- 2020-07-29 04:54:43
What struck me – with her and with many other female American friends I have – is how invested they are in being ‘liked’. How they have been raised to believe that their being likeable is very important and that this ‘likeable’ trait is a specific thing. And that specific thing does not include showing anger or being aggressive or disagreeing too loudly. We spend too much time teaching girls to worry about what boys think of them. But the reverse is not the case. We don’t teach boys to care about being likeable. We spend too much time telling girls that they cannot be angry or aggressive or tough, which is bad enough, but then we turn around and either praise or excuse men for the same reasons. All over the world, there are so many magazine articles and books telling women what to do, how to be and not to be, in order to attract or please men. There are far fewer guides for men about pleasing women.
But by far the worst thing we do to males – by making them feel they have to be hard – is that we leave them with very fragile egos. The harder a man feels compelled to be, the weaker his ego is. And then we do a much greater disservice to girls, because we raise them to cater to the fragile egos of males. We teach girls to shrink themselves, to make themselves smaller.
Why should a woman’s success be a threat to a man?
It is easy to say, ‘But women can just say no to all this.’ But the reality is more difficult, more complex. We are all social beings. We internalize ideas from our socialization. Even the language we use illustrates this. The language of marriage is often a language of ownership, not a language of partnership
Boys and girls are undeniably different biologically, but socialization exaggerates the differences, and then starts a self-fulfilling process. Take cooking, for example. Today, women in general are more likely to do housework than men – cooking and cleaning. But why is that? Is it because women are born with a cooking gene or because over the years they have been socialized to see cooking as their role? I was going to say that perhaps women are born with a cooking gene until I remembered that the majority of famous cooks in the world – who are given the fancy title of ‘chef’ – are men.
I know a family who has a son and a daughter, a year apart in age, both brilliant at school. When the boy is hungry, the parents say to the girl, ‘Go and cook Indomie noodles for your brother.’ The girl doesn’t like to cook Indomie noodles, but she is a girl and she has to. What if the parents, from the beginning, taught both children to cook them? Cooking, by the way, is a useful and practical life skill for a boy to have. I’ve never thought it made much sense to leave such a crucial thing – the ability to nourish oneself – in the hands of others.
I am trying to unlearn many lessons of gender I internalized while growing up. But I sometimes still feel vulnerable in the face of gender expectations.
The sad truth of the matter is that when it comes to appearance, we start off with men as the standard, as the norm. Many of us think that the less feminine a woman appears, the more likely she is to be taken seriously. A man going to a business meeting doesn’t wonder about being taken seriously based on what he is wearing – but a woman does.
I have chosen to no longer be apologetic for my femininity. And I want to be respected in all my femaleness. Because I deserve to be.
Some people ask, ‘Why the word feminist? Why not just say you are a believer in human rights, or something like that?’ Because that would be dishonest. Feminism is, of course, part of human rights in general – but to choose to use the vague expression human rights is to deny the specific and particular problem of gender. It would be a way of pretending that it was not women who have, for centuries, been excluded. It would be a way of denying that the problem of gender targets women. That the problem was not about being human, but specifically about being a female human. For centuries, the world divided human beings into two groups and then proceeded to exclude and oppress one group. It is only fair that the solution to the problem should acknowledge that.
Some men feel threatened by the idea of feminism. This comes, I think, from the insecurity triggered by how boys are brought up, how their sense of self-worth is diminished if they are not ‘naturally’ in charge as men.
And that is part of the problem. That many men do not actively think about gender or notice gender. That many men say, like my friend Louis did, that things might have been bad in the past but everything is fine now. And that many men do nothing to change it. If you are a man and you walk into a restaurant and the waiter greets just you, does it occur to you to ask the waiter, ‘Why have you not greeted her?’ Men need to speak out in all of these ostensibly small situations.
Because gender can be uncomfortable, there are easy ways to close this conversation.
Some people will bring up evolutionary biology and apes, how female apes bow to male apes – that sort of thing. But the point is this: we are not apes. Apes also live in trees and eat earthworms. We do not.
Some people will say, ‘Well, poor men also have a hard time.’ And they do. But that is not what this conversation is about. Gender and class are different. Poor men still have the privileges of being men, even if they do not have the privileges of being wealthy. I learned a lot about systems of oppression and how they can be blind to one another by talking to black men. I was once talking about gender and a man said to me, ‘Why does it have to be you as a woman? Why not you as a human being?’ This type of question is a way of silencing a person’s specific experiences. Of course I am a human being, but there are particular things that happen to me in the world because I am a woman. This same man, by the way, would often talk about his experience as a black man. (To which I should probably have responded, ‘Why not your experiences as a man or as a human being? Why a black man?’)
Some people will say a woman is subordinate to men because it’s our culture. But culture is constantly changing. I have beautiful twin nieces who are fifteen. If they had been born a hundred years ago, they would have been taken away and killed. Because a hundred years ago, Igbo culture considered the birth of twins to be an evil omen. Today that practice is unimaginable to all Igbo people.
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