April 16, 2012 § 29 Comments
Those of you who know me personally may know that I am, if not a “typical” heterosexual male, then certainly one with blatant heterosexual attitudes towards women. There are a variety of reasons for my attitudes. One is probably due to my father. He has an old school chivalry mindset; on the surface it appears that he has the utmost respect for women. He speaks to them excessively politely, makes kind gestures such as holding the door for them, and generally goes out of his way to impress them in these types of ways. There is a problem with this line of thinking though: it implies that women are incapable of doing small things like opening doors for themselves, or that they cannot handle foul language, or a crude joke. Would I have ever thought this if it had not been for my feminism class? Well, a woman at some point in my life would probably make this point to me, but to be honest I wouldn’t have taken her seriously if she had, because I would have always viewed women’s ideas about things of this nature as misguided or misinformed. But isn’t it to some extent? Should chivalry really die in the name of equality? Is it even possible for chivalry to die? Why is it that every time a woman holds the door for me I feel I have wronged her in some way by not doing the same for her first? I don’t want chivalry to die, but I also don’t want to feel badly every time I walk through a door held by a woman. Speaking of door holding, what about when an elderly person holds the door for you? Don’t you just feel terrible? I know I do, but it’s discrimination in the same way.
Alright. On to the second reason for my former attitudes. I used to be in an army unit that was made up almost exclusively of white males. Out of approximately 100 semi-active troops, maybe 3 were women. Our conversations and remarks were the often incredibly sexist. We’d make fun of women’s biological mechanisms, their attitudes, their intelligence, their capabilities etc. We would also tell stories about former flames, and the raunchier they were the better received they were. The girls in each story never had personalities; they were just objects to be poked fun at for one reason or another. Another terribly sexist practice was simply referring to a troop as a “pussy” or a woman every time he showed weakness of any kind. I wish I could go back to all of those story-tellings now and say something along the lines of, “whoever this girl is a real human being and should not be simply objectified in this manner.” This is where I have still have issues though. A portion of me still just wants to laugh and enjoy the story, and I feel as though if I were in that situation again, I wouldn’t risk facing ridicule in the name of some unknown person or the feminist cause. Sad, but probably true. There are people out there stronger than I though.
The third major reason for my poor attitude was from knowing about the so-called “Game”. When I was about 19, there was this girl in my life who I really liked, and I desperately wanted to date her. The problem was she didn’t feel the same about me. We were friends and all (co-workers actually), but that’s where it ended (the “friendzone”). I pined for her for almost a year, but could never figure out what I could do or say to make her like me (yes I know how this sounds. To be honest I’m not overly impressed with myself on this portion of the story). First of all, if you even can “make” anyone have feelings for you is up for debate, but in my quest for her I stumbled across a sub-culture known as Pick-Up Artists (or PUA’s for short). There are volumes upon volumes of information about how to go about “picking up” women of all types. They use techniques like “negging”, which is when a man says something negative about a woman (generally about her appearance) in nonchalant manner as if almost complimenting them. Something like, “your smile really lights up the room; it must be the size of your teeth”. It’s usually something small so that the woman’s confidence isn’t shattered, but it is supposed to lower her self-esteem enough to give your sorry (and sexist) ass some illegitimate hope at somehow getting this girl’s phone number in the next few minutes. This is only a small portion of the whole ordeal though, which involves openers, demonstrations of “worth” (basically showing off), segregation of the “target” from her friends for a more intimate chat (or other things, depending on how well things go), and finally closers (or more openings………….). Here is the problem: some of this bullshit actually works to some extent or another, thus giving it some legitimacy. I personally ended up dating that co-worker for more than 2 years about 6 months after learning all of this, but that’s not telling the full story. After doing this research I still didn’t take it all 100% seriously. I did change some things it told me to, such as my body language, and I worked on my confidence levels, which was actually directly benefited by my changes in body language (it’s been proven that if you sit in a confident position, you will feel more powerful almost immediately), but that’s about where my practical application of my knowledge of the “game” ended (and still ends for that matter). I’ve never really had a problem carrying on conversations with girls for long periods of time (at least with the ones who can. I don’t do well at clubs because most girls there can’t talk for long periods of time about the subjects I am interested in (though maybe I should be more interested in the subjects they are interested in (I’m three brackets deep!! I’ve always wondered what it’s like down here. Dare I risk a forth? Nah, I don’t want to end up in limbo like in Inception.), so it’s up for debate whether the specific “techniques” work, but apparently self-confidence works out rather well.
