This supplement is a digest of recent events and significant contributions to fostering gender equality - and human development - in various secular cultures and institutions. It is acknowledged that the distinction between the secular and religious dimensions is an artificial one, often blurred in real life situations. In those cases, if the material is predominantly secular it is included here; else it is included in Supplement 6. The selected items are the editor's choice. Suggestions by readers are welcomed. Reporting on good role models is a high priority. The following sections are included this month:
The promotion of gender equality in society is a slow and painful process, and it is barely beginning to unfold worldwide. But it is a dynamic process, one in which progress begets progress. It is important to stay tuned to relevant news coming from all world regions and all world cultures. The Google News box displayed to the right may be helpful. Readers can enhance their web sites with their own version of this box - which is continuously refreshed as significant events are reported - by going to Google News, clicking on "Add a section," and follow simple instructions under "Create a custom section." This is a free service, but you must register in order to use the customization tool.
If you know about recent developments that should be mentioned in this page, please write to the Editor.
Throughout history the search for identity has been an integral part of what we recognize as the human experience. The existential struggle to discover who we are and what our purpose in life is, leads many on various journeys.
Our identities are shaped by a complex and significant number of factors, ranging from the historical and the cultural, to the ethnic and the religious. ‘The Other’ and perceived differences from the Other also often shape notions of identity.
There is a dark side to this pursuit of identity. In various instances, great conflicts have raged over the pursuit and assertion of identity as it ultimately gets tied to notions of dignity, pride and even justice. Identity takes on the form of zealous dogmatism where differences become so irreconcilable, that it results in human suffering and injustices.
Here we shall discuss the notion of Gender as one of the most significant aspects of human identity that has long been the focus of much historical debates and controversy and which has seen a resurgence in various societies, most prominently in Western ones.
This discourse on gender has inspired many to question the actual importance of gender, the role it has in societal building and the very meaning thereof.
There will be three parts to this essay. Firstly we shall examine briefly the meaning of Gender, secondly, we shall highlight the various contemporary gender issues, and finally some suggestions will be laid out on how to best tackle these challenges.
GENDER: MEANING & DISTINCTIONS
However, before we begin to examine the current trends in Gender issues, a brief distinction needs to be made here for the purpose of clarity so as to avoid confusion about the meaning of gender within the context of our discussion.
Gender is largely distinct from sex classification. Sex has two clear classifications with its distinction mainly based on genetics and apparent biological traits. A male is genetically male and a female is female. There is no abstraction to this distinction as it is fundamentally rooted in hard science.
Gender however is more abstract and complex, addressing matters pertaining to the roles normally associated with both sexes, commonly known as masculinity and femininity. These roles which are more commonly developed within a contextual framework are therefore unique cutting across varying socio-cultural environments.
The idea of masculinity and femininity has largely to do with the power structures within a society. In many historical traditional settings, the male masculine ideal has been one of a provider or a hunter (correlating with the male physical attributes), tasked to protect and ensure the well-being of the family and community. This role empowers the male with a sense of authority over the aforementioned family unit and places him centrally important to the survival of the community. This has led many societies to develop a very male oriented foundation, termed popularly as a patriarchy, and gives much access and influence in the public sphere to men.
Women in patriarchal societies occupy the private sphere more often than not, having their roles relegated to care-givers, home-keepers and other similar roles. They tend to be keepers of the home and family life, and in various instances, take on subservient roles to their male counterparts.
This particular patriarchal arrangement ultimately awards men with more power, as matters to do with the community as a whole, fall under their societal jurisdiction. Such power allows them to enforce their will, wants and needs far more strongly in comparison to their female counterparts, and, consequently men make up for much, if not all positions of leadership in these communities.
There have been instances where the inverse is true as well where societies have embraced a matriarchal form of social order. But what is exemplified here is that much of our understanding of gender normativity is highly linked to existing social power structures which favour those who dominate them, or are perceived to have rightful authority over them.
As history has shown, the patriarchal mechanisms which governed societies maintained themselves well into the modern era with much of the rules set, albeit in varying degrees. Different societies however all had their own unique interpretation of gender roles. This changed when the world began moving towards the Industrial Revolution. Traditional male roles were challenged as automation and innovation within the agricultural and manufacturing sectors began to grow more dominant. In direct correlation with economic growth, infrastructures and higher quality of education, a perceived egalitarian system of governance was beginning to replace traditional power structures, thus challenging established social norms and the status quo.
Women now could access the mechanisms of power and many begun to demand more active participation within the public sphere of society.
This is where the first seed of feminism was sown, with many questioning the lack of women’s participation in politics, the professional workforce and anything beyond their traditional gender roles. This trend grew and became more prominent in a post Second World War socio-political landscape. Women rightly demanded for more rights and participation, for women’s issues and concerns to become matters of discussion within the arena of politics and civil society, and ultimately, they began to question the legitimacy of the patriarchal system, the foundation it is constructed upon, and its relevancy in this contemporary setting. This became what some perceived as a post-modern era of feminism.
Gender, was recognized for what it was—an artificial construct that could be challenged and redefined to meet the needs of modernity. What this redefinition would be however is a matter that is up for debate, but what is clear is that many women and men were beginning to question the meaning of gender and its relation to identity, morality and justice. This has also had the effect of strongly empowering women to speak out against injustices faced by them, forcing many to review and revise how we practice laws and governance which ultimately shapes how we view human rights today.
The debate on gender discourse has had a turbulent history due to the frictional discourse from both its supporters and detractors. Feminism as a school of thought has also undergone varying levels of evolution, with its first incarnation promoting inclusivity into the existing societal power structure, to its more contemporary form of deconstructionism and redefining set norms.
In recent times however, fueled by social media and the advent of the internet, access to unfiltered information has never been easier. It had also allowed for groups to be formed who share similar aspirations or concerns, organizing themselves effectively into small pockets of social activists connected through the online space they share. Many of these same activists have taken up advocacy for gender rights onto social media, promoting a new form of activism.
However, due to the nature of the discourse and accessibility to the materials and spaces for discussion, the arguments supporting and criticizing gender movements have been much more focused and distilled. Much of gender discussion has begun to take a more hostile tone, with various groups exhibiting what can only be described as zealous and insular dogmatism.
In the next section, we shall look at another social phenomenon which contributes significantly towards the rise of dogmatism within the gender discourse and is particularly prevalent within much of Western and European society. This phenomenon in summary is the rise of Individualism and its conceptual foundations within Western discourse and we will discuss how it contributes significantly to the Gender discussion.
INDIVIDUALISM & LIBERALISM: THE SEXUAL REVOLUTION AND THE SHIFTING OF PARADIGMS
In the 1960s till the 1980s, there was a significant popular social movement which had challenged the traditional foundations of normative behavior throughout much of European- Western society. How one views issues pertaining to sexuality had become increasingly contested, with many fringe groups and sexual expressions now becoming emboldened to loudly and unapologetically announce their presence. At the heart of this movement was a strong assertion for rights of the individual and equality of the individual when it comes to their personal choices and preferences.
