Not all men

I recently came across this article (in Swedish), in regards to the “not all men” debate, about how men, ordinary Swedish (or other..) men, help themselves to women’s bodies. Somehow, the “right” that men (think they) have to put their hands on women, surpasses the woman’s own rights to her own body. How is that normal? How can anyone think that this is ok, truly, really, ever?

The author of the article, an ordinary Swedish man, talks about this skewed, unjust problem, and tells stories about how this all started in middle school, where boys, ordinary boys, chased girls, put their hands on them, looked down their pants. How it then morphed in adulthood and was translated into more violent sexual assaults and rape. The author saw his friends, co-workers, acquaintances, all ordinary men, help themselves in different ways to women’s bodies, and he thought, foolishly, that he would never, could never, do something like that. Until he did. Cause the problem here is not that the rapists, assailants, grabbers are all monsters that hide during the day and come creeping out of the bushes at night. No, it’s that they are ordinary men, who take a step, or two, or a hundred, too far, who help themselves to something that they have been brought up to think, is rightfully theirs.

The stories he told all sound familiar to me, and I am sure, to all of my female friends, however my, our, point of view is from the other side. I too remember how the ordinary boys in middle school all of a sudden started to grab us girls, how they sometimes playfully, sometimes violently, put their hands on our bodies. How we were just supposed to deal with it, to feel flattered by it, how “boys will be boys” was an ever present echo in the air. I cannot possibly recall all the numerous times that my ass was grabbed by an ordinary boy in school, but I do remember a specific instant: a regular day when I was sitting on a table outside the lunch room, waiting for my friends, and this ordinary boy, one of the cute older boys, came sitting next to me, how we talked, joked, and how he suddenly slipped his hand on my butt, like it was inevitable, normal, something that I should feel good about. And the problem was, that I in one sense did feel good since that was what I was supposed to feel; if the cute boy at school put his hands on you, you were supposed to feel proud, flattered, happy. The question of whether or not you wanted his hands on your body at that particular moment, was not even a question at all. Obviously, whenever he felt that some ass-grabbing was due, that was always the appropriate time. So while I sat there, feeling his hand on my butt, I felt nervously happy, but at the same time, very, very uncomfortable. In my head, I tried to convince myself that it was ok, that it was something good, that I should just shut up and be glad about it, about getting this sort of attention. Cause if I told him off, surely, I would be the biggest dork ever. Right? He would then probably tease me, or even worse: never pay attention to me again. And since my “worth”, my raison d’être was (I was taught) linked to the amount of attention received from the cute ordinary boys at school, I could never say no. Looking back now, I wish I had done something, but while thinking this, I get angry, because no; it was not my responsibility to not get grabbed by him. It was his responsibility to not put his hands on me. It was not my fault then, and it was not my fault years later when snorkeling in Egypt, where a guide decided to conduct me away from the group and put his hands on my breasts inside my bikini. It was not my fault any of the numerous times while out dancing with my friends when  someone came and touched me from behind. It was not my fault when I was grabbed on the tram. It was never my fault when some ordinary man put his hands on me without my consent. It’s their fault, always.

And like the author in the article argued: this is such a regular, normal, ordinary thing that happens to everyone, and if you cannot count at least 10 women who have been sexually assaulted in some way, and 10 men who have assaulted a woman, that is because they have not told you about it. It is not because it does not exist in your immediate circle of friends, family, co-workers, acquaintances, it is not because the ones who do that are monsters in hiding, or because “not all men” do that. All men, ordinary men, are capable of doing that, even the nicest ones, even the ones who “would never”. That is why the “not all men” argument has to die out. It has to be buried and forgotten so we can move forward and deal with the issue at hand, the norms that teaches ordinary men that they have the right to women’s bodies, that they may put their hands wherever they want, whenever they want.

This is a man’s issue, a woman’s issue, a human issue, everyone is involved, in some way or another, even those who de facto do not put their hands where they do not belong, if you are silently letting that happen around you, it makes you culpable too.

All men, ordinary men; it’s time to take a stand.

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Banning sexist ads

Things are starting to happen, more and more debates are stirring up regarding the sexist misrepresentations we have been force fed for decades by ads, institutional and systemic activities are blossoming in the form of bans. If things continue to progress in this order, we might, might, be able to overcome the daily litany of sexism we are exposed to each and every day. I do not think that we will ever be rid of sexism altogether, that would be too much to ask, right? But if we could at least not portray ourselves in demeaning ways, then that would surely affect the way we see and act towards each other as well.

