I was having a discussion with four male colleagues, and I suddenly realized that I was being interrupted constantly. Even though I am well versed on the topic, my input, for most of the time, was rendered useless.
It is these mundane exchanges of microaggression that construct larger disturbances in power dynamics. Disturbances where women still do not possess autonomous control over their own bodies. Reproductive rights, the wage gap, and underrepresentation are important gender-based issues that we (men and women) have to actively tackle.
The struggle to achieve gender equality has been underway for 200 years now. It was launched by Mary Wollstonecraft with her treatise A Vindication of the Rights of Woman in 1792.
First-wave feminism enlisted the efforts of suffragettes like Emmeline Pankhurst and her daughters who granted us our current right to vote. The second-wave feminist movement during the 1960s challenged conventional gender roles demanding opportunity in occupational fields that is our right to work.
Third-wave feminism which began in the early 1990s recognized the importance of ‘intersectionality’. Kimberlé Crenshaw is the leading scholar responsible for coining the term. As a Civil Rights activist Crenshaw recognizes that in order to successfully dissect the hegemony of power, we must account for the nature of social categorizations such as race, class, gender, and sexuality.
Fourth-wave feminism, sometimes known as post-feminism, is what we are experiencing now. With the aid of social media, the 21st century is seeing the re-emergence of feminism in full throttle. Movements like #Metoo, for example, brought awareness to the often overlooked prevalence of sexual harassment and assault.
USA Gymnastics Doctor Larry Nassar had sexually abused more than 100 female athletes throughout his career. When the victims approached the administration where they trained with complaints, they were silenced and disregarded. Such cases might have continued to be ignored but with the support of #MeToo, the once victims now empowered women testified in court and held their abuser accountable.
We have come a long way, but we still have miles ahead.
We still live in a largely male-dominated society where beliefs of superiority shape regressive attitudes towards women.
It’s time to step up.
It’s time to accept the responsibility you share in the construction of social values.
To be aware that silence in moments of injustices are acts of complicity and social progression requires your involvement.
Here is what you can do:
1- Acknowledge your Privileges
Acknowledge that being born male instantaneously grants you privileges in our patriarchal structure and conversely being born female instantaneously puts us at a disadvantage.
Acknowledge that you might hold covert judgments and preconceived notions about women. The society and the culture you were brought up in, even if indirectly, teaches the systemic subordination of women.
Acknowledge that opportunity is curved in your favor, as you are more likely to be accepted to universities, jobs, and positions of leadership.
2- Listen to us
Listen to us when we speak whether in a personal, intimate or professional setting.
The female voice is devalued and underrepresented in various positions from lead roles in films to seats in Parliament. A 2017 study revealed that men had substantially more lines in films – 37,000 dialogues – whereas women had just over 15,000.
Moreover, in many cases taking the female character out of the film doesn’t change the story or plot line. We are not generally not exposed to strong female figures which might explain why women in Lebanon account for 3.1 percent of the deputies in parliament – four out of 128 seats in Parliament.
Established norms have enabled the trivialization of women’s speech. A 2014 analysis concluded ‘that men were nearly three times as likely to interrupt a woman as they were a man.’ These opportunities for change are found in everyday life where the simple act of listening is an act of resistance.
3- Don’t support acts of Objectification
We, as a society, have been conditioned to scrutinize women’s appearance. The distribution of gender roles teaches girls and women that the greater part of their value comes from their looks. Media’s representation also largely supports the judgments and objectification of women’s physicality.
This has not only been proven to lower women’s self-esteem and lead to self-objectification but has been linked to dehumanization and accepted levels of violence towards women.
Chose to become aware of instances of objectification. Refuse to participate in “locker room talk” and highlight the dangers of its perpetuation.
4- Accept cuts
While many dispute the existence of the wage gap, the truth is women make 79 cents on the dollar compared with men. Women earn less in almost every occupation including sports where female athletes earn an average of 23.4% less than their male counterparts.
Such impositions are due to the interconnected web of gender stereotypes which dictates how women should work and how much they should earn.
Leveling the playing field in terms of gender equality would require men to accept some drawbacks. For example, earlier this month six of the BBC’s leading male presenters agreed to take pay cuts after revelations of wage disparity between female co-workers emerged.
5- Become an Ally
Finally, become an ally and chose support women everywhere that include women of color, transwomen, and other marginalized voices. Assist in enhancing visibility, take to social media and make the cause known.
But what about men?
I truly believe that the patriarchal system is oppressive towards everyone, male and female alike. Men are coerced into a system of stereotypes as well and challenging it requires the cumulative effort of those involved. As we tackle one side of the spectrum (that oppresses women), we would inevitably be tackling the other side (which oppresses men).
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