I think it was a while ago, when I was at a convention, that a conversation striked up about the role that gender plays in society between a liberal feminist and male. Eventually the argument degenerated into the stigma attached to both gender; though it was plainly obvious to myself, and the crowd around me, that there was a greater emphasis on the female side. The female was arguing the role of abuse, women being the victims, globally and its impact within Western society and, of course, there is no arguing against this. Nevertheless the male put forth a very suitable argument, pointing out that, especially within the 1st world countries, the amount of female abuse has actually decreased and, statistically, domestic, social; physical abuse against males had increased dramatically, and also pointed out that the role of female victims is more confined to outside of 1st world countries, mainly Western Europe. What striked me the most was the level of arrogance with the feminist, especially her use of generalising terms and the way in which new statistics were to be denied, and this is no surprise. For the past 200 years (and I emphasise 200 years) women have faced gender conceptualisation, construction, oppression etc and it shouldn’t be a surprise that, as a result, the role of women in society is something that should be focused on, especially with the changing context of gender identity in society today. Though the question of arrogance needs to be addressed, mainly because it has began to influence the way in which women, academically and intellectually, begin to understand the world around them. In a seminar, within my university, concerning Medieval Islamic Empires, for example, we were talking about the role of aristocratic women within the royal houses of the sultans and one of the women argued that the roles could be seen as a means of female emancipation. It was at this point that I had to put forward the point that not only was the concept of female emancipation un-applicable to the time period, but also it could be seen as more of a way of maintaining dominance in a power struggle. It is generalisations like these which not only worries me but illustrates time and again the mis-conceptions of the way society is determining images, especially with gender which is, in turn, the role of people within society portrays. Anyway, let’s begin:
As always, it is a responsibility to give some context, so people can gain an understanding of what I’m talking about. The idea of gender obviously goes back a very long way, it’s first mentions of separation being both in Ancient Greece and Persia, as well as key texts such as the bible. Within Ancient Athens, women were viewed as the social inepts of society, as well as within full privacy, a good example being the back room of the house which was reserved for women in times of invasion. Women were segregated and made to work at home. However in Ancient Sparta, they were bred to be as tough, intuitive and intelligent as the males, as well as to uphold similar moral and social obligations (as well as to be physically fit in order to breed). However these are the exceptions of the time period. It has to be emphasised that, until 200 years ago, there was a lack of an identity within gender, and if there was one, it was completely different to the way we understand it today. Things were relative to different historical contexts and in each period things changed accordingly. A good example can be the fighting arenas which were set up between men and women, to solve domestic disputes, pre-renaissance, and the change, because of classical learning, to a very Athenian type scholarly approach. It is at this point where I should mention that most understanding does originate from both classical learning, and the way in which the Judeo-Christian tradition has moulded and formed the gender identities which we have today. In other religions, such as Islam and Hinduism, the role of genders was non-apparent; hardly any separation was made, only based on reproduction and each being emphasised as key part within the social system (a good example being the emphasis of pleasure in sex compared to Judeo-Christian though which stigmatised it). Nevertheless, it wasn’t until the 19th century when gender constructions begin to become more apparent, though they became fully amerced in society at the beginning of the 20th century. It was here that, like recently, a ‘crises in gender’ was created by the media to stimulate a difference between men and women. This is also at the time when gender constructions are stabilised: men being seen as the protectors and providers in society and women as the child bearers and effeminate members of society. What this in turn shows is a reaction to the changing circumstances that caused a gender crises, mainly because of the growth of European Empires in the 19th century, and the way men were being portrayed. It is also important to note that this is a similar period of time when homosexuality is both labelled as such and is stigmatised. Beforehand, again, there was no category of homosexually that existed, only under sodomy. Even in religion like Islam, it stated that sodomy was only valid until 4 people witnessed it, thus showing how fluid the understanding of reality, and human sexuality, was back then. Back before anti-homosexual law was created, human sexuality was something that was seen to be fluid; men would hold shoulders, or hands, when walking in the park and it’s probably not surprising that homosexuals, and bi-sexuals, would have existed; especially in places such as the working class, or peasantry, where moral obligations weren’t emphasised as much. However, after events, such as the Wilde act (the first anti-homosexual law passed against Oscar Wilde) men stopped holding hands and women were seen to be housewives and to stay at home. It can also be seen as a reaction to a small minority of women gaining greater opportunities of employment as well. Most of this can be located to a time where scientific, functionalist, type categories were designed by scholars and impacted society: coinciding with the industrial age.
It was within the time of the 1970’s when feminism began, based on the analysis that women have been systematically oppressed and segregated in a patriarchal society and thus has grown in great numbers ever since; even branching out into different categories. However, as I have found, many women today, who feel it is not theirs to be defined, have began slipping away from feminism, mainly because they feel it is beginning to undermine their identity as a person but also feminism, in itself, generalises reality (and it is also an irony that the opinion lies within non-ideological, intellectualist females).