There are and have been many different projects dealing with these issues for the last couple of years, to name a few: The Representation Project with social media campaigns like #NotBuyingIt and #MediaWeLike, the ad agency Badger & Winters’ campaing #WomenNotObjects, the underwear brand Aerie with their #AerieREAL campaign. Not to mention the many scholars and authors who have been discussing the way we portray women and men in ads, art and film since the 60’s and 70’s (for instance: Laura Mulvey, Jean Kilbourne, John Berger, Erving Goffman, Sut Jhally, Denice A. Yanni, Debra Merskin, and many, many more). Nonetheless, real change takes time, and effort, and endurance. Since advertising as we know it is a social institution, changing it is not just a matter of flicking a switch, as Warlaumont wrote:

Advertising images have a special importance to scholars of popular culture because of the “reality” they construct for the viewer, especially in terms of gender portrayals. Because they are ubiquitous, these portrayals often become our established visual grammars of gender. Since these images are driven, in part, by economic conditions – which often encourage the exploitation of women and others in order to sell products – change has been met with some resistance.

Needless to say, the images we are given have become established, we have breathed them in throughout our lives, they are a part of our norms and value system, therefore, not all see or understand that this is in fact an issue, that this is not the way it has to be, that such images are socially constructed, and thus, they can be re-structured. Thankfully, there are those who do and who have brought this up time and time again, who fight for all of us, even the ones who do not want to see or admit that this affects them as well.

Lately, other larger organizations and institutions have also started to understand the problem, and taken a stand towards it. Some weeks ago the city of Trondheim in Norway declared that ads conveying negative body image will be banned and no longer displayed in public spaces.

“No advertising that conveys a false image of the model/models’ appearance and contributes to a negative body image will be permitted.”

And in a similar manner, London’s Mayor Sadiq Khan has recently banned body-shaming ads on the transit system.

“As the father of two teenage girls, I am extremely concerned about this kind of advertising which can demean people, particularly women, and make them ashamed of their bodies.”

Finally. Action is taken, for real, in a way that can actually bring about some change. Now, I must also express that I am not that particularly happy about the fact that such ads have to be banned, it would be so much better if companies and ad agencies just stopped producing them by their own free will. But since this has not occurred to many (or most..) of them, well, then I guess it’s better that they get stopped by any means necessary, such as bans. It is not enough to just have some advertising standards that companies should follow, without there also being repercussions when they refuse to follow them. In Sweden for instance, we have the Reklamombudsmannen, a foundation where consumers can for instance report ads that they do not find ethically acceptable. There are different types of reports that can be made and one of them concerns gender discriminatory ads, but even if you report an ad, and even if that ad gets condemned for sexism for instance, there are no repercussions what so ever for the company behind the ad. They can, if they want, take it down, or they can totally ignore it and keep spewing their sexist agenda. Such a system is a nice thought, really, it is nice to think that people would behave and if someone tells them they have done something bad, they apologize and try never doing it again. But, unfortunately for us all, people are not like that, not all the time, not everyone. So if they will not listen to reason or just have a general understanding of equality and not want to demean and exploit both women and men, well, fuck it, let’s ban them. In a Swedish newspaper today there was a debate article about just this: the leader of the feminist party in Sweden argued for a ban on sexist ads. On the flip side the chairman for the youth liberal party claimed that such a ban would invade on the freedom of speech, and sure, that may be true, but hey, what about the freedom of not feeling offended when walking out your door, what about the freedom of not having misogyny thrown in your face, what about the freedom of being seen as an equal, what about the freedom of not being brainwashed with in-human, perfectly flawless body and beauty standards that no living person can ever live up to? Of course, sexist ads are not the root of the problem, but they are a part of it. And if all sorts of different brands have not yet understood that they should perhaps try not creating sexist ads in order to sell their products, well then perhaps it is time to do something about it.

If ever there would be a vote or petition in Sweden for banning sexist ads, I’d be the first to sign it. Bring it on, I have my pen ready.

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Mansplaining

Ah patriarchy, the gift that keeps on giving..

