Gender emancipation from an individual perspective

Emancipation as a government policy is often approached by applied rules or negotiations between civil society groups, trying to artificially make good for the ages of male dominance in political, corporate or even domestic areas of life.

However, my view of emancipation is completely different. The reason emancipation still needs work is because that part of emancipation that is incomplete is in the hands of men and women themselves.

Movements like feminism and civil rights groups are an excellent method of bringing emancipation and the rights of (particularly) women to attention. I support them wholeheartedly and encourage them to keep informing and stimulating (future) politicians to introduce all-gender-friendly policy everywhere.

But where emancipation still needs some work is how men and women treat each other in daily life. Not necessarily in the office, in debates or in the house. It’s how men treat women and how women are being treated by men. It cuts both ways.

While watching certain music videos, one can notice that women are often half-naked, dancing around the men who play a central role in the video clip. Or the video clip has a woman who makes erotic moves and seduces the men in the video. There is no reason why I would want to censor or even ban these videos. To some extent (having regard for the age of the viewer), anything legal should be allowed to be shown in a music video.

What this has to do with emancipation, however, is the way how (mostly) teens are being taught to think. These videos teach kids from a young age (easily influenced) that women should be attractive and men should be butch. This is completely contrary to the goal of emancipation, which is that men and women are on the same level. Being butch means dominating the female, while being attractive means being dependent on your looks and seduction skills.

Music videos aren’t the only medium that exposes people to this idea. For example, one can see in a commercial poster that (sometimes photo shopped) photos of women are shown, posing in a way to have good looks, but usually (to me) hardly expose any of their genuine personality. And, actually, the same holds for men on these posters.

My point here is this: forget constantly focusing on quotas and other (positively) discriminatory practices. Of course, we want women to be judged by their character and personality, not primarily by their looks, and therefore get the job they deserve, get elected to the highest public offices and let men be in the kitchen for a change. But primarily setting quotas will not be a long term solution.

This is what needs to change in order to make emancipation work from an individual level towards every field where emancipation is an issue, and holds for both men and women.

  • Avoid using or responding to erotic terms like “sexy” or “hot”. These are only appropriate when they’re actually in an erotic context.
    Instead, tell him or her something positive about his or her personality. How he or she makes you smile, or how witty he or she is. It’s not wrong to tell someone he or she is looking good, but don’t make it the central issue of his or her presence. If you want to be judged for your personality, then don’t allow someone to void your personality with your looks.
  • Look for eye contact, and listen. And keep listening. Listening is more important than speaking. You know you are equal partners in social engagement if and when a silent moment is not awkward, and he or she actually responds to what you have said (and vice versa).
  • If someone smiles at you, they’re not always hitting on you. They might just be trying to be friendly. Smile back. Start worrying when he or she starts making inappropriate moves.
  • Use compliments wisely. Only use them if you really mean them. If you compliment all the time, they inflate in their value. The most valuable compliments are the compliments that are used in the right moment, to the right person and last but not least, for the right reason. And with that, I mean compliments should never be used for personal gain, but only to let someone know he or she is doing something good.
  • Don’t stress your gender too much. Stereotyping yourself isn’t really the way to dissociate yourself from them. Saying things like “I’m a man, so I can’t do multiple things at the same time” (regardless of whether it’s true or not), or “I’m blonde, so that explains”, does not help yourself in the emancipation process. If it’s not a joke, then don’t say it.

Why are these things important, in my opinion? Because these acts ensure that all men and women are judged for who they are, and not how they look, or what role they should have in society.

If men and women are not viewed as actually being men and women outside of a romantic context, then that is when emancipation is complete. If people would almost refer to a person of the other gender as “that person” rather than “that man” or “that woman”, then you can smile and say: “that’s emancipation”.

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Gender equality: an eye for an eye?

“Men are evil. They suppress women. They do not know what women go through. They have no real feelings. All they can think about is chasing women and keeping power for themselves.” (anonymous extreme feminist, paraphrased)

“Women are inferior. They should cook, they should clean the house and they should take care of the children. Work is not something for women, they should stay at home.” (anonymous male supremacist, paraphrased)

These are both real life examples of how human beings of different genders talk about each other. It should not be a surprise that I disagree with both views. And I do not only disagree, I am convinced these two views are very detrimental to the process of emancipation.

Emancipation involves rights and responsibilities of both genders. As with any form of discrimination, eliminating discrimination requires an external perspective of those who are being discriminated. Implementing positive discrimination is a way of tackling short term negative discrimination, but in the end it will only make things worse.

