Recently I read a book called ‘The Witches Are Coming’ by Lindy West. Among her commentary on Donald Trump, Conservative politics, global warming, racism, fat-shaming, abortion rights and feminism, she raised some very interesting ideas – and yes, okay, maybe I loved her novel because she and I hold extremely similar views: I am a feminist, a democrat, and don’t like idiotic racist sexists who use too much spray tan, but here we are!
Amongst all those things she raised a very important point, and one that hadn’t struck me until now. She wrote the following excerpt:
“During the closing question-and-answer period, a young woman stood up. “I’m sorry,” she said, her voice electric with anger, “but all I’ve heard tonight are a bunch of things women can do to fight sexism. Why is that our job? We didn’t build this system. This audience should be full of men.”
I thought about that question when I sat on an all-female panel in front of a mostly female audience talking about how to fix gender bias in comedy. I think about it every time a reporter asks me how victims of internet trolling can make ourselves safer online. I think about it when abortion rights are framed as men’s to take away but only women’s to fight for. Naturally, I thought about it constantly as #MeToo ripped through entertainment and politics and our own families, illuminating the ubiquity and scale of male sexual entitlement.[…]
But I kept returning to that old question. Men: What exactly is it that you do here?[…]
Hey, you know what you could do to help? Everything.
How about Matt Damon refuses to show up to work until his female costars are paid as much as he is? How about Jimmy Fallon refuses to interview anyone who has been credibly accused of sexual assault or domestic violence? […] How about Harvey Weinstein anonymously donates $100 million to the Time’s Up legal defense fund and then melts into the fog as though he never existed?
How about men boycott Twitter? How about men strike for International Women’s Day? How about men take on the economic and social burdens of calling out toxic patterns of gendered socialization? How about anyone but the oppressed lifts a finger to change anything at all?
Sexism is a male invention. White supremacy is a white invention. Transphobia is a cisgender invention. So far, men have treated #MeToo like a bumbling dad in a detergent commercial: well intentioned but floundering, as though they are not the experts.
You are the experts.
Only 2.6 percent of construction workers are female. We did not install that glass ceiling, and it is not our responsibility to demolish it.”The Witches Are Coming, Lindy West, p135-136
I hadn’t realised until now that although women are the people who suffer from the blight of sexism, somehow we are the ones that are supposed to dismantle it? Not to sound defeatist, because I truly believe in fighting for what you believe in and trying to change bad opinions everywhere you go, but it seems to me like we are being tricked into pouring out our heart and souls and pay gap disputes and sexual trauma and constant undermining to a crowd that inflicts it on us in the first place. If they are the ones creating and upholding the value that women are automatically lower than men, that we deserve to be paid lower, and to have hands up our skirts on public transport, and to be ignored – or worse, talked over – in meetings, that we deserve not to be included for financial talks around a dinner table, or not to be invited out on the golf course where intricate working relationships are made, that we deserve to sit at home, raise their children, cook their meals, or work a full-time job and then be ostracized for struggling to make time to raise children, cook meals… Why would men change a system that ultimately benefits them? Because it seems to me, that through years of campaigning, through being “angry, hysterical women,” through the Suffragettes and multiple waves of feminism – our rights are still being taken away from us.
In 1752, Benjamin Franklin discovered electricity. In 1886, Josephine G. Cochraine invented the dishwasher for the first time – something that women have been loading and unloading for years to come – and she still wasn’t allowed to vote until 50 years later.
In Ancient Rome, women were allowed to get divorced, own property, inherit their own money. In opposition, at the time my mother was growing up – only one generation ago! – she would not have been allowed her own bank account until 1975, when the UK finally allowed women to have a bank account under their own name. Luckily, she grew up in New Zealand, which allowed women to have their own bank accounts in 1958, and was the first country in the world to give women the right to vote in 1893.
In 1973, the U.S. Constitution ruled that a pregnant woman has the liberty to choose whether she wants an abortion or not, unhindered by the government. Today, in direct opposition to this law, it is viably illegal to have an abortion in Texas and Louisiana. To emphasize how nuts this is: in Afghanistan, abortion is illegal unless it is to save the mother’s life. Texans are not offered this same mercy.
There have been exactly 0 female presidents in the United States. When Hilary Clinton was running, it was a breath of fresh air for women, who wanted someone to look out for our best interests. Instead, the pendulum swung the other way, and the United States was graced with a President who has been accused of sexual assault by at least 25 women. He was recorded saying you could “grab women by the pussy” and they wouldn’t do anything. When asked about it, it was just “locker room talk”. Forgive me if I want to live in a world where “locker room talk” depicting horrific actions of sexual assault is looked down upon. Call me woke if you like – for many women, for most women, this has happened to us at least once. It’s happened to a friend of mine, when we were walking through a club. When we yelled at him, and called him out, he looked around at his buddies with his hands up as if we were the crazy ones, as if we were the hysterical ones. Ultimately, it was us who was made to look stupid, when my friend was the one who had indeed been “grabbed by the pussy”.
Many men are not like this, and I choose to believe that it is the minority today who believe that women are inferior, and treat us as such. However, it is far more common for men to stand by and do nothing, as that is the way is has always been done, it is the way it has always been. If you want a higher paycheck, just ask your male boss for it. If you don’t want to be sexually harassed, don’t wear a dress like that. There is a reason men are shocked to hear that 96.1% of women have been sexually harassed. As the famous saying from Margaret Atwood goes: “Men are afraid that women will laugh at them, women are afraid that men will kill them.”
We are orcas playing the part of the happy go-lucky performer, doing tricks to get us treats, only in the down time to head back to our tiny 86×51 foot tank, dreaming of an ocean, knowing that we either play the part, or don’t play at all. It is not the orca’s job to free themselves – it is SeaWorld’s.
I fear we are fighting a never-ending battle that at the moment we are losing. Don’t stop campaigning, fighting to earn that $1 to a man’s dollar, but also perhaps maybe it’s time we turn to the men we know, and try to get them to listen, and furthermore, to understand. It’s their time to speak up; we have been yelling for far too long, and it’s only got us this far. Yes, we are 51% of the population, but we will not succeed without the help of the other 49%, especially when they currently have more sway than we do.
As Lindy West said, we did not build this glass ceiling, and we do not have the power or the numbers to take it down on our own.
Image via Bottega Veneta