There has been some recent buzz online regarding the concept of “Mansplaining”, which simply put is when a man (or woman) interrupts a person (often a woman)  in order to explain something to them as if they were a little child not having the slightest clue about anything. Lovely, isn’t it? If you have never heard this before, you might want to check this informative video:

Now, first of all, there are those that behave in this disrespectful way regardless of gender, however, the issue at stake here is that mansplaining happens a lot both in films, TV and advertising as well as in real life and also that it seems most often to concern men mansplaining things to women, thus women are and have been systematically silenced by men for a long time. This really should come as no surprise, right? Seeing as how history is written by men, how society was shaped by men and it’s barely been a hundred years, even less in some countries, since women got the right to vote, i.e. “speak” their mind regarding important societal matters. Mansplaining may be a fairly recent term, but the act itself is older than feminism. Women and minority groups have been shushed and silenced in all types of manners for centuries, so this should really not come as a shock to anyone, the only thing I find surprising is that it took this long before we formulated a word for this type of behaviour.

Of course, whenever such topics get talked about online one will soon find people going on about “yeah well women do that too” and thus not really getting the point. But hey, let me manspl..ehm, explain it then:

The point is not that all men mansplain things, or that women never mansplain things, the point is that mansplaining is a phenomenon that occurs relatively often, and in most or at least many cases that are depicted, that many of us are exposed to, it is a man explaining things to a woman in a patronizing way, thus assuming that she is incompetent, that he is superior and knows best without having any reason for this belief. The point is that such an occurrence should not be happening in the scale that is has been and is happening, the point is that it should not be taken for granted that a man will always know more than a woman, regardless of topic.

So, how about treating each other as individuals, hearing each other out instead of silencing each other? There are always more sides to a story than yours. And in the words of David Brent:

Don’t assume. It makes an “ass” out of “u” and “me”.

March 8th

Here’s to all women and people subscribing to the female sex:

Happy International Women’s day!

Please: Keep fighting for equality, keep being strong, keep standing up for yourselves and others, keep being who you want to be and don’t take crap from anyone.
Today is a day to acknowledge yourselves and the injustices of a patriarchal power structure, today is a day to celebrate all women and their daily fight.

And for all you non-women out there, I hope you have or had a lovely day as well. I hope you took or will take the opportunity to acknowledge and appreciate the women around you who make your lives worthwhile: your mothers, daughters, sisters, wives, partners, girlfriends, friends, colleagues and so forth. Why not support them, why not tell them that you are proud of them and happy to be a part of their lives? It shouldn’t be that difficult to celebrate others who may not necessarily be you.

While some may ask why this day is important or even needed, let me just say that, sadly, it is. I wish that we didn’t need it, but apparently, we do. It is important because it gives people an opportunity, a “reason” to at least once a year acknowledge the huge gaps that still exist between women and men. It is needed because women, and men, have for so long been trying to bridge the gaps and make them smaller, and to a degree, they have, but still, we have not yet reached equality. For all of you who feel that it is “unequal” to have a women’s day and not a men’s day, I can just say this: I would happily trade this day in order to get real equality in return, every day. But until that happens, no. Sorry, this day is reserved for women. So, women, let’s hear you roar.

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Be happy and proud to be a woman, but remember that you are so much more than your gender.

 

About not being equal and speaking up

By this point in time one would hope that it was pretty obvious that equality between the sexes is still just a mere dream, however, not all seem to see this crookedness and think that we all have the same opportunities and live according to the same standards and in the “same” society. However, the society we do live in does look fairly different for men and women, and therefore I must give praise to Jared Mauldin, a senior engineer who took a stand and spoke (well, wrote) about the inequality that surrounds his field. Thank you for your letter, for you seeing the vast differences regarding men and women in this field, for speaking up about it and foremost, for admitting that you and your gender are in fact the privileged ones when it comes to engineering (which basically includes all fields that have anything to do with technology).

Here is Jared’s letter:

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While feeling inspired and hopeful reading this, it also gives me a pang of cynicism and bitterness for the simple fact that this is the reality in which we live. Because even today women are not as encouraged as men to pursue technological activities and education, and when they do, they still face ridiculous challenges that have nothing to do with their capabilities or ambition, but everything to do with their gender. I have been in the IT-business for some time now and I have heard time and time again by my male peers who work as developers that “there just aren’t any great women who code”, in fact it is very rare to even find female developers at all. It does not surprise me that this is the mentality, and as much as I hate saying it, I can see what they mean. However, the reason for there not being enough developers who are women surely has more to do with the society we live in, than the fact that they are unable to code as well as men. Surely, this is in fact where the real problem lies. And this is a big problem.

