If we believe what the current patriarchal cultural construct tells us: A woman has no autonomy or agency.
A woman is deemed as proper and virtuous is she is covered from head to toe, keeps a ‘neat’ appearance, doesn’t curse, denounces her sexuality, doesn’t speak loudly or command attention, isn’t ‘bossy’ or demanding, doesn’t have an opinion that may be ‘offensive.’
Conversely you have the ‘Girls Gone Wild’ and hyper-sexualisation of women in media. The message is ‘girl power’ and liberation by stripping down; it’s an “I’m empowered because I choose what I wear” declaration while gyrating for a male audience. That last part is important. It’s for men. It’s not really about women’s sexuality. So I ask – what’s the difference between the pure virgin myth vs the ‘whore’. Are they not just two sides of the same sword? If men did not exist or if men were raised within a matriarchy, would the hyper-sexualisation of women even exist? Would a woman try to be powerful by taking off her clothes and trying to make herself appealing to men? It’s a way for women to try to claim power in a male dominant culture. Now I don’t mean to confuse this hyper-sexualisation with healthy sexuality. There is nothing wrong nor shameful about a woman’s body therefore it shouldn’t be shameful for her body to be seen. Nor is it wrong for a woman to enjoy sex and her own sexuality. But there’s a profound difference between a woman in tune with and in full expression of her sexuality and womanhood and a woman that is on her knees to get (false) power from ‘powerful’ men. It appears our culture doesn’t yet understand this on the whole. I don’t believe a woman or girl really attains any kind of power by trying to please the patriarchy either as the chaste virgin or the ‘Girls Gone Wild’ moniker.
This doesn’t mean there isn’t a place for the masculine. Of course there is. The world needs healthy masculinity so desperately. Yet healthy masculinity has ebbed and flowed over the centuries largely based on religious and ruler influence of the day. Monotheism, for example, has had profound effects on women and is a multi-layered topic worthy of it’s own essay however I will delve briefly into it below.
“Years of research has shown that male-dominated societies are less stable, because they are more susceptible to higher levels of violence, insurgence and mistreatment of women.”1 Societies that are predominantly male are prone to violence. Why? Let’s really look at this for a moment. Does this mean men are inherently bad? I don’t believe this. I believe this is a negative effect of men being forced culturally to live within a state of unhealthy masculinity. Generally speaking, they are not allowed to live as their full human expression: with compassion, vulnerability, affection, emotion. They are compared condescendingly to being a woman or girl if they show any of the aforementioned traits, even if merely in innocent jest – because we don’t value women. Joke or not, when we use women and girls as a way to insult men that means – whether we want to admit it or not – we look down on women. We don’t respect them. We don’t value them as much as we value men. We see them as “less than”. This mass imbalance in culture holds women back and creates a world, in my opinion, full of more violence.
Let’s take the concept of culture. Culture is human-made. A society is a cultural construct. Society has a variety of sub-cultures. Could we not say there can be a sub-culture within a political structure, in corporate structures, within families and communities, within military, within sport, within religions, within any workforce environment? What do we see happening across these sub-cultures as a generalized norm? Male dominance. So then would it not make sense to ask: would we need to be so highly militarized if there were more women at the leadership tables of the world? (women that aren’t trying to ‘fit in’ within a dysfunctional patriarchal ideology of ‘dominate or be dominated’, of course). Would there be as much corporate greed and corruption if more women were at that table? What about sports, religion, community? Would there be less violence, imbalance and disruption in the homes if women were genuinely equal with their partners? To not take the obvious example of domestic violence and intimate partner violence (both of which are incredibly serious topics that deserve more time than a quick sentence), let me use the example of unpaid and unrecognized labour, both of which a woman in the west is still expected to engage in while also showing up for her partner and her career:
“Women bear disproportionate responsibility for unpaid care work. Women devote 1 to 3 hours more a day to housework than men; 2 to 10 times the amount of time a day to care (for children, elderly, and the sick), and 1 to 4 hours less a day to market activities. In the European Union for example, 25 per cent of women report care and other family and personal responsibilities as the reason for not being in the labour force, versus only three per cent of men. This directly and negatively impacts women’s participation in the labour force.”2
How often does it happen that we see men being nagged by their partners to do the laundry, change the baby’s diaper? How often do we see men being praised for doing what we silently still see as “woman’s work”? Oh he’s such a great father, we exclaim. He gets a proverbial gold star every time he shows up for his responsibilities as a parent and partner. Generally speaking, women get no such gold star. A man should not be singled-out with one-sided praise for changing diapers, cleaning a dish, playing with the children, getting up in the middle of the night to tend to a crying baby or sick child. Many women have been subconsciously groomed to expect a world in which we are to be superwomen, supermoms, superwives, to handle all the child-rearing, the house-cleaning and care; neglecting our own needs as humans, sometimes even suffering from post-partum depression and feeling too ashamed to admit it because we’re supposed to have it together and intuitively know how to do it all. As a result, we sometimes have difficulty relinquishing control; belittling our partner and engaging in a combative dynamic where no one wins. Or when a man meets us halfway either in honest partnership or in a momentary fleeting act of fulfilling his responsibility as partner and parent, we fall over with shock and joy. We just can’t believe our luck! But being loved and being supported, being truly seen as human, equal and valued is not being lucky, it’s your very birthright irrespective of sex or gender. So I propose another scenario: partners should and can have equal reciprocity of love, praise, respect, gratitude, kindness and support for each other. What wonderful behavior for your children to model: equality, respect and loving kindness.
