Dangerous Jobs for Girls: Thoughts on Equality and Liberation.

Intrigued by Barbara’s post and the ensuing comments, I caught up with Dangerous Jobs for Girls. Its merits were very similar to those of the old Channel 4 show Faking It: we see individuals taken out of their comfort zone and areas of expertise rising to entirely new challenges, and impressively so. In this episode, Laura, Nicola and Gemma (hello if you’re reading!), all highly successful women in their respective fields – law, show jumping and business – joined a group of Brazilian cowboys to learn the tricks of the herd driving trade.

Perhaps the “girls” can shed some light on this, but while the cowboys understandably didn’t expect the women to do too well after just ten days’ training, the stereotypical chauvinistic comments made by some appeared to be put on for the camera, and the admiration they expressed at the end of the programme after the women successfully herded a group of over 300 cattle across the plains more or less unaided was certainly neither begrudging nor insincere.

The voice over (male, of course) was pretty irritating – if I point out that it was deemed necessary to highlight that successful barrister (Dr) Laura was single (cue knowing nods from Daily Mail readers) you get the general impression. However, I have no real beef with the show – it’s just reality TV entertainment after all. Yet it did highlight some important issues: why this constant need to prove that women are just as good as men? Why strive so hard to be accepted by men in their world and on their terms? Isn’t it time to take a step back and start questioning the core values which underpin not only society as a whole but also some areas of feminism?

Most people will tell you that feminism is about equality. But, as French feminist Luce Irigaray astutely asks in Je, Tu, Nous, equality to whom? To men? If we hold up men, and therefore the patriarchal masculine roles, qualities and values as woman’s ultimate goal, then what becomes of woman? In Helen’s recent post on the gender estimator, reader Snuffles admitted to a momentary feeling of disappointment at being told she was more female than male, and I for one can certainly add my voice to that admission. Men – man’s traditional roles, man’s past times, man’s strengths – are viewed as infinitely cooler, more worthwhile, more important than women and women’s traditional roles, past times, qualities and values. As Julia Serano highlights in the excellent Whipping Girl (which I’m only half way through – more on this soon), femininity – be it patriarchal, natural, innate, constructed, individual, performative – is thoroughly devalued in our society.

When I was younger, I wanted to be a boy for these very reasons. I was never prevented from doing anything or behaving in any way because I was a girl, yet I knew it was much cooler to be a boy. As I grew up – and particularly when I found feminism – I learnt to reconcile my identity as a woman with what society would view as the more masculine aspects of my personality, and I realised that being a woman couldn’t just mean xyz if I was w: I didn’t need to deny or belittle my sex in order to be who I am. Yet I still catch myself trying to be one of the guys, to prove that I’m no different from them – just as good as them, just as worthwhile as them, in the areas they deem to be important – because I’m still subject to the deeply ingrained teaching that men are simply better than women.

We all know that’s not true. So instead of trying to prove ourselves, to gain recognition from the man on his terms, to fit into his world, to be equal to him, I say let’s be who we want to be, make the world we want to live in, with the values we hold dear, and let’s work towards genuine liberation for everyone – women and men – from the constraints of the patriarchal gender system and the sexist values that support it.*

In short, forget equality: can I get an L…?

*Just want to make it clear that I’m not in any way directing this at the women who took part in Dangerous Jobs for Girls – I couldn’t do what you did! – the show’s concept just lead me down this train of thought.

Extremely cool pre-1922 Cowgirl photo by Heather Green Photography, shared under a Creative Commons License.