This assertion of individualism however is a philosophical idea that lies at the heart of most of western society. Its assertion of person-centred goals and its privileging of personal freedom and personal choices meant that collective sexual norms would be scrutinized and criticized. Individualism in that sense laid the foundation for the gender and sexual revolution.
The subordination of collective sexual norms to individual preferences was further encouraged by the media and by cultural and artistic circles which perceived these choices exercised by the individual as a manifestation of the larger expression of freedom that distinguished democratic societies from totalitarian ones. Within the context of that period in history — the decades of the Cold War — the assertion of sexual freedom thus became yet another flag-bearer in the battle between two ideologies.
This also explains to some extent at least why sexual freedom manifesting itself through gay and lesbian rights and other similarly oriented concerns became so integral to liberalism from the eighties onwards. In societies where liberal thought is not conditioned by a pronounced notion of individualism, these ideas on homosexual rights have not struck root. Indeed, in those parts of the world where the sense of collective well-being and solidarity is still strong, there is very little enthusiasm for the sort of sexual revolution that some so-called liberal societies in the West espouse.
Differing understandings of sexual rights and gender identities may not be due entirely to ideological orientations. The socio-economic status of a society may also be an important factor. Many Western liberal societies have reached a point in their economic ascendancy where the individual is no longer dependent upon the collectivity or the community the way his counterpart in a poorer social setting is. In the latter situation because his basic needs and necessities are intertwined with those of the community, the social norms and traditions of the community exert a huge influence upon the individual. This is especially so of prevailing sexual norms.
Nonetheless, it is wrong to view societies and individuals who do not subscribe to certain Western notions of sexual freedom as ‘retrogressive’ or ‘anti human rights’ or ‘against the dignity of a marginalized group.’ Apart from a different perspective on the relationship of the individual to the community or of the integrity of the community itself, there are many societies who remain attached to profound philosophical principles about sexual propriety, male-female relations, the institution of marriage and the sanctity of the family. Some of these philosophies also value gender equality and revere the position of the woman. To dismiss such principles outright is an act of arrogance.
It smacks of dogmatism.
It is such dogmatism and its critique that we now examine.
CHALLENGES WITHIN AND WITHOUT
An article appeared in the news website, Russia Today November 2015 entitled “West in war on sexual norms” written by Sam Gerrans . In it the author criticizes the recent trends in what he perceives as fallacious arguments stemming from the discourse promoting transgenderism and post-modern feminism. In it, he not only heavily criticizes the core ideas of transgendered identity and gender neutralism, he also is blunt about his disdain for the ham-fisted approach which many advocates have taken.
“The pattern is clear: if you want to be a woman (or a man), you can be one by pretending to be one and if you can get enough people to agree with you: it’s true. And anyone who disagrees is a bad, evil person”.
In another article by the same author once more on Russia Today entitled “The Gender Agenda in the War on Normality”, there is a strong assertion for gender as a fundamental foundation, and that it is under attack by what is termed as Cultural Marxists.( The criticism here is leveled more directly against gender neutrality and what is seen as a virulent politicization of gender). Children have become the new battleground for this supposed war on normality, with the new generation of parents using their children to advocate for their beliefs by “parading them about in public places and on You Tube in order to achieve Skinneresque social engineering outcomes.”
The author even goes as far as to say that “Gender is not a spectrum, it is a polarity. If its ideals are opposing, it is part of its purpose. They are designed to complement and perfect each other while remaining distinctly different. Any society that loses its grasp on this obvious reality has no future.”
This is reflected by various social movements happening in both Europe and the United States recently, largely in conjunction with the push to normalize transgenderism into everyday society, and with many new-age parents adopting gender neutrality in regards to the upbringing of their children.
There is also evidence of a push within various institutions whereby there is an advocacy for Gender neutral toilets, or more specifically unisex toilets, where both male and female share a bathroom space together, serving as posters for gender-neutrality.
Gender is also naturally swept in together with issues pertaining to rights of homosexuals as any discussion on gender would include sexuality and identities related to it. Traditional gender roles carry negative connotations, either being labeled as archaic, conservative and even oppressive.
What is important to draw from these narratives is that issues pertaining to Gender Equality and justice, have taken a confrontational tone between two sides that hold distinct beliefs on the matter, one set in tradition, another self-proclaimed progressives. The views advocated by Sam Gerrans are not unique to him alone. They have become steadily popular within the discourse on gender issues, especially among those who feel that contemporary feminism is acting directly in a confrontational manner going so far as to vilify the male gender itself.
These allegations are not unfounded. The sentiments among fringe elements in social media and even public space, especially among self-identified “progressive feminist” groups lend much credence to this perception. Primarily concerned that the current feminist movements spearheaded by online social media activists not only criticizes what is perceived as harmful stereotypical masculine ideals, some even go as far as to espouse rhetoric which suggests that men who uphold traditional masculinity and do not comply to a particular version of feminist ideals, should be reeducated or outright removed from society. Anyone who seeks to respond to their shrill rhetoric is quickly labeled as ‘misogynist’ or ‘bigot’ or even ‘rapist.’ The vitriol is evident for anyone to see when they venture into websites which features these discussions.
The response to the feminists from the other side of the proverbial field is equally problematic. Some of those who respond are guilty of adding and even inciting hateful rhetoric. Much of the rhetoric here revolves around ridicule, with many lumping all feminists into a single group and declaring them to be mentally unsound, of parading around, and of other absurdities. A much more serious accusation leveled at feminists is of misandry. The previously noted vilification has inspired groups to be formed who feel that feminism and contemporary gender movements are in their own way bigoted and contributing much to the social dilemmas we are facing today. There are no kind words among these groups towards those advocating feminism or anyone who genuinely criticizes existing societal frameworks, which ironically results in the vilified vilifying of the vilifier. Some groups have been known to harass and even send death threats, reinforcing their violent persona image — an image that that they have been criticized for.
Here the self-consuming circle is complete and we can see how one group feeds off the other, bloating into two polarizing groups split between ideas of gender identities. Their prejudices are constantly legitimized and are used as evidence to promote their own cause.
However, what is of greatest concern is in fact the very vitriol that these groups exhibit as it begins to borderline on dogmatism, and perhaps this is where the real problem lies.
Strangely it is an observable trend that such forms of extreme dogmatism occur mainly in Western societies, as there is a long history of western discourses swinging into extremes especially on highly charged political and social issues.
Dogmatism more often than not represents two contrasting ideological discourses that are irreconcilable with one another. It promotes a dangerous state of mind where its merits are dependent on the very thing it opposes, but at the same time leaves no room for reconciliation or meaningful discussion. This leads to an advocacy of ideals that severely lacks any element of human compassion and falsely lays claim to progressive thought.
In fact it can be stated that the representation of these two groups and their dogmatic rhetoric does not contribute to and arguably damages the very cause they are supposedly advocating for, with each group’s absurd vilification of the other. Gender discussion and discourse becomes the ownership of the arrogant and the absurd.
