Pay Attention. Choose to Learn.

I want to talk about women and equality and I am so frustrated, I don’t even know where to begin. This is an issue that I have become increasingly focused on, not just as a woman in the world demanding respect, but also as a fellow human being, trying to rid myself of the negative messages that I have inadvertently internalized from our unequal, condescending society.

Before you write me off as another passionate, angry woman whose ideas are too radical, or just not that big of a deal because women are emotional and not to be listened to, allow me the dignity to tell you about our reality. It is significant, please note, that I feel at all defensive about my right to speak out and be heard.

When I read the news, what do I see? I see prominent, male political figures being charged with having sexually harassed women, continuing to be supported with virtually no loss of credibility. I see these women’s accusations being written off, as if they’re unimportant, trash, or lying. I see other prominent political groups pushing anti-abortion measures using the argument that, basically, women cannot make such a decision on their own, that the government needs to make it for them. I see anti-contraception legislation being pushed with the argument that the government shouldn’t have to pay for women to have sex! As if women get pregnant all by themselves by accident, as if female sexual pleasure is a burden while male sexual pleasure is a God-given right that comes with zero responsibilities! Regardless of your stance on abortion and contraception, I hope we can agree that these kinds of arguments are patronizing and infuriating.

The issue of women’s equality is important for everyone, not just women. What kinds of values are being taught here? That it’s ok to openly disrespect and put down half of the country’s population? And for what? There is not a single scientifically sound study out there that shows anything inferior about women compared to men. If you know of one, please let me see it. There is no reason for this, and it reeks of arrogance and a cling to power.

I should not have to argue the reasons why this issue is important to men too, and not just women.** An obvious point is that when you write off a set of people as inferior with no evidence that this true,* consciously or not, you lose a lot of talent and intelligence – a huge loss to you. Secondly, and perhaps less obvious, negativity breeds more negativity. I find that when I am overly judgmental of other people, I feel worse about myself. When you look down upon someone, part of you looks down upon yourself. We are all humans together, and we all have a lot to learn from one another, and when we fail to do so, we all lose.

Why are so many people so unacceptably complacent about the way society treats women?

The messages that we get from the news, from magazines, and, yes, from each other, are so deeply internalized that it is hard to unlearn them. We are steeped in them from the moment we are born, and for women, this inequality and sense of inferiority become difficult to notice on a day-to-day basis. Similarly, the sense of superiority instilled in men becomes accepted as default. We all, men and women alike,** inadvertently continue to reinforce this dynamic in our daily lives, whether we mean to or not.

So what can we do about it? 

We can choose to learn. We can begin to pay attention, to gain awareness of ourselves and our role in this unequal dynamic. We can begin to recognize the messages we internalize from the media and from our family and friends, and how these messages impact our communities. We can begin to hold each other accountable, men and women alike.**

I will no longer be driven into silence out of fear of being written off as just another crazy woman screaming about the patriarchy. I will no longer accept that this issue is limited to being for and about women and only women – this is about men, too. This is about everyone. Join me.

Choose to learn.

Until next time, C

Questions to consider: What assumptions do you make about yourself based on what you were raised to believe about your gender? What assumptions do you make about other people? Do you hold ideas from women in the same regard as ideas from men on similar topics?

Notes:

*Women are clearly not the only target of negative messages from the media and discrimination. Topics for future posts.

**I want to acknowledge and support our fellow human beings who identify outside of the gender binary. The media sends us such strong messages about who we are supposed to be as men and women, and discussing these messages in the context of women’s equality often leads to discussions of these two genders specifically. I look forward to writing more about this soon.

***Find me on Twitter at choosetolearn.

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4 Responses to Pay Attention. Choose to Learn.

  1. Choose to learn is an interesting concept, but we have to choose to learn the right and relevant things. At the moment there is so much inequality and negativity that women still take on board, and the fact that the gender debate is still such a controversial topic shows we have a long way to go. In my opinion we will only have gender equality when gender is irrelevant to most conversations or topics.

    • Hi lipstickrhetoric – thanks for your comment!

      I agree that the ultimate goal is for gender equality to be a non-issue. So how do we get there? There are a number of approaches to our current situation – many organizations fighting for women’s rights in the legal and political spheres, others focusing on raising awareness such as the new Miss Representation documentary that came out recently or marches against anti-women legislation, and I think all of these approaches are important. On the way to true gender equality, we need to recognize and acknowledge the inequality all around us, not just on tv or in the news, but in ourselves as individuals. I’m advocating for an approach that we can each take to our day-to-day lives, that does not require forming an organization or pouring time and energy that many of us don’t have into political campaigns or other more tangible actions (kudos to those who do!).

      I, as an individual, can choose to learn about the messages I have internalized about women – the sense of inferiority, the idea that women are less smart or have less valuable ideas, the idea that women are emotional and irrelevant, the idea that women must be taken care of, among others. I can become aware of how these messages play out in my daily interactions with friends and coworkers, how I feel in certain situations, assumptions I make without realizing it, and with this awareness, I can begin to move forward. I can begin to know – not just consciously, but deeply know – that my ideas and emotions bear equal weight, that I am fully capable of making my own decisions and of supporting myself, and that there is truly no shame for being a strong, independent woman. As I go through this process, I can call out others who are reinforcing these internalized messages, I can refuse to accept unequal treatment, no matter how subtle. I can stand as an example. I can be an advocate within my own local environment. This is the change I am calling for – not just for myself, but for everyone.

      You mentioned that it’s important to choose to learn the right and relevant things, and I agree. I am also curious – what do you believe are the right and relevant things to learn? I am no expert, and my ideas are just from my own experience, and I’d like to hear yours, too.

      • I agree with much of what you said in your reply. In my opinion learning the right and relevant things is that we must truly, deeply and unequivocally learn that we are equal in every way that counts. Not just learn to say but learn to feel it.
        I believe we as women must also become much less judgemental of each other, as we are much harsher on ourselves than a lot of males.
        We also need to learn to support each other, not see each other as rivals, and we also need to learn that to celebrate feminism is not the same as hating men, we could actually learn a lot of skills my examing how high functioning males work and adapting it to suit the female psyche.

  2. SB says:

    Yes! Exactly! I love how you’ve put this. ❤

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