At the end of the documentary “The Punk Singer,” Kathleen Hanna makes a very provocative statement, “When a man tells the truth it’s the truth, as a woman I need to negotiate the way I’ll be perceived. There’s always suspicion around a woman’s truth.” This statement is reflective of the discussions we’ve had in class regarding how a woman must always defend herself. She is always judged and constantly surveyed for the way she looks and the way she behaves. Hanna always feared that her allegations of sexual abuse and the stories that comprise her life narrative would never be believed. She feared the media’s judgement and her friend’s criticism. So, for self-preservation she kept it all to herself. In the film, Hanna explains that she combats this fear by finally telling her truth without worrying how she will be perceived. The documentary is testament to her truth; she finally reveals it all.
I believe there is a problem with the word “equality,” as even though it is defined by the Cambridge Dictionary as “the right of different groups of people to receive the same treatment,” I cannot help but think that by achieving equality, we would indivertibly be assuming to live in a world of “equals.”
Before this class, I thought that the objective of feminism was to achieve equality. However after being exposed to feminist literature such as Fausto-Sterling’s, I understand that even though we want to break from our two-sex system, there is a reason why she retracted her argument that a five-sex system would be better. Five containers are not better than two, and certainly neither is one, which is what I am scared would happen if we achieve this oh so desired equality.
Regardless of sex, gender, or sexual inclination, people are people and deserve the same treatment – as long as this does not imply that we are all equal because we are not. And that’s a good thing.
Fausto-Sterling, Anne. “Sexing the Body” (2000)
Discrimination is difficult to qualify in an abstract sense—how does one qualify all of the accepted categories of sex, religion, ethnicity, etc. into a single definition? Something like ethnicity is something no one can choose and no one can change. On the other hand, religion is a choice of belief and values that has been deemed protected under our freedom of religion. It’s hard to determine what, other than our society’s values, has decided which categories are protected from judgment.
As it applies to gender, however, discrimination is the differential treatment of a person based on an uncontrollable element of their identity. Holding a woman to a different standard than a man or treating them unequally, such as a woman being paid less than a man despite having the same education and experience background in a job, is discrimination. Unfortunately, this is one of the least “marked” forms of discrimination in our society, because so many have internalized the judgments, stereotypes, and stigmatizations of our gender system that they don’t even consciously recognize their sexist attitudes. This is what makes feminism necessary—to challenge and help people realize that despite their beliefs about themselves, they have deep-seated discrimination against women.
One sentence in John Colapinto’s book, As Nature Made Him, really stroke me. David Reimer indeed says “I feel sorry for women. I’ve been there” (1).
Here we have the perspective from a person who had experience the position of women in our societies, which is, as he said, “way down there”. Women are not considered equal to men. Women are on permanent pressure and judgement upon their behavior, and here is the inequality. Society is always looking at women. There are certain things they cannot do, like when David Reimer, as Brenda, wants to fight, or learn mechanic. They cannot have a high responsibilities job, or if they succeed, they will not be payed as much as if they were men. Women have to look nice on every occasion, they have to be pretty, but not too sexy, otherwise men would catcall them, and think they are looking for it. Women have to succeed in every single part of their lives : having a job, having kids, taking care of themselves, making sport and being slim, and so on. I’m not denying that men are facing some frames of live they have to follow. But the main inequality is that the pressure maintained by society upon women are much stronger, and much global. Women have to constantly reaffirm their place in society, but men don’t have to do that, as Simone de Beauvoir explains (2). Men are the positive one, whereas women are negative, they are “the Other”, and are defined according to men’s terms.
Equality between sexes will only be reached when men and women will face the same expectations from society.
(1) John Colapinto – As Nature Made Him (2001) – p.262
(2) Simone de Beauvoir – The Second Sex (1949)
What is inequality?
As Judith Lorber says, gender is a process and a structure. It is a paradigm through which we experience our world and that stratifies us into two groups: the “unmarked” or default gender and the “other” “marked” one.
One great illustration of how this idea bleeds into many aspects of life is made by linguist Deborah Tannen in her essay, “There Is No Unmarked Woman” (link at the bottom of post). Tannen delves into the ways in which every decision a woman makes carries weight in her representation in society, while men often have the option of making an unmarked choice (think simply of the deliberation a woman goes through to dress in “business casual”).
In her Introduction to The Second Sex, Simone de Beauvoir asserts that “woman has always been man’s dependent, if not his slave: the two sexes have never shared the world equally” (35). However, the inequality present in our structure is also harmful to the unmarked gender as its strictness can apply unnecessary pressures on men as well. Thus inequality is harmful to all though a mode of oppression for the marked.
Finally, my favorite explanation of what inequality is comes from Gloria Steinem. “It starts when you’re a little girl [looking at the world] and something inside you says ‘that’s not fair.'”
In the above photo advertisement posted by American Apparel, the drastic difference between marketing strategies for men versus women is evident. The models are trying to sell the same shirt, yet the the way they’re being photographed is entirely different. The male model gets to stand casually dressed in everyday clothes while the female model is posing provocatively while bare chested and dressed only in lingerie.
So if it’s virtually the same shirt, why would the woman be portrayed so differently? And why isn’t the man posing in a provocative manner as well? Clearly, the ad reinforces current societal expectations for women. Firstly, it reinforces the idea that women are sex objects: “she appears essentially to the males as a sexual being. For him she is sex- absolute sex, no less” (de Beauvoir, 33). Furthermore, the effectiveness of the ad relies on the notion that women base their own self worth on how sexually appealing her partner finds her. Women are consistently depicted like this because society teaches women to be competitive in their desire to be sex objects for men (Hooks, 127). The ad shows that men are clearly not expected to think the same way.
De Beauvoir, Simone. “The Second Sex: Introduction.” Feminist Theory Reader: Local and Global Perspectives. Ed. Carole R. McCann and Seung-Kyung Kim. New York: Routledge, 2003. 32-40. Print.
Hooks, Bell. “Sisterhood Political Solidarity Between Women.” Palgrave Macmillion Journals. Jun 2010. Web.
What would a fair world look like? Would it be blind to gender, race, and class? Would there be legal provisions ensuring a workplace has a fair amount of women and racial diversity, or would these markers be so unimportant that laws would not be needed to achieve equal gender representation at work.
What do minority movements want when they fight for equality? Do feminists want to have women raised up to be equal to men, or do they want to ignore the differences of gender altogether? Do gay people want sexual orientation, a strong marker of identity, to be totally ignored?
“Equality” is so abstract to be the lone goal for a movement. When groups have specific agendas, like fighting for the legalization of same-sex marriage or the extension of federal benefits to same-sex couples, then it feels like victory when these goals are met. However, looking past the successes on paper, there is still inequality in society in terms of race and gender.
Women will fight for equal pay, for equal workplace representation, for the right to choose, etc. and they will likely succeed on paper. But until the thoughts of people have changed, it seems unlikely that we can achieve equality. Until women are not viewed as the “other” or “the second sex,” there will always be a hierarchy because society is built on laws, yes, but also on attitudes. And the gender hierarchy, a false yet perpetuating binary, stems from a constructed attitude. Inequality goes beyond policy, and it cannot be resolved solely in the realm of politics. I think the acknowledgment of differences within the feminist movement Bell Hooks describes can be applied to both genders: differences cannot be ignored, but maybe they can be reconciled.
Hooks, Bell. (1986). “Sisterhood: Political Solidarity Between Women.” Feminist Review. Vol. 23. Pages 125-138.