Clearly my attitudes concerning women were suspect, but I was living out my existence oblivious to these facts. I would go so far as to say I thought my treatment of women and my thoughts and concerns about them were correct and more enlightened when compared with most men I knew (the sad part is, this is actually somewhat true). I even signed up for feminist philosophy because I knew there would be mostly women in the course, perhaps some single ones (this was not the ONLY reason I signed up……….really……….I swear…………fuck). This has turned out to be one of the best decisions of my life (though in all honestly, my life has not been full of great decisions, so this isn’t saying as much as I wish it was). But what exactly did I learn?
I learned women are oppressed by many portions of our society. Women on average earn less than men do. Women occupy less science/technology jobs than men do. Women are generally the primary caretaker of children in a family. Women do more housework then men do. Women do not get as much financial compensation in a divorce on average. Many women are subject to unwanted sexual advances, often in situations where they could not defend themselves adequately were the man to “insist” upon his sexual urges. Women are seen as overly emotional and therefore irrational. They are considered weak, which means they are less-than-human in a way, for a good human being is a strong human being according to many philosophers (Nietzsche for example).
This is where many people who don’t value feminism or lend it any credibility would say something like, “why don’t women just bypass each injustice? Surely a woman won’t be denied a higher paying job if she is qualified for it. More women should just get more qualifications”. These poor folks fail view the issue from as broad a perspective as it needs to be. Each of these individual oppressions are actually related to one another and form what Marilyn Frye terms the “birdcage” of oppression. For example, women do not have as many jobs in engineering, and one could simply say that women just don’t like engineering, or that they are not properly qualified to be engineers. But that fails to take into account that society pushes women to focus on aspects of life other than science from birth. Women are told by others to be feminine, and science isn’t feminine and is therefore to be ignored or left for the boys. Thus a girl doesn’t get the experience needed in early life to gain a proper understanding for science and develop a passion for it. Then later in life, even if she does find she enjoys the subject, she is behind in her learning process and must compete against boys who have been working on the subject for years already. If Malcolm Gladwell’s ten thousand hour rule is correct (10000 hours spent on any one activity will make you a master of that activity) then boys will master science (if you can “master” science…..weird analogy I guess) much earlier than girls, and they are therefore admitted to better schools and have more job opportunities upon graduation. It’s not that girls cannot be good scientists, it’s that girls are told not to be good scientists.
Probably the biggest issue I got introduced to was the fear of sexual assault that many women deal with on a daily basis. This came from reading a book called Aftermath by Susan Brison, which I recommend every person read, especially women, though I kind of think saying that is sexist, as men would learn much from this book as most of us have the POTENTIAL to be a rapist (POTENTIAL simply means we have the strength to physically impose our will). This raises an important debate: should women really have to adjust their behaviour in our society because they could be raped? Our society continuously tells women to “be safe” and all that bullshit while simultaneously not being proactive about preventing rape altogether, which would then allow women to be more autonomous. I didn’t realize that walking home alone at night for a woman can be a truly harrowing experience. I am a 6 foot 3, 190 pound man who spent some time in the military and has taken a Tae Kwon Do class or two and works out semi-regularly; in other words, I don’t think twice when if I’m walking home alone from the bar intoxicated. I Nike the shit out of that. But a girl has to be careful. What surprised me even more was that most women I asked said they would be more comfortable walking in the woods at night than they would be in downtown Toronto or even Peterborough. I am the exact opposite; bears, coyotes, and that type of shit live in the woods. Those dudes can fuck me up in a hurry, and I can’t outrun them over short distances. Anyway, now that I am aware of this issue, I find myself asking any girl leaving somewhere I am at night if she is walking home alone. If she is, I usually at the very least insist she texts me when she gets to wherever she’s going, and sometimes I will walk her there. However, I kind of feel sexist for intruding into girls’ lives in this way. It’s kind of the same sort of feeling I get when I am chivalrous; I feel kind of guilty for assuming that a girl could not handle her own business without my intervention.
As you can see, I learned quite a bit about women’s issues in this class, and I believe that this new knowledge has shifted my attitude towards women. I really try hard not to objectify them now, though it does still happen on occasion. I try to be sensitive to there needs; I try to understand their perspective; I talk with them about the issues I have mentioned in this blog, but most importantly of all, I have learned to listen to what they have to say. Clearly they have been telling me these things all along, but only now have I opened my mind enough to comprehend the information being imparted on me. I am certainly glad I did, and my relationship with every single woman in my life has improved because of this course and my new perspective/understanding of the female sex. I still have many questions though. What is sexist and what is not seem to be where most of them end up, and also when is it okay to be a little sexist? Spreading awareness is also a task I am focusing on, as it seems to be the only way to affect change in a democracy. Change the minds of the majority of the people, and you can change the policy. So much fucking easier said than done.