This is an edited version of a comment I made on John Pavlovitz’s blog post: Young Men, Sex, and Urge Ownership (And Why It’s Not The Girl’s Problem). Please read it first. This post was prompted by the comments.
To young men and women
Women AND men are the subject of unfair gender socialisation and sexism. I can see that a post directed to young women is needed to counter-balance John’s post directed to young men. However, his post is very important because of the extra difference in biology: men have to make MORE of an effort because they have to also temper natural sex urges. Not doing so can result in physically and psychologically harming women.
The beginning of #YesAllWomen
After Elliot Rodger went on his murderous rampage, a woman started the #YesAllWomen hashtag on Twitter. (Elliot Rodger wanted to punish the world because no girl wanted to have sex with him. He was 22, a virgin and ashamed of it. Sex was the source of power. Elliot Rodger felt powerless, therefore not a man.) The intent of the hashtag was for women to use it to share their experiences of sexism, sexual harassment and violence.
The first week was really awesome, heart-breaking, inspiring and tragic. It got a lot of press coverage and about one million tweets in the first week.
What happened next
In the following weeks, a lot of anti-feminist men and women joined in, JUST to pick arguments with women using the hashtag (saying they deserved the rape, were ugly, were a feminazi, were exaggerating or lying). They also co-opted the hashtag and used it with disparaging comments about women (such as, “3/10 get raped? Let’s make it 100% #YesAllWomen”). Many men have created anonymous accounts JUST to harass women using the #YesAllWomen hashtag.
I have dipped in and out of the hashtag for the last 6 weeks. I support women who are being attacked for recounting their experiences, and I try to counter anti-female comments (women are bad as dogs, women are only good for sex, women are stupid, women always lie, women only want men for their money, women have cheated men out of jobs, women don’t have it any worse than men, sex is something that men do to women and finally, “shut up and stop whining”).
How can we change things?
I have read the tweets of hundreds of men and women in the context of my own experience and my psychology degree. I have come to a conclusion: if we are to make significant changes in gender bias, we need to start talking to our children differently.
For the rest of us, we can make small dents but it’s too late.
From the moment we’re born, we are told, taught and trained what is expected of us because of our gender. The first compliment “ooh, what a pretty girl” (to a baby dressed in pink) or “what a strong boy!” (to a baby dressed in blue) is the first of constant gender socialisation messages. Girls get skirts and dresses (impractical for playing), boys get trousers. Girls get toys of dolls, kitchen sets, make-up kits, jewellery kits. Boys get toys of guns, soldiers, cars, construction, puzzles.
As we grow up, we are bombarded DAILY with messaging that girls are pretty and that boys and strong – from what people say, adverts, posters, films, TV, the people we see around us.
We also reaffirm and pass these gender roles to others. The resulting gender roles are NOT innate, they are conditioned. And we are ALL complicit in perpetuating them.
Girls make themselves pretty for boys (although they don’t realise that’s what they are doing) and boys feel entitled to what the girls are “offering”.
We have commoditised women’s bodies. We have cheapened women by encouraging and then exploiting their sexuality and their nakedness in adverts, on posters, in TV and in films. The goods are willingly displayed but then we’re surprised when men want to handle the goods.
Girls are valued for their sexual attractiveness
Girls are taught from a very young age that they are valued on their looks. They are expected, encouraged and reminded to pluck, shave, wax (even though it hurts, takes time and costs money), wear make-up (costs a lot of money), show cleavage, wear skirts (some secondary schools with uniforms forbid girls to wear trousers) and show skin. They are praised, VALIDATED and rewarded for their looks.
Girls as young as 10 on Instagram are making selfies using sexualised poses they have seen on TV. They don’t know what it means but they do know that such as thing is valued in society. At 10, they have already found and chosen their role models of what it means to be a successful woman.
It’s too late to say to someone wearing provocative clothes to “be modest” – the damage is already done. And you’re still competing with ongoing daily messaging that being immodest is greatly valued.
Is it our choice?
As teenagers and adults, women might think that they freely make these decisions about plucking their eyebrows, say, or wearing make-up. But, because the relentless conditioning started from before they could even speak, they have had actual little choice in the matter.
This is also true of Muslim women who cover their hair or wear burqas – they do so because they WANT to. The same forces that make women want to cover their bodies with burqas are THE SAME forces that make Western women want to make women show their bodies.
We must take responsibility of what we have done – and are doing – to girls.
Unfair to boys too
Similarly, boys are conditioned to conform to their designated gender roles (be strong, don’t cry, be brave, be the initiator of sex, don’t be vain).
Yes, men AND women have been conditioned with gender roles (gender is cultural, by the way). However, the unfairness doesn’t result in equivalent harm: every day, women are being attacked, raped and murdered just because of their gender.
Impact on women
The impact of women’s gender role is that they are seen as sexual prey, as intellectually limited (lower pay for same job), not mathematical or scientific (passed over for less qualified men). They are also denied combat roles and are considered the better parent for custody by default (both unfair to men).
The next generation
This is why we need to talk to the next generation differently. We must tell BOTH girls and boys that they are strong, clever, handsome, brave. We must not dress only girls in pink and only boys in blue. We mustn’t give people the visual cue to alter their behaviour.
We must give the girls and boys toys that will help them grow as people who can contribute fully to society, regardless of their gender. And don’t limit them by saying what they should or shouldn’t do because of their gender.
As adults, we’ve all been contaminated by conditioning. We can’t tell men “not to rape” or women not to dress indecently because it’s too late. Women are conditioned throughout their lives to make themselves attractive to men. You can’t compete with decades of conditioning.
Linda Liukas’ book Hello Ruby – to teach programming concepts for children – is an example of the kind of thing I think we need to be doing. The main character is a young girl. (Note that Linda didn’t pitch her book as feminist.)
Red Pill, MRA and PUA
I commented earlier about Red Pill ideology. There is also Mens Right Activism (MRA) and Pick-Up Artistry (PUA).
PUA teaches young men skills to get women to “put out” – women are only seen as providers of sex, they have no further use. These men don’t want a relationship; they think that love is for “niceguys” (whom they disparage). They seem to be completely unaware that sex can be a collaboration and not just something that a man does to a woman, after he has manipulated her into it.
The Internet (for all its awesomeness) has made it easy for young men to find these anti-women communities. The forums are full of posts that confirm their way of thinking. The online communities act as echo chambers; the same misinformation goes round and round, reaffirming itself in the reader’s mind.
Join the battle
If there is a battle to be fought (and I think that there is), joining these forums to counter the misinformation would be one thing we could do. However, you would need thick skin, nerves of steel and the patience of a saint. If not, the population of socially-immature, angry young men is just going to grow. And then they will grow up to be dysfunctional boyfriends, husbands and fathers.
If you’d like to join the battle on Twitter, I am using my @PootDibou account for #YesAllWomen discussions.
I have documented some of my Twitter debates on Storify:
- My #YesAllWomen tweets followed by an argument
- Not understanding #YesAllWomen – on wearing make-up
- #YesAllWomen “holy shit” then “bullshit” – haters and deniers
- #YesAllWomen is sexist – whether women being wary of men to keep safe is sexist.