The boys club, or: How women have been, and still are, kept out of history

As I am writing this, I have just finished my first day at a seminar abroad, and I must say, the seminar started off on a frustrating and infuriating note for me. As we were listening to the first lecture this morning, which was supposed to be about Ricoeur, the lecturer, a male Professor from France, began with a brief sort of history slash back story of philosophers and great thinkers, among which Ricoeur was one (along with Derrida, Husserl, Foucault etc.). After talking about this and that philosopher he showed us a slide of all he had touched upon with their names and pictures, dates and such, and I couldn’t help thinking: There’s something wrong with this picture.
All the faces looking back at me from the screen, were Men. My anger and frustration was instant, I felt my pulse rising as the question boiled in my head; Why is there not a single woman pictured there?

Alas, I bit my tongue and let him continue on uninterrupted. I figured, maybe he will mention more, maybe he will say something. Or, maybe I am overreacting. But no, I am not, and I hate myself for even thinking that for a second, for going there, for almost forgiving yet again the erasure of women. Fuck that.

As the day went on, my frustration grew, but as a sign from the universe, it so happened that in the last section of the day, the group discussions, I was placed in the same group as the lecturer. I kept going back and forth for most of the discussion on whether or not I should now take the opportunity to ask him what he was thinking, why he decided to ignore female philosophers completely, and at the end of the discussion I raised my hand and spoke out. I said that I noticed that there were only men included in his presentation, that he didn’t mention a single woman, that while talking about this and that collaboration or link to Ricoeur he did not make a single connection to, say, Simone de Beauvoir, who, one could say, had similar thoughts on identity as did Ricoeur. Why was she left out?

The answer I got was, what I would call: a generic-non-reply-excuse. Basically, he said that he was not that familiar with her work (! How about reading up on it then?), that women at that time were not that encouraged to take part of the discourse (! Sure, but what about those who did?), that in France, Simone de Beauvoir is not that “popular” (! Ok, but we are not IN France, and you just gave a lecture about Ricoeur and how he was not that popular in France and had to go to America..), that the university at that time was very misogynist (! Obviously, still does not explain why you insist on keeping it that way..), and then another male lecturer chimed in trying to save the situation by saying: That was still not that long ago, and surely in a hundred years it will look different and more women will be included in the seminar then. And my honest response to that is: Well. No. Actually, things will in fact NOT look different then, unless we MAKE it different. If we keep excluding women, they will never be a part of the discourse. If we keep ignoring women, overlooking them, they will remain in the periphery.

Women have been written out of history for too long, it is not always that noticeable, it is not always complete or permanent, but it has happened, and still is happening. As Rebecca Solnit writes in one of the best books I’ve read this year, or probably my entire life, Men Explain Things to Me:

“Some women get erased a little at a time, some all at once. Some reappear. Every woman who appears wrestles with the forces that would have her disappear. She struggles with the forces that would tell her story for her, or write her out of the story, the genealogy, the rights of man, the rule of law. The ability to tell your own story, in words or images, is already a victory, already a revolt.”

By say, not including female philosophers at a lecture where you mention a dozen male philosophers, you are, whether consciously or not, keeping women out of the discourse. You are showing your students that great thinkers equals men. You are holding on to the misogynist rules that have kept women on the outside for centuries. The fact that you have not read up on any female philosophers is of course also part of the problem, in fact, I can almost be certain that when your teachers presented their lectures on great philosophers, they most likely also did not mention women. And so the story goes. So it spins. Round and round. And if we keep spinning like this, we will forever be too damn dizzy to notice what is wrong with the bloody picture.

Enough is enough, is enough. It’s time to write a new history.

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10 commandments for men

In a Swedish newspaper there was a debate article yesterday that made me happy and hopeful. It was written by a man who in his frustration regarding the recent writings in media about sexual assault towards women in different parts throughout the world, lead him to compose 10 commandments that he thought every man should read and follow.