Now let us look at the sub-cultures in religion: I remember seeing online an organization that was founded by Jews and Muslims. It’s American and I can’t recall the name at this time. Their purpose was, as religious leaders, to bring about peace and harmony between the two faiths. It’s noble work however it has a fatal flaw: It’s all men. You cannot bring about peace with half the world’s population not at the table. You can’t change a situation by utilizing the same tools. Dressing them up so they look different on the surface doesn’t mean they are different. It just means you are still thinking within that paradigm. A wise man by the name of Buckminster Fuller said, “You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.” Having religious leaders wanting peace is lovely, but it’s still a sea of men. And men, respectfully, that come from a variety of cultural beliefs that do not value women in varying degrees, some to extreme extents (this is predominant in all monotheist religions). Women can be restricted in dress, barred from religious leadership and clergy, denied sexual autonomy, bodily autonomy or sexuality, condemned for speaking above a man, and so on. This peace and harmony business is a worthy ideal but it will not come to genuine fruition within the stubborn nonsensical ‘traditions’ of male-dominated religious cultures. You can’t strive for peace while being selective about who has rights and value. Oppression, discrimination and violence are cut from the same cloth.
So what is the solution? Do we need more laws and more judicial backing for women’s rights and equality? Sure, absolutely. Do we need judges to understand rape culture and stop victim blaming? Yes. Do we need more healthy and varied narratives of women and men? Yes. Do we need men to stop being predatory to women, as in stop raping and beating us full stop? Affirmative yes. Do we need men to be true allies in word and action? Yes. Do we need women to stop attacking each other over petty things like our appearance? Or women to stop allowing themselves to be co-opted? What about equal pay and maternity leave? Or investigating and stopping the trafficking of women and girls? And what about white feminists taking the time to really hear their sisters of colour – brown, black, indigenous, asian – when they say they are treated like the lowest of the low in society because of racist misogynistic narratives we collectively don’t want to see? There’s so much work to be done. It’s all so overwhelming, isn’t it? We are living in a maniacal mass cultural construct of conflict and we believe it to be real, so much so that many of us scoff at the idea of peace, harmony and compassion. War, violence, inequality is ‘normal’, peace is not.
Although the usual external tenants of advocacy and lobbying, education, outreach and support are completely valid and necessary, I would argue we need to go deeper on an individual level if we want to see lasting change. I believe the ‘fix’ is simple albeit difficult to execute for no other reason than lack of discipline and too much ego in our mass consciousness. Massive shifts for humankind can and do occur as a result of unseen acts; when individuals choose to shift internally – mentally, emotionally and spiritually. All the laws in the world, as much as I am grateful for them and believe in their current necessity, won’t change someone’s state of consciousness (and I say this as a law student). They are temporary solutions to try to control and curb behaviour but what causes the true long-lasting shift? Adopting the values of non-violence, mindfulness, feeling heartfelt gratitude for what you have and encouraging empathy instead of mocking it will spark change. This re-training of the mind takes work. It takes a commitment to engage in activism and social justice with non-violence in speech and action; knowing that empathy and compassion don’t equate to being a ‘pushover’ and that matching hate with hate destroys us all. Choosing mindfulness, to respond instead of react, being brave to soften yourself in a culture that tells you domination wins, learning to listen and to be heard in equal measure. This is what changes the world and what, I truly believe, will change the current imbalance we are living as women and men. It’s not fast work, it’s not sexy nor glamorous, it’s not hashtag worthy, but it is the honest work.
This essay covered a variety of topics but I hope you see how they are all interconnected, much like how we are all interconnected. We have much work to do. This practice of peace, of ahimsa and internal shifts is not fluffy woo-woo nonsense, it’s a necessary evolution of ascension while reconnecting to our true nature as sentient beings. Daily, I find myself being challenged as an activist and as a spiritual devotee. They feel utterly conflicting at times, even though I know deep down they are not. How do you ‘call out’ injustices, ‘resist’, ‘fight the power’ but stay in a place of peace? I don’t have all the answers but what I do know is that you can’t demand peace and non-violence in the world around you and expect it to be so if you don’t have peace and non-violence within you. Let us start from there.
- Europe’s Man Problem, Politico Magazine
- Facts and Figures: Economic Empowerment, UN Women