Meaningful discourse, progressivism and humanity do not benefit from it and may even come out lesser for it.
The contemporary nature of gender discourse is a phenomenon that will continue to undergo varying stages of evolution as society grows. Even though the present arguments are dangerously dogmatic by nature, it does not mean that there are no important issues which are highlighted that need to be discussed within the context of gender.
Issues pertaining to gender equality, whether it is equal pay, rights, political participation, safety and justice are far too important to ignore as a society. A society, especially a progressive one, must take responsibility and see to the well-being of all its people. Many times over the criticisms of society and the patriarchal institutions that govern it do indeed point towards various injustices that need to be remedied in both developed and developing societies.
This does not mean however that we should allow the discourse on gender to be dominated by those seeking to impose their dogmatic beliefs on it. Much like the nature of gender itself, the issue is not one that is binary but instead it has its own nuances that need to be carefully negotiated and this requires active participation by civil society.
There is an important need for civility in these discussions however, as pointless vilification and a serious lack of human compassion detracts from the value of these arguments, perhaps the most important element to move forward with. Without reasonableness and a compassion for one’s fellow human beings, the moral foundation upon which gender issues rely does not have much credible ground to stand on.
Gender discourse needs more active participation to stem the effects of zealous dogmatism from polluting it and it is an issue that needs to be addressed together as a human family.
Mr. Hassanal Noor Rashid is Programme Coordinator with the International Movement for a Just World (JUST).
This article was originally published in
The New Atlantis, Number 50, Fall 2016 REPRINTED WITH PERMISSION
This report presents a careful summary and an up-to-date explanation of research — from the biological, psychological, and social sciences — related to sexual orientation and gender identity. It is offered in the hope that such an exposition can contribute to our capacity as physicians, scientists, and citizens to address health issues faced by LGBT populations within our society.
Some key findings:
Part One: Sexual Orientation
The understanding of sexual orientation as an innate, biologically fixed property of human beings — the idea that people are “born that way” — is not supported by scientific evidence.
While there is evidence that biological factors such as genes and hormones are associated with sexual behaviors and attractions, there are no compelling causal biological explanations for human sexual orientation. While minor differences in the brain structures and brain activity between homosexual and heterosexual individuals have been identified by researchers, such neurobiological findings do not demonstrate whether these differences are innate or are the result of environmental and psychological factors.
Longitudinal studies of adolescents suggest that sexual orientation may be quite fluid over the life course for some people, with one study estimating that as many as 80% of male adolescents who report same-sex attractions no longer do so as adults (although the extent to which this figure reflects actual changes in same-sex attractions and not just artifacts of the survey process has been contested by some researchers).
Compared to heterosexuals, non-heterosexuals are about two to three times as likely to have experienced childhood sexual abuse.
Part Two: Sexuality, Mental Health Outcomes, and Social Stress
Compared to the general population, non-heterosexual subpopulations are at an elevated risk for a variety of adverse health and mental health outcomes.
Members of the non-heterosexual population are estimated to have about 1.5 times higher risk of experiencing anxiety disorders than members of the heterosexual population, as well as roughly double the risk of depression, 1.5 times the risk of substance abuse, and nearly 2.5 times the risk of suicide.
Members of the transgender population are also at higher risk of a variety of mental health problems compared to members of the non-transgender population. Especially alarmingly, the rate of lifetime suicide attempts across all ages of transgender individuals is estimated at 41%, compared to under 5% in the overall U.S. population.
There is evidence, albeit limited, that social stressors such as discrimination and stigma contribute to the elevated risk of poor mental health outcomes for non-heterosexual and transgender populations. More high-quality longitudinal studies are necessary for the “social stress model” to be a useful tool for understanding public health concerns.
Part Three: Gender Identity
The hypothesis that gender identity is an innate, fixed property of human beings that is independent of biological sex — that a person might be “a man trapped in a woman’s body” or “a woman trapped in a man’s body” — is not supported by scientific evidence.
According to a recent estimate, about 0.6% of U.S. adults identify as a gender that does not correspond to their biological sex.
Studies comparing the brain structures of transgender and non-transgender individuals have demonstrated weak correlations between brain structure and cross-gender identification. These correlations do not provide any evidence for a neurobiological basis for cross-gender identification.
Compared to the general population, adults who have undergone sex-reassignment surgery continue to have a higher risk of experiencing poor mental health outcomes. One study found that, compared to controls, sex-reassigned individuals were about 5 times more likely to attempt suicide and about 19 times more likely to die by suicide.
Children are a special case when addressing transgender issues. Only a minority of children who experience cross-gender identification will continue to do so into adolescence or adulthood.
There is little scientific evidence for the therapeutic value of interventions that delay puberty or modify the secondary sex characteristics of adolescents, although some children may have improved psychological well-being if they are encouraged and supported in their cross-gender identification. There is no evidence that all children who express gender-atypical thoughts or behavior should be encouraged to become transgender.
"Patriarchy is a social system in which the male gender role as the primary authority figure is central to social organization, and where fathers hold authority over women, children, and property. It implies the institutions of male rule and privilege, and entails female subordination. Many patriarchal societies are also patrilineal, meaning that property and title are inherited by the male lineage.
"Historically, patriarchy has manifested itself in the social, legal, political, and economic organization of a range of different cultures. Patriarchy also has a strong influence on modern civilization, although many cultures have moved towards a more egalitarian social system over the past century.
"Patriarchy literally means "rule of fathers" (Greek patriarkhes), "father" or "chief of a race, patriarch". Historically, the term patriarchy was used to refer to autocratic rule by the male head of a family. However, in modern times, it more generally refers to social systems in which power is primarily held by adult men.
"Anthropological and historical evidence indicates that most prehistoric hunter-gatherer societies were generally relatively egalitarian, and that patriarchal social structures did not develop until many years after the end of the Pleistocene era, following social and technological innovations such as agriculture and domestication. However, according to Robert M. Strozier, historical research has not yet found a specific "initiating event" of the origin of patriarchy. Some scholars point to about six thousand years ago (4000 BCE), when the concept of fatherhood took root, as the beginning of the spread of patriarchy."
The patriarchal mindset of rivalry and domination is pervasive and induces a culture of "command and control" and transcends family relations and contaminates all human relations as well as the human attitude toward the natural habitat. An excellent exposition of the need for a good dosage of "ecofeminism" to overcome patriarchy is provided by Patrick Curry in Chapter 9 of his book, Ecological Ethics. Following are some excerpts:
"Insofar as patriarchy identifies women with nature and dominates both, they are internally linked, so the struggle to resist or overturn either must address both."
"Ecofeminism is a meeting of two strands. One is feminism itself: the awareness of the pathological effects of dominant patriarchal or (to use a more recent term) masculinist structures, both 'inner' and 'outer' -- particularly, of course, on women but also, ultimately, on their oppressors -- and the attempt to replace them with ones that also value the feminine."
