receiving end as a passenger in a car. We needed to keep track of a hot air balloon and get to within easy reach of where it happened to land. I simply opened the map, found our current location and, keeping an eye on the balloon’s location and heading navigated us to where we needed to be. When questioned, my original assurance that I was perfectly capable of doing this had been met by quizzically raised eye-brows. Topping this, my success with the comment ‘you did well there for a woman’. I refrain from giving my response!
Similarly to suggest to a male that he is in touch with his feelings, or telling a female that it’s great because she isn’t over-sensitive both smack of sexism; an assumption that the qualities being displayed are not ‘usual’ for their gender. An assumption that all should fit to a general gender specific rule rather than be a person possessing individual strengths and weaknesses, quirks and foibles no matter what may be considered to be suggested by their X or Y chromosomes. I am sure that we have all been irked by similar comments.
MISOGYNY & MISANDRY
I am sure we are used to hearing the word misogyny bandied around; as in contempt for, prejudice against women. The word usually being applied to men, or so I thought. In fact, I was surprised to find out that it is also applied to women, with some claiming that women are, in fact, the worst misogynists.
Sociologist, Michael Flood is quoted in The Sun as saying ‘although most common in men mysogyny also exists in and is practiced by women against other women or even themselves. Women in Western cultures have internalised their role as societal scapegoats, influenced in the twenty-first century by multimedia objectification of women with its culturally sanctioned self-loathing and fixations on plastic surgery, anorexia and bulimia.’
Excuse the pun, but that gives food for thought.
I wonder if one of the main reasons for this could be jealousy and that this was the label previously applied to such happenings? As well as the ‘usual’ jealousy over possessions, looks, there is also a jealousy over achievement, especially if this has been in a male dominated scenario. An article in the Daily Mail in 2016 includes a personal example, and has led me to ponder on some relationships that I had previously explained away differently.
A Psychology Today article feels that it is a phenomenon that is on the increase and gives some fascinating spins on the American political situation in recent years. Well worth a read!
What of the opposite of misogyny, as in a hatred of, contempt for or prejudice against males. This introduced a new word to my vocabulary – misandry. Also a word that is applied to both opposite and same sex situations. I guess it is only right that there are words for both cases, though I do wonder why, when words are de-sexualised, it always seems to be to the male version that is used, as when actors and actresses all became actors.
Another Psychology Today article includes the following quote -‘misandry is everywhere, culturally acceptable, even normative, largely invisible, taught directly and indirectly by men and women, blind to reality, very damaging and dangerous to men and women in different ways and de-humanizing.’
I do admit to wondering to wondering if, in a desire to achieve a more level gender playing field that we have gone several steps too far. For some, the need to get out the spirit level has led to the development of hatred rather than an acceptance that differences and diversity can be a good thing. Television shows evidence of role reversal. Previously it was ‘the little woman’ portrayed, but now men have often become the target of the jokes. I wonder if this will halt when the scales are balanced, or if the scales will continue to tip in the other direction?
HAVE WE COME A LONG WAY?
Since the example of the photo – which some will see as historical, have we come a long way towards cutting out or cutting down on sexism? Whilst that old glass ceiling may have disappeared for many, sadly it hasn’t gone for all. I have to say that I believe that there are some jobs that are generally more suited to be carried out largely by one gender or another. There will always be the exceptions and this presumably will continue to present problems. There also continue to be strictly held rules that preclude one gender from a role which biology, physiology would fully permit. Here, I am thinking of such as the Catholic Church continuing with all-male clergy. Having said that, I will not stray down the road of the theological ‘reasons’ for this. However, could society be swinging in the opposite direction? Guess, another case of watch this space.
I conclude with a quote from Pope Francis, which I expand beyond a religious context –‘We are living, not so much through an era of change as a change of era – one in which expectations and opportunities have been transformed.’ ....... Maybe it isn’t only the climate that is drastically changing in this old world of ours.
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