Every once in a while, someone will say something to me that just sets me off and I have to talk about it. This is one of those things.
This week I posted pictures online from New Year’s Eve and a few people who don’t know me very well assumed that the person in my current profile picture was someone I am romantically involved with. (Pause here while those who know us both take a moment to laugh like crazy). So let me clarify. No, no, he is not. He is however, one of the very best friends I have ever had on the planet and will be around long after my last romantic involvement, when we are both old and driving nurses crazy in the same retirement home!
What this illustrated to me, however, is that while we have come a long way in recent years, we still need to rearrange some of our thinking. We are still judging based on gender, or appearance of gender, and long outdated models of what that means. We are still making assumptions about a man and woman based on the fact that they are in a photo together and appear to like each other! Now making assumptions doesn’t mean we are bad, or that we have ill intent, it just means we still have work to do, both inside of own heads and in the world at large.
We have marriage equality but we’ve still got to come up with some new paradigms. Think about it, we need to change even the simplest of things. Bangor City Hall had to change their marriage licenses to read spouse and spouse rather than husband and wife. I had to rearrange my pre-written wedding vows to be all inclusive but I still wasn’t sure. So I asked the couple I recently performed a wedding ceremony for. What do you want to be called? Do you want to be spouse and spouse or wife and wife or what? It’s that simple really. If you aren’t sure, just ask. Like everything else, talk about it, and if that doesn’t work, talk about it more.
If we are going to do away with the stereotypes and ridiculous gender based thinking we’ve got to do it for all of us, gay or straight, male or female. I have male friends and I have female friends and I some friends who are in transition from one to the other. Here is my own pet peeve; because I am a heterosexual woman does not mean I am any more likely to be having sex, or to want to sex, with my male friends than any of my other friends.
Here is the point folks, and this is key to every single question regarding equality. It not only doesn’t matter what’s in everyone’s pants, it is also nobody’s damn business!!!!
Gender still affects all of us, every day, whether we choose to believe it or not. While we have more women in Congress right now than ever, those in charge of this country are still predominately white, heterosexual, upper class, males. We have come a long way to change that, but we aren’t there yet and we can’t rest on our accomplishments and ignore what still needs to done.
How will we know when we are done? Well we can’t say for certain but I feel we will be closer when women like Hillary Clinton, one of the most respected humans in the world, no longer gets asked in interviews about her hair styles and her outfits. I think we will be closer when a woman declares herself a feminist, like Zooey Deschanel did recently and the media doesn’t ask stupid questions like is she too feminine to be a feminist? I think we will be closer when successful single women no longer get asked about their choices regarding marriage and children, as if any of this were anyone else’s business! We will be closer when we stop asking altogether what a feminist looks like and start asking what a humanist looks like instead.
We will know we are closer to being done when we are outraged about inequality and violence every single day, not just when stories make international headlines. We will know we are closer when we begin to realize the culture we have accepted and promoted and the inequalities and violence we have allowed to exist are what lead to the horrific things we read in the news, every day.
As Dr. Vandana Shiva has pointed out again in her most recent article “The Connection Between the Global Economy and Violence Against Women” it is all related. It is all connected. Our thinking must be changed on so many levels. Violence against women can’t be changed until we get at the very root of the cause.
What happens when you raise generations of men who are encouraged to be violent? What happens when you deny them the right to be in touch with their own humanity, when you encourage them to not feel? Then when happens when you deny them opportunity, economic or otherwise? What happens when you have a group of men who have no hope, who have nothing to lose and no one who cares if they lose it? Then you have a culture of people who begin to act less than human. Then you have situations like the one that occurred on a bus in India.
While this is a cry once again for feminism to rise up against violence against women, let us also remember that violence also happens to men. They are victims in many ways and sometimes yes, even men get raped too. The sad fact is there are no real numbers to support that because men don’t report those crimes. In the culture of violence and sexism we have raised them in the only thing worse than getting raped would be telling anyone you got raped, admitting weakness . . . something is very wrong with that.
So while we spend time this month celebrating all we have achieved in terms of equality, let us not forget to examine our own thinking and our own stereotypes. Let us remember that violence and discrimination are not things that happen to only certain segments of the population. It affects all of us, in one way or another, and all of us are responsible for becoming part of the solution. Let’s start by questioning our own thinking. Let’s call out those around us when they need to question their own. Let’s consider the things we say to both our daughters and our sons. And if we aren’t sure about what to say or do in this new and exciting culture we are creating, just ask, and then let’s talk about it!