Translated from Swedish, the commandments are as follows:

  1. Never let your sex drive compass over your respect for other people’s integrity.
  2. Learn to read other people’s signals, especially those that imply that what you are doing is not desirable behaviour.
  3. If someone sends out signals described in point 2, stop immediately whatever it was that you were doing.
  4. If it becomes more difficult to follow points 1-3 under the influence of alcohol, learn where to draw the line, or abstain completely from drinking.
  5. If other heterosexual men in your surroundings have problems following points 1-4, make it a habit to always reprehend them verbally.
  6. Make sure that you in depth understand the meaning of concepts like feminism, gender-power order and privileges.
  7. Help other heterosexual men to in depth understand the concepts in point 6.
  8. Understand that you in the reigning gender-power order are one of the most privileged people in society.
  9. Use your privileged position to lift someone who is less privileged.
  10. A gentleman is strong, brave, unselfish and puts others’ well-being before his own. Be a gentleman!

He wrote these because he felt and saw a need for drawing lines, since apparently, many do not know when they are crossing them. Because it is time for men to take their responsibilities and stop blaming women for their own assaults. Because these assaults are not “freak events”; they happen daily, regularly, to women all over the world.

I would like to make my own contribution in the spirit of his. But my attention is towards women instead. Here are 10 suggestions for women (I deliberately did not want to call them commandments, since women have in my opinion, been commanded to do this and that, be this and that, since the beginning of time, and who am I to command anyone to do anything?):

  1. Do not be afraid to speak up; speak your mind. After all: you are woman, let’s hear you roar.
  2. Do not be afraid to say No; nobody should try to force or convince you to do anything that you do not wish to do. No still means no.
  3. Do not feel ashamed if you have ever experienced any form of sexual assault; try talking about it and of course report the incident if possible. Remember that these things happen to most women in some degree, and it is not something that you should feel ashamed of, it is a shame on the society in which you live and it’s the assailant who should feel shame. Not you.
  4. Dress however you feel like dressing, use make-up, or don’t, shave your legs/armpits/whatnot, or don’t. Just remember that the choice is supposed to be yours. Do not let anyone or anything (for instance advertising..) try to convince you that you are less of a woman or a person if you do not follow their standards. There is no such thing as “normal”, it’s just something people have made up.
  5. Remember Spice girls? Well, one thing they did very right was express the importance of “Girl Power”. Remember this concept, cherish it, live by it.
  6. Do not be afraid to call yourself a feminist: even though there are people with wild misconceptions about this term, the basis of feminism is equality. It is not about man-hating hairy women without bra’s wanting to abolish men and all their misogynist ways. No, it’s about fighting for each and every individual’s right in society = Women and Men.
  7. Stop being so judgemental towards other women. There are countless studies that have shown how men in organizations for instance, help other men reach the top (eg. see Kanter), while women on the other hand are fighting both other women and other men. But who helps women? We must help ourselves, let’s change that and help each other as well. We are sisters, not enemies.
  8. Remember that being a woman is a social construction: It is not something biological, it is not something stable, it is not something universal. Thus, be whatever woman you want to be, just be yourself.
  9. Learn more about concepts such as feminism, gender, power structures, institutionalization, norms, patriarchy and so on. They will help you understand what it means to be a “woman” in today’s world, and thus, help you to fight against old-fashioned notions that should just be put out of their misery already. For more information, read: The second sex, by Simone de Beauvoir. She explains it all so well.
  10. Encourage other women around you to follow suggestions 1-9.

 

The Second Sex

Finished writing my second term paper in the classics course, where we were supposed to present and discuss some classical texts, any way we wanted. Now of course I chose classics that I found interesting and fruitful for my own research field; from social construction, to gender, to ads to the male gaze and so on. Connecting these all together, finding the red thread, the causes and effects, has been thrilling but also very depressing..

One of my favourite classics that I had the pleasure of diving into again is hands down Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex. Even though it was written almost 70 years ago, her examination of women and their (our) development and placement in society still holds. Dissecting and explaining the relationship between subject and object, providing both accurate and interesting examples covering both factual occurrences and myths, she put forward an incredible piece of work that should never be forgotten.