Now this entire context suggests many things. Most importantly, it suggests that gender is a construction first and foremost. A construction is something which is an artificial identity, than is created within the upbringing of the person, rather than pre-birth. A good example can be the perception that all women are innately caring and considerate. This is something which determines the identity of the person and distinguishes the similarities and differences between people, whether it is social, economic, cultural, ethnic or national etc. It also suggests that these constructions are fairly recent. What does this tell us? That socially and psychologically, human sexuality is very fluid, fragmented and cannot be properly defined, but it also tells us that the process is a generalisation in itself.
As I said before, the conversation about gender, in the convention, shocked me, mainly because here was a feminist, who is suppose to stand up for gender equality, disregarding her colleague’s information (her view being mainly ideologically based). Also the male’s illustrated to me the problems with gender concerning males statistically. Don’t get me wrong, I heavily dislike statistics and I think that showed in the argument because of it’s flaws.
Let me use the example of crime statistics to show my point. You have the role of the person committing the crime and those who report it: so you would have the decision whether the crime is to trivial to be reported (especially between friends and family) and aspects such as the dark figure of crime (the crimes which go largely un-reported due to a lack of gain by reporting it or a fear of reprisal). Then you have the role of the police, who will assess the crime based on significance, and other aspects such as discretion (10% of all criminals are caught due to the way they react to police investigation). Then you have the role of the courts who will statistically judge something based on guilt. As you can see, since in most court cases, 60%, people plead guilty, a plea bargain is given and the severity of the sentenced is reduced. This is then relayed to the role of the government who uses statistics like this to combat crime.
As you can see, this example can show not only how flawed statistics are, but also the way in which they are manipulated or adapted to show, what essentially a snapshot of information is. This can also be applied to the gender case, especially with the information the female used. Yes, globally women are disadvantaged but, if we analyse it in context, it is not succumbed to 1st world countries. Within these the opportunities for women, positions in corporations and businesses, wages etc, have actually been made equal (under examples such as the equal opportunities act) also coinciding with the fact women managers are bosses are statistically more likely to choose other women (especially with cases in courts) due to gender construction. A good example can be my brother who is a maritime solicitor (so a solicitor who specialises in naval and overseas trade). In his experience, he has found that many companies he had worked for, under female managers or entrepreneurs, were more likely to choose female employees. Other cases can be the fact company’s, such as primark, tescos and other retailers, employe an equal opportunity amount in terms of wages and positions of merit. Obviously saying my brother’s testimony doesn’t illustrate much but it also shows the problems concerning males as well. Problems with males can be the fact that the gender construction of males, one of toughness, solidarity and ‘bringing in the bacon’ means many cases of abuse fall within the ‘dark figure of statistics’. This is because many males fail to report cases such as rape and abuse by females, out of embarrassment to other males; the idea that men have to be resilient and tough and the fact their cases will be taken less seriously. Thus a de-validation takes place concerning the balance between male and female abuse. I mean, if you’re to be portrayed as tough and dominant, what easiness is there in reporting violation from a female? The answer is, of course, it’s a lot harder and probably won’t be reported. This is why we must not disregard the prospects of abuse against males and the fact it shows a certain arrogance within gender.
What also concerns me is the role of genders when concerning ’equality’. It seems, in today’s world, equality concern acting the same more than anything else. It seems that, for example in businesses or company’s women need to purposely display dominance as well as, at times, a greater show of force. This can illustrate either a re-admission of justice to be recognised by male peers, or it can show a similar acting to how males act, out of gender expectations. To me, equality doesn’t mean sameness, or the striding to act, or look, the same as the other. It merely implies a similar amount of equal treatment. This consists of the recognition that you are both conscious being and the treatment of respect, dignity, empathy and knowledge that the person shouldn’t be put in a position of harm. As you can see, there is not only a massive gap between the two perceptions, but also that equality entails both sides being on similar levels. So it does mean that both sides have opportunities based on merit, but also reconciliation and forgiveness should come into play because, if we keep a grudge against our peers, whether gender, ethnic etc, how are we ever going to be on a similar level as each other and thus pave the way for better opportunities? Even enemies can treat each other with respect and dignity, so why can we not stop generalising, forgive misgivings and look at the context? We need to accept that we have to move on rather than succumb to generalisations when negative events occur, and by doing that, we can proceed to gaining a better standard of quality for all people. Let me put forth an example, all women are different. For example, when a misogenous male slanders, it depends on context: some women will laugh at what has been said, out of the recognition that maybe it wasn’t serious, some will shrug it off and some will get offended. If so, then why should we succumb to saying all genders would react the same?
All I hope is I hope that people realise that genders are fluid, as are the sexualities of males and females, and also that I do not have to witness a shock as I did at the convention. For if gender’s a construction, why support it as such?