"The other element is a recognition of, and deep concern about, the equally masculinist domination and exploitation of nature through the very same habitual structures of though, feeling and action that devalue and harm women."
Curry goes on to analyze the master mentality, both dualist and hierarchical: "humanity versus nature; male versus female; and reason versus emotion... the domination and exploitation of nature and women proceed by the same logic, the same processes and, by and large, the same people... only ecofeminism brings a critical awareness of the extent and ways in which the subordination of women and ecological destruction are integrally linked."
The chapter unfolds with a review of work by ecofeminist leaders such as Vandana Shiva (India) and Wangari Maathai (Kenya), and proceeds to deconstruct the androcentric (male-centered) mentality while, at the same time, making it crystal clear that ecofeminism is definitely not a matter of demonizing men. In fact, men are victims of patriarchal practices as much as women; in one way or another, domination that goes around comes around. Only an ethics of care, as in a mother holding her child, can break the vicious circle of patriarchal command and control whereby humans abuse the human habitat at their own peril. Indeed, as Lynn White proposed years ago, St. Francis of Assisi should be recognized as the patron saint of ecologists.
New York — The 60th session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women concluded today with UN Member States committing to the gender-responsive implementation of Agenda 2030. A set of agreed conclusions called for enhancing the basis for rapid progress, including stronger laws, policies and institutions, better data and scaled-up financing.
The Commission recognized women’s vital role as agents of development. It acknowledged that progress on the Sustainable Development Goals at the heart of Agenda 2030 will not be possible without gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls.
UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka welcomed the agreement and the commitment of UN Member States to make the 2030 Agenda, adopted last September, a reality in countries around the world. She said: “Countries gave gender inequality an expiry date: 2030. Now it is time to get to work. These agreed conclusions entrench and start the implementation of a gender-responsive agenda 2030 with which we have the best possibility to leave no one behind.”
Growing global commitment was already in evidence with a record number of more than 80 government ministers from around the world attending the Commission. Around 4,100 non-governmental representatives from more than 540 organizations participated as well, the highest number ever for one of the Commission’s regular annual meetings.
The agreed conclusions urge a comprehensive approach to implementing all 17 Sustainable Development Goals through thorough integration of gender perspectives across all government policies and programmes. Eliminating all forms of gender-based discrimination depends on effective laws and policies and the removal of any statutes still permitting discrimination. Temporary special measures may be required to guarantee that women and girls can obtain justice for human rights violations.
The Commission endorsed significantly increased investment to close resource gaps for achieving gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls. Funds should be mobilized from all sources, domestic and international, ranging from fulfilling official development assistance commitments to combatting illicit financial flows that shortchange public resources for gender equality.
With humanitarian crises and other emergencies disproportionately affecting women and girls, the Commission underlined the imperative of empowering women in leadership and decision-making in all aspects of responding to and recovering from crisis. On the eve of the World Humanitarian Summit, it stressed prioritizing women’s and girls’ needs in humanitarian action and upholding their rights in all emergency situations. Every humanitarian response should take measures to address sexual and gender-based violence.
Members of the Commission united behind ensuring women’s equal participation in leadership at all levels of decision-making in the public and private spheres, encompassing governments, businesses and other institutions, and across all areas of sustainable development. Depending on different circumstances, this may involve establishing temporary special measures, setting and achieving concrete benchmarks and removing barriers to women’s participation.
Given the major contributions to Agenda 2030 of civil society, including women’s and community-based organizations, feminist groups, human rights defenders and girls’ and youth-led organizations, the Commission welcomed open engagement and cooperation with them in gender-responsive implementation. It emphasized fully engaging with men and boys as agents of change and allies in the elimination of all forms of discrimination and violence against women and girls.
To guide systematic progress towards gender equality and women’s empowerment throughout the 2030 Agenda, the Commission stressed enhanced national statistical capacity and the systematic design, collection and sharing of high-quality, reliable and timely data disaggregated by sex, age and income. Members also agreed to bolster the role of national mechanisms for women and girls in championing their equality and empowerment.
"As a rights-based organisation, CARE's climate change strategy is geared towards the empowerment of poor and marginalised people. CARE is deeply concerned about constraints that the inequitable distribution of rights, resources and power – as well as repressive cultural rules and norms – place on people's ability to take action on climate change. We believe that a wide range of development goals are achievable only if decision makers at all levels recognise the unique risks faced by poor and marginalised people and their essential roles in planning, implementing and evaluating action on climate change.
"The majority of the world's poorest people today are women and girls. Climate change is making it even more difficult for them to realise their basic rights, and it is exacerbating inequalities since they are more vulnerable to its impacts than men.
"Moreover, many women are denied access to new information about climate change and participation in important decision-making processes despite having unique skills and knowledge – about low risk farming, sustainable water management, family health and community mobilisation, for example – vital to effective adaptation.
"For all these reasons, and because women are central to the food and livelihood security of their families, we place a special emphasis on gender equality and women's empowerment."
For more, including links to other CARE resources, click here.
"Developing renewables to meet the growing demand for energy is a top priority in the 21st century. So is enhancing collaboration among developing countries. By training semi-literate women from rural Sierra Leone in solar-energy techniques, Barefoot College in western India works towards achieving both these goals. Twelve women attended and then returned to villages in Sierra Leone to assemble 1,500 household solar units at a new branch of Barefoot College in Konta Line, where the training will continue, reports a blog for the Guardian. The governments of both countries have played their part; Sierra Leone invested $820,000 in the project, and India provided equipment. The vast majority of households in Sierra Leone go without power. Following its decades-long civil war, electricity is Sierra Leone's "most daunting infrastructural challenge," notes a World Bank report. Lighting extends education and socializing into the evening hours, and the women are planning on manufacturing solar units to spread the new power."
Originally published in
Nepali Times, 28 August 2016 REPRINTED WITH PERMISSION
"World of Pregnant Men" by Laxman Bazra Lama
Nepal is going through a dramatic demographic shift. On the one hand, the country’s fertility rate is approaching replacement level — although the momentum of population growth will continue for another generation, it will stabilise thereafter.
This demographic transition of low birth rate and higher life expectancy is accompanied by the biggest population migration in the country’s history. The hill districts are depopulating at staggering rates, losing between 15 to 25 per cent of their inhabitants in the past 10 years as people migrate to cities, plains and abroad for work.
Nearly 20 per cent of Nepal’s population is away at any given time, and considering that the migrants are mostly young men, this could mean that up to half the men in the 20-35 age group are essentially missing from their families, communities and society.
This brings us to the other ongoing societal transformation: the gender shift. Families and communities in rural Nepal are being run by women. With most men gone, rural Nepal has been feminised. The number of female students in high schools and colleges is at an all-time high. Women are moving into jobs traditionally considered the domain of men: driving public transport, and engaged in masonry, carpentry and construction, especially in the earthquake-affected districts. The feminisation of the workforce is subtly empowering women, providing them with cash income and new confidence, bolstering their sense of self-worth.