“Any myth implies a Subject who projects its hopes and fears of a transcendent heaven. Not positing themselves as Subject, women have not created the virile myth that would reflect their projects; they have neither religion nor poetry that belongs to them alone: they still dream through men’s dreams. They worship the gods made by males.”

How incredibly depressing this is to read, yet how important it is to understand the enormous impact of it. Just letting it sink in, and getting the picture of the vast amounts of ramifications this has had over the way women have been and are still struggling to get a shared 1st place position alongside men. You start to wonder, will we ever get there?

I very much believe in the social construction of reality and things, however when discussing constructions, more often than not you hear that “people” have constructed this and that, but let’s be honest for a moment; not all people have always had the same amount of power to construct all the pieces of the puzzle we call society.

“The representation of the world as the world itself is the work of men; they describe it from a point of view that is their own and that they confound with the absolute truth.”

Now, I am not saying that women have just stood idly by while men did whatever they pleased. At least, I hope it was not like that, but who knows really? There is no one that can for sure say how the first society was built; sure we can speculate, but we cannot know since we were not there. Either way, somewhere along the line, it was decided that men were the norm, they were the people, and women, well, we came in second place for some reason. Perhaps it had to do with just biological factors? Or perhaps it had to do with religion? Ah..religion. Let’s talk some more about that, shall we?

First of all, no offence to all of you who might believe in some “god” or other, but as far as I see it, religion (perhaps not all but major ones, plus sects and so on, organized religion with crazy fanatics) has been the cause of several problems we are dealing with today. Sure, religions might have started out innocently, people just wanting something bigger to believe in than just themselves, however, as so many other things that people get their hands on, religion has evolved and throughout history been used time and time again to kill, slaughter, rape, enslave and just fuck up everything for people who do not share the same fantasies and worship the same “god/s” (ah, the old sky-cake conundrum, Patton Oswalt does it best). Now, I am not going to bash religions that I am not that familiar with because that would be rather ignorant of me, but the one that I “had” when I was born and know most about is Christianity (I have since long left it all behind me). I would argue that the bible and the fantastical stories (yes, stories, not facts) they talk about in there have really made things more difficult for women than they had to be. Starting with the “creation”: Adam, a man, of course, being created after “god’s” own image, i.e. “God” is a man. Of course. And then, since he, Adam, was feeling lonely and miserable, Eve, a woman, of course, was created to provide him some company. However, being a woman and all, she could not also be created from “god”, but had to come from one of Adam’s ribs. Well.. that’s just lovely isn’t it?! What I don’t understand is that if Eve was created from Adam, then why the hell did she get the uterus and the ability to actually give birth to others? Wouldn’t it have been more logical to give Adam that “gift”? And let’s not forget Virgin Mary, who did not even get to have sex in order to have a baby, well that’s just great, cheers. she probably really appreciated it. Cause lord knows women are not supposed to have sex willy-nilly, unless they want to be whores, cause those are the choices men have provided for them: Virgin or Whore. Take your pick ladies!

Ugh.

Christianity has in my opinion, had a huge impact in setting the norms, dividing women and men and making sure everyone knew, they were not equals under the laws of “god”. That is one of my main reasons for detesting religion, because it was created by certain types of people, in this case men (God, Adam, Jesus, the apostles etc etc all men), who of course wrote and set the standards and norms that they preferred. If it had instead been clear from the beginning that women and men were equal, then we might not have been where we are today, who knows..

Perhaps I am rambling a bit but I will make my final point now. The point being, that this society, the one in which I am writing this, started off on the wrong damn foot. And once you start something wrong, it can be very difficult to undo it. The thing is, that since we started off having men as the norm, they have thus always been the norm, no questions asked. It wasn’t even an “issue” some hundred years ago, I mean come on, in the early nineteenth century, the word ovary didn’t even exist, because they never thought about naming it since women were just seen as men who were “defected”, men turned outside in. Think about that for a minute.

Now think about this: What if we had started off in the opposite end? What if women had been the norm from the very beginning? What if men were seen as merely women, turned inside out?

The world would look very different indeed.