Here is why. Sexism can point in either direction. It can be negative about women and put women in a disadvantage compared to men. It can be positive about women and put men in a disadvantage compared to women. It can be negative about men and put men in a disadvantage compared to women. It can be positive about men and put women in a disadvantage compared to men. Any type of discrimination, whether positive or negative, always ends up in suppressing one category of people with another. (For the purpose of limiting the longevity of this article, I will not go into other forms of sexism other than discrimination of men and women by each other and write about LGBT equality and other fundamental rights at another time)

By differing oneself from another person in any way, one is affirming that there should be a difference. This is the case in both examples at the start of this article. Both extreme feminists and male supremacists widen the gap between men and women. By stating a priori that men and women are different, there is a perception of difference. And with a perception of difference, there will be different views. And with different views and acting upon them, there will be discrimination.

Don’t get me wrong. I do support the feminist movement. I do support women’s right to choose. And in the latter case, the perception of ‘equality’ is different. Men (at least, today) can not be pregnant. So in this way, men and women are inevitably different. In this specific case, a woman is responsible for what happens with her body and the potential life within her body. This also keeps her right to decide what happens with it.

However, men and women do not differ in being human, as do not LGBTs, as do not Europeans and Asians, as do not people with blonde hair and people with black hair. The way one develops a personality is dependent on culture, education, the experiences in life, rather than biological differences.

By reaffirming this equality principle, men and women should not only be viewed equally, but also be treated equally. There may always be men who patronize women, or women who discriminate men, but it is necessary for securing gender equality that both men and women treat each other as equals.

For the men who still patronize, a specific form of feminism should remain. Not the aggressive feminism that discriminates men in return, but the feminism that lets the woman prevail in a conflict of patronization. This will balance out the force of masculism. On the other hand, when a woman discriminates men, perhaps because she would assume that all men would supposedly suppress women, that all men would supposedly be evil, because they would supposedly not understand women, then a man should have the right to claim he is discriminated against in his own right.

I have witnessed some cases of the latter concept in which the extreme form of feminism may assume the form of androphobia or misandry. This means the woman has assumptions about the man’s intentions and puts all of his actions in a mental context in which she would be the victim of harassment. This does not happen very often, but it is a very special case of when a woman seriously believes (specific) men are set to hurt her, or other women. She might not even realize it. I reject any kind of harassment or abuse of women. And that is why it is very important that the real abusive men be identified as such, and that women with androphobia or misandry will receive the proper approach from their environment. This is relevant for gender equality, as both abusive men and androphobic or misandric women are participants in an inequality of power.

This also concerns the concept of women still being considered “weaker than men”. Obviously, a woman may have physical disadvantages compared to a man, but a woman definitely does not have disadvantages in other domains. A woman should also be strong enough to recognize abusive men and to resist them, whereas a man should be responsible not to be abusive.

Abuse can be physical, verbal, or perhaps psychological. There are cases of both men and women who abuse each other, where it is obvious that the physical abuse performed by men are statistically significantly more serious. It is often mutual, where escalation often shows the man to exercise the most serious (sometimes even lethal) violence. This shows that women are still often put in a position where they are less powerful. This should be taken seriously, as, being as dreadful as it already is in itself, this demonstrates gender inequality. Abuse in any form should be stopped, but statistics and examples clearly show a gender difference.

I believe physical properties of man and woman do not necessarily explain this difference. I believe this a cultural difference. A difference of the culture of man and the culture of woman. This difference is stressed by the nurture of boys and girls from childhood. Boys get to play with cars, girls get to play with dolls. Boys are often associated with the colour blue, whereas girls are often associated with the colour pink. At school, boys and girls even develop their own subcultures. The tough boys, the butch boys, the horse riding girls, the metropolitan girls… This increases the distinction between the male and female genders. But these subcultures all have something in common: boys are less educated with emotions and girls are less educated with logic and technical reasoning. This could also explain the big difference between, for example, the share of men that chooses technical education and the share of women that chooses social education. And more importantly, I believe this explains why men are statistically more abusive than women, and why the non-physical abuse of men by women is underestimated, as men are less likely to show their emotions.

This is why there must be a cultural revolution of genders. A man should know it is good to understand emotions and a woman should know it is good to understand logic. They aren’t incapable of understanding, they just don’t do it. Society, as a facilitator of these cultures, should influence parents to teach their children that a man should know emotions as well as a woman should know logic. A man should know how to control his emotions and understand emotions of a woman. A woman should know how to use logic in the reasoning with a man. Only then should genders become more equal. Should cross-gender abuse (whether physical or non-physical) be reduced. And should discrimination from either side finally stop.

Update (22 May 2010):
The here fore mentioned men and women are the men and women who discriminate, not all men and women. As many societies are increasingly emancipating, the real situation in some societies is better than the text suggests.

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