Gender activists are not particularly fond of Tij — the annual celebration by daughters, wives and sisters — which this year falls on Sunday 4 September. Their criticism is of the practice by women of fasting for the wellbeing and longevity of their husbands. It is absurd, particularly in this day and age, that women should be culturally required not to eat so that their husbands will be well-fed.
However, Tij has always traditionally also been a celebration of sisterhood and solidarity, a one-day rebellion and characterised by deliberate defiance against dominance by men. Could it be that some Nepali women today consider the Tij fast as a hunger strike against patriarchy? Going by the lyrics of the new duets that have been released in the run-up to this year’s festival, there is open ridicule of menfolk as lazy, good-for-nothing spoilt brats.
Add ‘corrupt’. And how aptly that sums up the attributes of most men who have the audacity to rule over us. Let’s just leave aside for the moment the fact that Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal has already squandered one-and-a-half months of his nine-month rotational tenure just to form a council of ministers from a coalition of four parties.
The Nepali Congress could not even agree on a list of ministerial appointees until after the Nepal Students’ Union elections as well as the return from New Delhi of Deputy Prime Minister Bimalendra Nidhi. Why the selection of ministers by Nepal’s largest party should be held hostage by the election of 45-year-old ‘students’, and a visit to India by the prime minister’s special envoy, has never been satisfactorily explained to the public.
Nevertheless, of the 31 ministers appointed in his fourth consecutive expansion of the cabinet, only three are women, two of whom are junior state ministers. Clause 42-1 of the new Constitution expressly stipulates that women and other marginalised groups be given proportional representation in all agencies of government. When it sent its list of 13 ministers, the NC could muster only one woman.
In terms of inclusivity, the ratios are not much better for Dalits, Janajatis, or Madhesis either. For example, there are only two Dalit ministers, and three from Janajati groups.
The sad irony is that this is happening under the prime ministership of Pushpa Kamal Dahal, who used to be the ‘Supreme Commander’ of a guerrilla army of which one-fourth was made up of women warriors, many of whom laid down their lives for equality.
The members of the ruling coalition are the same political parties that took to the streets to protest King Gyanendra’s ‘regression’ in 2006. What a cruel joke that real regression is happening under the rule of these same so-called democratic parties.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Kunda Dixit is the publisher of Nepali Times and author of several books including the trilogy on the conflict in Nepal, A People War, Never Again, and People After War.
Originally published in
Yes! Magazine, 13 July 2016 under a Creative Commons License
Photo by Maud Fernhout
Manners and machismo: Traditional Western gender etiquette is clear. Ladies, don’t be loud and unruly. Men, be tough. Dutch university student Maud Fernhout challenged these stereotypes in her photo series “What Real Men Cry Like” and “What Real Women Laugh Like,” in which she asked fellow students from different cultures to do exactly that. When the women saw their own faces crinkled with elation and mouths agape, they were repulsed. “They said, ‘I look so ugly,’” Fernhout recalled. “But when they looked at the other girls, they said, ‘Oh, she’s so pretty!’ and they realized it was okay.” Seeing others break the mold of what a woman’s face should look like changed how they felt about themselves.
Fernhout found that attitudes toward crying men varied by culture: Eastern European students were most resistant, while Italians and Spaniards cried easily. Women’s reactions to how they looked laughing didn’t vary, Fernhout said, perhaps because most of Europe shares the same standards of beauty but not the same standards of masculinity. She hopes that these images will force people to look at their own preconceptions of gendered behaviors.
ABOUT THE AUTHORS
Maud Fernhout and Jennifer Luxton wrote this article for Gender Justice, the Summer 2016 issue of YES! Magazine. Maud studies Liberal Arts & Sciences at University College Utrecht. For her, photography is a way to express her view of the world, and to help others do the same. Maud’s work can be found on her website.
Women and Biodiversity Feed the World, Not Corporations and GMOs
Originally published in Common Dreams, 20 May 2015, under a Creative Commons License
'Women have been the primary growers of food and nutrition
throughout history,' writes Dr. Vandana Shiva, 'but today, food
is being taken out of our hands and substituted for toxic commodities
controlled by global corporations.' (Photos: Georgina Smith/CIAT)
The two great ecological challenges of our times are biodiversity erosion and climate change. And both are interconnected, in their causes and their solutions.
Industrial agiculture is the biggest contributor to biodiversity erosion as well as to climate change. According to the United Nations, 93% of all plant variety has disappeared over the last 80 years.
Monocultures based on chemical inputs do not merely destroy plant biodiversity, they have destroyed soil biodiversity, which leads to the emergence of pathogens, new diseases, and more chemical use.
Our study of soils in the Bt cotton regions of Vidharba showed a dramatic decline in beneficial soil organisms. In many regions with intensive use of pesticides and GMOs, bees and butterflies are disappearing. There are no pollinators on Bt cotton plants, whereas the population of pollinators in Navdanya’s biodiversity conservation farm in Doon Valley is six times more than in the neighbouring forest. The UNEP has calculated the contribution of pollinators to be $200 billion annually. Industrial agriculture also kills aquatic and marine life by creating dead zones due to fertilizer run off. Pesticides are also killing or damaging aquatic life .
"Genetically engineered Golden Rice and GMO Bananas are being proposed by corporations hiding behind the cloak of academia as a solution to hunger and malnutrition in the Global South. But these are false miracles."
Besides the harm to biodiversity and the climate, industrial agriculture actually undermines food and nutrition security. Firstly, industrial agriculture grows commodities for profits of the agrichemical (now also Biotech) and agribusiness corporations. Only 10 percent of the annual GMO corn and soya crop goes to feed people. The rest goes to animal feed and biofuel. This is clearly not a food system that feeds the world.
Secondly, monocultures undermine nutrition by displacing the biodiversity that provides nourishment and the diversity of nutrients our body needs. Herbicides like Roundup do not just kill the milkweed on which the monarch Butterfly larvae feed, they kill sources of nutrition for humans – the amaranth, the "bathua," and the mixed cropping that produces more "Nutrition per Acre" than industrial monocultures (see Navdanya’s report on Health per Acre).
Having destroyed our sources of nutrition by destroying biodiversity—and creating vitamin A, iron and other deficiencies—the same companies who created the crisis are promising a miracle solution: GMOs. Genetically engineered Golden Rice and GMO Bananas are being proposed by corporations hiding behind the cloak of academia as a solution to hunger and malnutrition in the Global South. But these are false miracles.
Indigenous biodiverse varieties of food grown by women provide far more nutrition than the commodities produced by industrial agriculture. Since 1985 the false miracle of Golden Rice is being offered as a solution to vitamin A deficiency. But Golden rice is still under development. Billions of dollars have been wasted on a hoax.
"Apart from being nutritionally empty, GMOs are part of an industrial system of agriculture that is destroying the planet, depleting our water sources, increasing green houses gases, and driving farmers into debt and suicide."
