Confession: I’ve developed a bad habit since I started this blog. My eyes and ears are always opened to any and all issues that I think might be relevant to bring up in this forum. So basically, and I think I’ve mentioned this here in the past, no conversation or passing comment related to women and men goes unnoticed when I’m around. It may very well end up on this blog. Names and places will always be left off but you might recognize yourself – you’ve been warned.
I was at a dinner the other day and for a time much of the attention was focused around this young child, who was sweetly interacting with one of the other dinner guests. Some of the other guests were commenting to each other about how cute this young boy was, and he really was, and cooing about the way he was dressed and the way he was interacting with the other guest. Then a comment from one of the side conversations caught my attention. “I really want to have all boys, girls are just too much drama”, I overheard one of my friends say. The others around her nodded and spoke up in agreement, interjecting their own brief statements of why boys were preferable to girls. Boys were easy to dress, girls wouldn’t let their moms dress them, boys are more easy going, girls are high maintenance – basically boys > girls.
As I sat there listening to some people I consider to be pretty amazing women, who would raise terrific women themselves, I couldn’t help but wonder, where were they getting these idea from? And why was everyone so readily agreeing? Did no one think this mass generalization of boys and girls was a bit of an oversimplification of reality? Not every social situation lends itself to serious conversation about the forces that are acting upon us and causing us to accept certain beliefs as fact so I figured this was perhaps not the time in which to bring up the questions above.
This conversation actually reminded me of an article that I think has been going around from Yashar Ali, published on the Huffington Post a few days ago. In it, Ali explains how women have been constantly portrayed as emotional, hyper-sensitive and generally crazy that it impacts not only how men view and treat women but also how women view themselves. His depiction of men interacting with women under this assumption was interesting but more interesting to me was how he was describing women who bought into this idea. He describes an encounter he had with a flight attendant in which he explained that he mainly wrote about women, which caused the flight attendant to respond, “oh, about how crazy we are?”
Much like Ali, her reaction makes me rather depressed. There is very little chance of achieving gender equality, so crucial for the advancement of civilization as a whole, if women themselves hold misconceptions about women. When I was studying ISGP’s document on the equality of women and men in Uganda, one of the women we studied the document with said that before we want to talk about how we can stop men from oppressing women, we have to deal with women oppressing women. She was right. The task of overlooking stereotypes and recognizing someone’s true identity doesn’t lie just with men interacting with women but also with women interaction with women (and men interacting with men for that matter). Essentially, you teach people how to treat you and if women can’t even support other women, why would men support women? Somehow when women can make callous and careless statements about other women it makes you realize we still have a long way to go.
I’ve asked people to contribute to this blog and write about how they try and engender equality in their own lives and a lot have said that they don’t really think they are actively contributing so they don’t have much to write about. Honestly though, if one person in that room would’ve said something, not in a confrontation way, but in a way to invite reflection, that would’ve been engendering equality. We should all take time to reflect and thus become more aware of what is influencing our understanding of gender and relationships between men and women. I think any contribution to equality between women and men requires honest reflection and the realization that our actions and our beliefs are not always perfectly synced, as well as the commitment to achieve that coherence between the two.