Unless the challenges facing women in technological fields change, unless we (i.e. the society as a whole, the social structures we live by) change our mentality when it comes to women and technology, the crookedness will remain the same. And that is why Jared’s letter is so important, because it takes a stand in the right direction, towards equality.

Let’s just hope we get there some day.

To be, or not to be, a feminist.

Last night I stumbled upon this video:

and it saddened me a bit.

It’s sad that people feel the need to object to feminism, because they believe it means that you basically hate men and don’t care about issues related to them. For me, feminism has always meant one thing: equality. Equality between genders, sexual preferences, heck even between “races” and cultures. Feminism for me is the ism that stands for, fights for, different groups of people that have been, and still are, in some ways, oppressed. I think it’s sad, and kind of ironic, that you (especially as a woman) would not want to be called a feminist, while living in a patriarchal society. I call myself a feminist, but at the same time I care about issues that are related to men as well. I think men should have the same parental rights as women, being able to go on parental leave just like women and stay home with their kids. I think men and boys should not be held to certain types of standards, always being the “strong” one, being asked to “act like a man”, cause really, what the heck is that supposed to mean? I think boys should be encouraged to play with dolls, or dress in pink or whatever else it is that we impose on girls, and they should be allowed to be caring, nurturing and show their emotions if they feel like it, without being called a pussy, or a sissy, or a pansy, or any other stupid word that degrades both genders in some way.

Now, regarding her video, I am pretty uncertain if all the statistics she presented are accurate, and also, where exactly they are accurate (is it only involving the United states or what? Cause I’m sorry all you Americans out there, but the world really does not revolve around you…yeah..). Nevertheless, I felt that some of the men’s issues she spoke about and tried to compare with women’s issues, were rather weird. For instance the rape thing. Hm…ok, so apparently there is a huge issue regarding men being raped in prison. Ok, I understand that it is an issue, and also acknowledge that it is a serious one and something should definitely be done about it. But. How can you even compare this to the amount of women that are being raped every day out in the “real” world? Men being raped in prison is men raping other men, in prison = the majority of all these men are criminals, albeit there are probably many that are innocent but that is a completely different issue that I will not discuss right now.. Anyhow. When talking about female rape, you are not talking about the amount of women being raped in prison by other women, you are talking about the amount of “non-incarcerated” women walking about freely in the world, being raped by men. Ergo, both issues have to do with men raping; men raping men, and men raping women. So hey, why not turn the issue around and make it about (certain) men raping? Why not trying to do something about the rape-culture that we seem to live in?

At the same time, of course, women’s issues do bother me “more” since I am a woman, and also, since the society I live in is still based on patriarchy, and has always been so. I do feel stronger towards women’s issues, since the majority of women have throughout our history, been referred to as the “second” gender, and been more oppressed than men. And sure, you can, as she does, say that men are also being objectified just like women, but really, really… I mean, really? How can you say that and honestly believe that it is true? I would not, nor can I, compare the objectification that is going on between the genders, especially when it comes to my field of research. Advertisements pretty much objectify everything, however, the objectification that is being done to women is not the same as for men. First of all, it is not the same amount of objectification between the genders, second of all women have been the target of objectification for a longer period of time, heck, women have basically started out as “objects”, while men started out as “subjects”, so how are you supposed to even start comparing? Sure, women have during the last century gotten more rights and “equality”, but still, what is a century, compared to the entire history of humans? Therefore, when talking about the objectification that is going on both for men and women, one must always remember the past and the present, one must remember what type of society the objectification is taking place in, one must remember to evaluate exactly how “equal” that society really is. Or as Kilbourne eloquently put it:

“When power is unequal, when one group is oppressed or discriminated against as a group, where there is a context of systematic and historical oppression, stereotypes and prejudice have different weight and meaning.”…”When men objectify women, they do so in a cultural context in which women are constantly objectified and in which there are consequences — from economic discrimination to violence — to that objectification.”

So yeah, is it really that strange that feminism is called feminism, when it all started with the “second” gender being tired of getting in second place? It could just as well have been called humanism, or peopleism or equalitism or whatever else that “represents” both genders, BUT, why does this even matter? It is just a word, after all. And just like all other words, all other isms, all other groups, not to mention religions; people will still interpret it in their own way, putting their own spin on it, reacting towards it in their own manner. So what can you do? Well, you can call yourself a feminist and fight for equality, or you can call yourself something else and fight for the same cause, as long as we are all working our ways, living our lives with equality in mind, it should really not matter what you call yourself. Cause really, we are all in this together.