On 20th of April, the White house gave an award to Syngenta which had tried to pirate India’s rice diversity, and owns most of the 80 patents related to Golden Rice. This is reminiscient of the Emperor who had no clothes. Golden Rice is 350% less efficient in providing vitanim A than the biodiversity alternatives that women grow. GMO ‘iron-rich’ Bananas have 3000% less iron than turmeric and 2000% less iron than amchur (mango powder). Apart from being nutritionally empty, GMOs are part of an industrial system of agriculture that is destroying the planet, depleting our water sources, increasing green houses gases, and driving farmers into debt and suicide through a greater dependence on chemical inputs. Moreover, these corporate-led industrial monocultures are destroying biodiversity, and we are losing access to the food systems that have sustained us throughout time. Biodiverse ecological agriculture in women’s hands is a solution not just to the malnutrition crisis, but also the climate crisis.
Women have been the primary growers of food and nutrition throughout history, but today, food is being taken out of our hands and substituted for toxic commodities controlled by global corporations. Monoculture industrial farming has taken the quality, taste and nutrition out of our food.
In addition to destroying biodiversity, industrial agriculture is the biggest contributor of greenhouse gases (GHGs) which are leading to climate change and climate chaos. As I have written in my book, Soil Not Oil: Environmental Justice in an Age of Climate Crisis, 40% of all GHGs—including carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxide, and methane—come from industrialised globalized agriculture. And chemical monocultures are also more vulnerable to climate change as we have witnessed in the unseasonal rains at harvest time in 2015.
On the other hand, organic farming reduces emissions, and also makes agriculture more resilient to climate change. Because organic farming is based on returning organic matter to the soil, it is the most effective means to remove excess carbon in the air, where it does not belong, and putting it in the soil, where it belongs. Navdanya’s research has shown that organic farming has increased carbon absorption by 55%. International studies show that with 2 tons of Soil Organic Matter (SOM) per hectare, we can remove 10 gigatons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, which can reduce the atmospheric concentration of carbon back down to pre-industrial levels of 350 ppm.
In addition, organic matter in the soil also increases water-holding capacity of the soil, reducing the impact of floods and droughts. Just 1% increase in Soil Organic Matter can raise the water-holding capacity of soil by 100,000 liters per hectare. And an increase of 5% can raise it to 800,000 liters. This is our insurance against climate change, both when there is drought and too little rain, and when there are floods and excess rain. On the other hand, cement and concrete increases runoff of water, aggravating floods and drought. We witnessed this in the Uttarakhand disaster in 2013 and in the Kashmir disaster in 2014.
At harvest time of spring 2015 India had unseasonal rains which destroyed the crops. More than a 100 farmers committed suicide. The unseasonal rains due to climate instability added to the burden of debt the farmers are already carrying due to rising costs of production and falling prices. Both the crisis of debt leading to climate change and the climate crisis have a common solution – a shift to biodiverse ecological agriculture which is free of high cost chemical inputs and dependence on corporate seeds, hence of debt, and also has climate resilience built into it through biodiversity and organic soils.
4000 years ago our ancient Vedas had guided us, "Upon this handful of soil our survival depends. Care for it, and it will grow our food, our fuel, our shelter and surround us with beauty. Abuse it, and the soil will collapse and die, taking humanity with it."
9. Dismantling the Patriarchal Gender Binary in Society
How to Tell If You're Living in a Patriarchy: A Historical Perspective
Originally published in
Areo Magazine, 10 July 2017 REPRINTED WITH PERMISSION
Women partaking in the market
The word “Patriarchy” seems to be everywhere. In newspapers, online magazines, talk shows or social media, as soon as the issue of gender relations or rights is raised, so is the specter of “the patriarchy.” Battles rage over what it means, whether it exists now and whether it ever did exist. My area of research focuses on the ways in which English women negotiated patriarchy using religion in the late medieval and early modern period, so I am fairly confident it did. A historical understanding of patriarchy rejects both the claim that it was a straightforward form of male domination and the claim that it is a feminist fabrication and never really existed. Arguments that patriarchy exists in the UK, US or much of the western world today are largely dependent on reinventions of the concept that I argue would be better dispensed with. Instead, they should be replaced with more rigorous investigations of whether gender discrimination exists and a more positive attitude towards individuality.
Patriarchy literally means “rule of the father” and on the most basic level, refers to literal fathers having the right to direct the family which includes sons. When sons marry, they become the head of their own family and when daughters do, they come under the rule of their husbands. In patriarchal societies, women are excluded from positions of ruling power and denied autonomy in their own lives. This was imposed by law and social expectation for most of recorded history. In Christian cultures, the idea of the patriarch became closely related to the idea of God, the Father. Although the likelihood is that God was depicted as a father because the concept of the father as one who both loves and disciplines and is to be respected and obeyed was already widely accepted, Christianity perpetuated this as a moral imperative.
When considering patriarchy in historical terms, it is often pointed out that a naive view of society in which all men had power over all women fails to take account of class and that women of the ruling class had rights and advantages that men of lower ones did not. This is undoubtedly true. Hierarchical class structures required men to defer to women of a higher one in many ways throughout the medieval period and only changed gradually in the modern one. However, it is a mistake to try to “even things up” in this way and argue that because nearly everyone was oppressed for most of history, gender inequality was insignificant. There existed throughout medieval and early modern English history a deeply gendered structure of society in which ruling class men had authority over ruling class women and working class men over working class women. Women were required to obey their husbands and nearly always required to marry either by family or by financial necessity. Wives had no right to own property until 1870, no right to decide their own movements, no right to their children or to work without their husband’s consent. Professions and roles of public authority were simply closed to them.
On a deeper ideological level, there was an understanding of the masculine as that which rules and the feminine as that which is ruled. This was so deeply entrenched that murder of a husband was considered treason in England. The Petty Treason Act of 1351 recognized three cases of aggravated murder in which a superior is betrayed by a subordinate: servants killing masters, clerics killing prelates and wives killing husbands. This was not abolished until 1828.
When Elizabeth I came into power in 1558, she needed to use a considerable amount of rhetorical skill to overcome the very real skepticism of her advisers and subjects about a female leadership. For this, she depended upon a medieval understanding of the king’s “body politic” and “body natural” in which the king was both a divinely appointed ruler and a mortal man to enable her advisers and subjects to feel they could separate her female form from her royal authority. We see this in her speech at Tilbury in 1588,
“I know I have the body but of a weak and feeble woman; but I have the heart and stomach of a king, and of a king of England too”
Of course, she never married.
