I take your point that not everyone is going to commit to feminism as a
philosophy or movement, but I don’t think feminism is something which most
people couldn’t at least approve of in a more casual way. Lots of people want
things done about poverty and climate change without necessarily making a huge
commitment or having an exact philosophy about it.
Of course people will change their behaviour if it’s in their interest *and
they know it to be*. The problem as I see it is that people don’t recognise
that feminism is in their interest, and so don’t change their behaviour,
because they don’t recognise that women (and in some areas men) do face
barriers based on their gender. I was giving my view on how we can make men
recognise the barriers faced by women when the nature of the problem means that
we don’t experience it first hand.
I’d support all the measures you’d suggest, particularly over flexible working
and paternity leave. I’m convinced that paternity/maternity leave should be the
same for either gender, as the prejudice that women are better parents is just
as damaging as the prejudice that the are worse leaders or whatever.
In the end though, many of the barriers are going to be grounded in prejudice:
some men will not consider hiring a woman executive, because she doesn’t look
the part or whatever, and some women will not apply to be executives for
similar reasons. Those prejudices have to be challenged directly, you can’t
solve the problem just through skillful policy-making.
George Mason, author of the feature, replies
I definitely accept that harassment is a broad cultural issue, I was simply writing about the first aspect of it that was drawn to my attention.
I really am sure that men often underestimate its extent or impact, however. In my case I was oblivious to it, and in the case of the builders and men who think it’s ‘flattering’ I expect they are oblivious to the harm caused. This of course cannot excuse them, but I think it does highlight the need for feminists to speak out – as you did.
I’m not sure it’s fair to say that the majority are ‘complicit’ in all this, that suggests too much deliberateness. People tend to act in the way society prescribes as acceptable/normal, which is unfortunately still very sexist in many areas, and this is often self-reinforcing: if everyone does it, then it must be okay. Because of this effect society seems to perpetuate itself without any driving force – no-one has to want it to happen, it just does. Sure, the vast majority of people are part of this process, but I think the vast majority of those are part of it unwittingly.
This is why I think the most important thing is to challenge all of the gender prejudices that produce this process at every possible opportunity.
Jess McCabe , editor of The F-Word, replies
I think you’ve misunderstood my post (it was written at two in the morning, so I may well be at fault in this case!)
The problem with the Disney spokesman’s statement about girls being genetically disposed to like pink is that it is sexist, not that it is racist. You can tell because he was talking about girls being supposedly predetermine to like pink, not children of a particular race.
I had a quick glance at your post on the film, which seems to argue that calling attention to the fact that this is Disney’s first black princess is encouraging more racism.
My response to that is that it is something of note when media giants like Disney put a black, female character in a lead role, after decades of only putting white female characters in those roles. It’s news worthy, both in terms of it showing a progressive change at the corporation, and in terms of highlighting the wider problem of a lack of diversity in the media. Calling attention to it does not make the problem worse: without the dedicated work of activists highlighting things like a lack of diversity these things would never change.
Dwysan Edwards, author of the review, replies
Thanks for your comments! Not that I’d ever refer to myself as a ‘lady’ however I’m sure you’re correct that many of us ‘women’ have dealt with exactly what Will Smith has for centuries. I can’t tell you how pleased I was he didn’t receive an Oscar for that load of squeamish rubbish! In a patriarchal world which seems to grow from strength to strength I don’t really believe that men need a “few minutes of fame”, they get plenty! As for redressing the balance, unfortunately that’s still way off in the distance but hopefully the feminist women and organisations such as the F Word will go some way to addressing that.
I can assure you also Jill that I am not a “moaner” though it did bring a smile to my face! It seems that any time a woman has a comment to make she is branded a moaner so no change there! As for being ordinary I admire your humbleness, I would never describe myself as ordinary, I’m a woman after all!
Dwysan Edwards, author of the review, replies
Most people would agree with you about this film, however what I wrote was my opinion which I think is quite self explanatory and which I stick by. I’m not a fan of ‘American Dream’ films, I found it sickly, unrealistic and uninspirational. I appreciate you have a different view and I also sympathise with your situation. As a single mum with two jobs and studying a degree I know how difficult it is for women and men. I would recommend that in future perhaps you could write your own article for The F Word regarding your views.
Sarah Louisa Phythian-Adams, author of the feature, replies
I would agree wholeheartedly that this is
also a problem. In fact, recently, presenters from a UK TV program called
‘Top Gear’ (a program about cars) were reprimanded after some considerable
complaints about their use of the phrase ‘gay’ to describe cars in a
derogatory fashion. But as far as I know they were not reprimanded for
using ‘girly’ in the same way. Perhaps that tells me something – that gay
lobbyists are doing a much better job than feminist lobbyists?
I for one also question the use of ‘gay’ in this way when in conversation
and people are often surprised and defensive in the same way. In fact,
yesterday I got into a ‘heated’ debate with a colleague who was defending
the use of such classifiers as ‘harmless’ and based in biological and social
differences. I.e. if a car looks ‘gay’, then that’s because it has features
commonly associated with gay culture and by getting offended you are saying
that being gay is offensive. He also used the argument that girls DO throw
and run differently because of biology and that on average it is to a lesser
ability than men.
As I’m sure you’ve experienced, it’s hard to argue with people who take such
a stance, but I took the approach of asking why he felt the need to
segregate – then made comparators with segregating behaviour with say a
racial group such as black men – noting the use of the phrase in a
derogatory manor. In his use of averages and average distributions I also
argued that he personally could not throw farther than the current female
Olympic champion shot putter, nor run faster, so his use of these averages
was spurious at best and noted that these phrases were about reinforcing a
sense of superiority and not about celebrating the difference. He was
reluctant to concede, but the others in the room had stopped agreeing with
him by that point so I think it was worth the effort.
All I think we can do is to keep bringing it up – at least then it will
leave only the wilful agitators using these put downs and remove the general
acceptance and off-the-cuff, not-thought-it through uses.