A better criticism of the concept of patriarchy as a simplistic gendered power-structure is that this ignores the fact that there are different spheres of power and different ways to exert it and that whilst women may not have had much legal power, they possessed it in other forms. Much of my work has focused on the ways in which women obtained autonomy and authority for themselves using the systems of law, social expectation, community justice and religion. Recent social history attempting to uncover women’s history has revealed a far more active role for women than was previously assumed. A naive reading of history could assume that because records relating to women so often take the form of sermons and treatises telling women to stay at home and be quiet, this is how women lived. In the popular mid-fourteenth century text, “How the Goode Wife Taught Hyr Doughter” young women are instructed to be “meke and myld,” particularly to husbands referred to as “your lord” and to stay at home.
Go not as it wer a gase [goose]
Fro house to house, to seke the mase [entertainment]
Ne go thou not to no merket
To sell thi thryft, bewer [beware] of itte.
Ne go thou nought to the taverne,
Thy godnes for to selle therinne;
Wherever thou comme at ale other wyne [beer or wine]
Take not to myche, and leve be tyme;
Ne go thou not to no wrastylynge [wrestling]
Ne git to no coke schetynge [cock shooting]
However, it should be clear that there would be no need to keep telling women to avoid talking a lot, talking loudly, talking angrily, arguing with husbands, visiting friends, markets, taverns, getting drunk and attending wrestling and blood sports if they weren’t doing all those things fairly consistently.
Christian cultures also gave women the opportunity for a limited autonomy and authority via religion despite religious doctrine frequently being the justification for denying them both. In a patriarchal Christian society, the ultimate patriarch was God and it was understood within medieval Catholicism that God talked to men and women. This enabled holy women and those who would be saints to become figures of spiritual authority and it also provided lay women with some power to “go over the heads” of their husbands and fathers and cite communication from God himself. Within early modern Protestantism, it was understood that women could and should interpret the bible for themselves. Drawing on Christian Humanism in 1611, Aemilia Lanyer was enabled to write an intensely logical rhetorical refutation of the idea that women should be subordinated due to the sin of Eve by pointing out that it was men who killed the son of God and saying, very much tongue in cheek, that she was prepared to let bygones be bygones if they were.
Historians have uncovered records of women using a strong knowledge of law to their advantage and consistently organising and managing Church events around which communities were based. The latter in particular put them very much in charge of the social lives of communities. Women could also call upon and enact forms of community justice to support them, and before the advent of policing, this was often the strongest form of law.
There is a remarkable account from the late 14th century of a Leicestershire priest named William de Swynderby (William the Hermit); who preached so frequently about the failings and pride of women (de mulieribus defectibus et superbia) that the townswomen plotted to stone him out of town. Hearing of this, he hastily turned his attention to merchants. He seems not to have felt that he could depend on the men of the town to stop the women and, in fact, his contemporary, Henry Knighton, describes this incident as an example of his flaw of “not knowing when to stop” (finem facere nesciebat).
Further complicating simplistic ideas of patriarchy is the fact that women were generally accepted to have the right to police the moral behaviour of other women. On the 24th September 1531, the Venetian Ambassador, Lodovico Falier, wrote:
“It is said that more than seven weeks ago a mob of from seven to eight thousand women of London went out of the town to seize Boleyn’s daughter, the sweetheart of the king of England, who was supping at a villa on a river, the king not being with her; and having received notice of this, she escaped by crossing the river in a boat. The women had intended to kill her; and amongst the mob were many men, disguised as women. Nor has any great demonstration been made about this, because it was a thing done by women.”
Falier’s observation that nothing was done “because it was a thing done by women” can only be understood by recognizing the gendered spheres of power and authority. If men were to try to kill the later queen, this would be regarded as a punishable political act, an act of treason against the king, a protest against the rise of Protestantism or an opposition to the rising power of the Boleyn/Howard faction. If women tried to attack Anne, this was more likely to be regarded as part of the unwritten right of women to punish other women; in this case, one who was attempting to steal another woman’s husband, and therefore none of men’s business. If Falier was correct and men disguised as women were part of the mob, this would have been done to conceal a political element and “legitimize” the assassination attempt as an established form of female community justice.
If we read only laws and sermons on the rights of women and the behaviour required of them by the Church, we get a simple picture of an oppressed and subordinated class but accounts by individuals of how society worked in practice show things to have been more nuanced. Communities had a tendency to work justice and fairness out among themselves around the rules of church and state, as did individual couples.
The most detailed account of a late medieval couple from the woman’s perspective is found in the Book of Margery Kempe written in the 1430s but lost until the 1930s. This autobiography of a woman’s religious life has been of most interest to historians as social history. We see evidence of patriarchy when Margery is asked for evidence she had her husband’s permission to travel, when she is told she must not preach because she is a woman and when her protection from being thrown in jail for doing both is the names of her powerful father and high-status husband. However, the book also revealed that she owned a considerable amount of money and started two businesses, one against her husband’s wishes. More significant is that neither she nor her male scribe felt it necessary to explain how this was possible suggesting that her readers did not need an explanation. Further research has suggested that whilst all businesses needed to be registered in men’s names, some were, in practice, owned by women. There were also private arrangements in which women’s husbands accepted them as the owners of the money they had inherited or earned even though, legally, they had no right to it. Margery describes her husband, John, as “always a good and easy man to her” and gives us glimpses of her marriage,
“It happened one Friday, Midsummer Eve, in very hot weather — as this creature [Margery] was coming from York carrying a bottle of beer in her hand, and her husband a cake tucked inside his clothes against his chest — that her husband asked his wife this question:
‘Margery, if there came a man with a sword who would strike off my head unless I made love with you as I used to do before, tell me on your conscience — for you say you will not lie — whether you would allow my head to be cut off, or else allow me to make love with you again, as I did at one time?’
‘Alas, sir,’ she said, ‘why are you raising this matter, when we have been chaste for these past eight weeks?’
‘Because I want to know the truth of your heart.’
And then she said with great sorrow,
‘Truly, I would rather see you being killed, than that we should turn back to our uncleanness.’
And he replied, ‘You are no good wife.’”
Margery is showing her readers her commitment to her holy vow of celibacy but modern readers have typically found this account humorous. On a psychological level, John’s thought experiment looks very much like a test of his wife’s feelings and his need to know he is important to her following the end of their sexual closeness due to her newfound religiosity. Margery’s book is full of her power struggles with patriarchal Church authorities, but with her husband, we see more of a personal, emotional negotiation between her intense, zealous personality and his easy-going, gentler one and much mutual affection. When looking at power relations, it’s necessary to consider not only the official rules but also the community’s sense of fairness and the couple’s bond and need to make their relationship work.
The reality of English history shows that people who claim patriarchy to have utterly removed any power or agency from women are wrong. Women have always been an influential part of society, deeply involved in forming and regulating cultural norms. They’ve also been loved by men who wanted them to be happy. However, people who claim that this and the class structure which gave some women more power than some men show that patriarchy did not exist are also wrong. Women were still explicitly and systematically subordinated to men by a system of laws and church and community enforced rules. When married women did run their own businesses, decide their own movements and own their own money, this was because their husbands allowed them to and even then there were still many doors resolutely closed to them.
We cannot judge a system by the way the most just and compassionate people treat those they have power over but by how it allows the most unjust and cruel to treat them. A woman being visibly and severely abused would be likely to draw condemnation from the community and the Church might intervene and insist he stop it or even give permission to the woman to leave him, but there was still a considerable amount of abuse which was quite legal and respectable. A man could refuse to allow his wife to leave the house, set her unrealistic amounts of work and beat her within accepted limits (a few strokes with a thin stick and not on the head) daily for any infraction with little consequence. He would be regarded as a “strict” husband but still respected in the community and approved by the Church.
This was the experience of the Puritan Anne Wentworth in the late 17th century but by this time there was a printing press she could use to publish her grievances. With his “barbarous actions,” Wentworth claimed her husband had “over-done such things as not only in the Spirit of them will one day be judged a murdering of, but had long since really proved so if God had not wonderfully supported and preserved me.” [He so over-did husbandly discipline that not only would he be judged guilty by God of a murderous spirit but could have literally killed her.] Her community did not protect her because “all esteem my husband as he is an honest, moral man full of blind zeal and hath the gift of his tongue. A man very fit for business and employment in this World, for he will not cheat or cozen any man” (p12.)
It was simply true that men ruled women and so patriarchy — the rule of the fathers — existed in a literal form, as it does today in some parts of the world. Women did not have the right to autonomy or authority, to own property or control their own movements and activities without their husband’s consent. They could not vote or access most positions of power or professions. Although women with loving husbands and no ambition to access positions only open to men could be happy in a patriarchy, it was an unjust system which restricted women and left them vulnerable to abusive men.
The dismantling of patriarchy in Britain began in the 19th century, at the end of which married women began to be able to own property and money and started to access professions including medicine and accountancy and to be able to live independently. This phenomenon was known as “the revolting daughters.” Throughout the 20th century, rights and freedoms increased until women had attained the vote, access to all professions and qualifications, the right to equal pay for equal work and the right to decline sex within marriage.
By all historical understandings of patriarchy and by looking at patriarchal societies that exist now, it seems clear that the UK and the US and much of the Western world are not patriarchal. Women are no longer obliged to obey their husbands and have full legal equality with men and access to all of the public positions that men do. Yet, within feminism in particular and to some extent in wider society, the word “patriarchy” is used to describe a problem in society that still needs to be overcome. How is this justified?
Most often people point to statistics showing that men are very much over-represented in politics and business and say that this is evidence of a society ruled by men. However, there is no law that only men can access these positions and some are held by women. Our current Prime Minister is, after all, a woman. There is little evidence that the imbalance is due to discrimination against women rather than different choices made by men and women. Since women have had access to all professions, they have quickly come to dominate education, healthcare, publishing and psychology. Does this make these heavily social fields, which guide how society thinks and feels, matriarchal?
It is perfectly possible that some sexist discrimination against women is going on in male-dominated professions but we cannot discover this or the extent of it if we only look at those areas and do so with an a priori assumption that discrimination is the cause whilst ignoring the ample evidence that men and women have different interests and priorities on average. We need data which incorporates the whole field of employment and factors in men and women’s choices and does not assume that male-dominated fields are superior and the only ones which have power in society.
Another common argument for patriarchy is the fact that rapists and boorish men still exist. This is said to be evidence of a rape culture and is presented along with the fact that violent criminals, and particularly sex-offenders, are much more often men as evidence of a society which devalues women and in which men feel entitled to abuse women. The problem with this claim is that we have a society in which violence by men against women is taken very seriously and punished more harshly than violence by men against men and much more than violence by women against anyone. Violence against women is also despised culturally and men are by far the greatest victims of violence. We have shelters for women and very few for men. We have a special register for sex-offenders and they have to be segregated from other violent offenders in prison because hatred of them is so profound. It is very difficult to argue that a culture which regards sexual abuse of women as so abhorrent is a rape culture or that one which is so much more concerned about female victims of violence than male victims is a patriarchy in which women are devalued and abuse of them is acceptable.
A more modest claim of patriarchy is that it is seen in the fact that sexist and domineering men still exist and can even attain positions of power. There are men who feel that patriarchy should still exist or act as though they think so by belittling women, doubting their capabilities, talking over them or condescending to them. Many of these accusations are justified. I have been told both rudely and politely that I am not the intellectual equal of men and cannot cope with public positions of responsibility and should stay at home and have babies. This is a recognized ultra-conservative view. It is not reflected in wider society which recognizes my intellectual capabilities by awarding me academic qualifications and job opportunities. The mirror image of it is to be found in people who belittle men and generalize them according to the least ethical, intelligent and productive male members of society. However, it is demonstrably false to claim that society approves more of sexist men than sexist women. We saw Tim Hunt reduced to tears, contemplating suicide and feeling compelled to resign following a joke about sexist attitudes and recently an Uber director resigned following outrage that he had said a meeting with more women in it was a meeting with more talking. Meanwhile prominent female figures including politicians have been able to use the term “mansplaining” without comparable censure.
The most reasonable and well-supported claims that contemporary society continues to be affected by its patriarchal history relate to gender role expectations. Men can be expected to be the main provider even if this means they see less of their children whilst women can be expected to be more responsible for children and domestic chores even if this limits their ability to focus on their career. Men can experience much pressure to be emotionally and physically strong and dominant whilst women can feel pressure to be socially skilled, empathetic and conciliatory. Even though there are good evolutionary reasons for gendered differences in these preferences and traits on average, there is much variation and overlap and social pressure to comply with them cannot be justified. Criticism of such pressure is warranted but it is unclear that perpetuating claims of patriarchy and thinking in terms of gendered class oppression will be more helpful than advocating individuality, challenging assumptions and supporting gender non-conformity.
Patriarchy has existed for most of recorded history and its complete dissolution in law is recent. My 75-year-old mother remembers not being able to get a mortgage without a male guarantor and being told “there’s no accounting for women” when she asked to be able to take her employer’s accountancy exam. This is illegal now. If there is hidden discrimination against women, it will be found by rigorous investigation rather than assumptions based on “blank slatism” and ideological readings of statistics.
There is still a hangover of patriarchal attitudes in the form of socially conservative ideas of gender roles but now, for the first time, men and women are able to defy them and we get the chance to see what a society in which everybody gets to access everything will look like. It probably won’t result in men and women making exactly the same life and work choices in exactly the same numbers, but women are already everywhere. It is this ability to exercise autonomy and individuality to access every opportunity that we need to seize and the confidence to defy any social pressures we experience that we need to encourage. Approaches to gender equality which perpetuate ideas of women’s weakness and need for special protections in the public sphere can only undermine this goal. We have smashed patriarchy in the systematic sense and we can smash any residual cultural hangover with individual assertion of our own choices and respect for other people’s.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Helen Pluckrose is a researcher in the humanities who focuses on late medieval/early modern religious writing for and about women. She is critical of postmodernism and cultural constructivism which she sees as currently dominating the humanities. You can connect with her on Twitter @HPluckrose