As you probably know, I’m a woman… I have a gender-neutral title (Dr) and first name (Jan) and this does quite often lead to people being surprised about my gender, but I really am female. I like the fact that I’m ambiguous in this way – although it can be annoying when people assume that the ‘Dr’ in our house is Mr Snail and so I must be Mrs Snail. I know that more than half of my readers here are female and that is probably because of some of the subjects I write about (more women than men knit and crochet) but not all… I suspect that gardening is practiced by the two genders equally and all my posts about reducing consumption and leading a ‘greener’ life are intended to be applicable to anyone.
When it comes to gender, we are often exposed to stereotypes, especially in the media, who would have you believe that only men like engines and all women are avid followers of fashion… despite all evidence to the contrary. A shining example of the perpetuation of such nonsense was the ‘make-up free selfie’ craze on social media last year – where women were encouraged (by whom? I ask myself) to post a picture of themselves without make-up, when the real fact is that many women, like me, simply never wear make-up or only wear it very occasionally. So every picture you can find of me (and many of my friends) on social media shows a person without make-up… what you see is what you get. But we are led to believe that this is not true. By whom and to what end I cannot say for sure, but you have to guess that marketing is implicated somewhere.
I was inspired to write this post because of an article I read yesterday about images of women in social media. The author’s contention was that “The broader message to women couldn’t be clearer: SeXXXy images are appropriate, but images of women’s bodies doing normal women body things are not”. Up to a point, this is true, but it was the following statement that really got me thinking:
It’s men that social media giants are “protecting” – men who have grown up on sanitized and sexualized images of female bodies. Men who have been taught to believe by pop culture, advertising and beyond that women’s bodies are there for them. And if they have to see a woman that is anything other than thin, hairless and ready for sex – well, bring out the smelling salts. (Jessica Valenti, The Guardian 30 March 2015)
And what I thought was… men are not all that stupid. At least the men I hang out with aren’t. OK, hormone-fueled adolescents may fit into this model and heterosexual men may well enjoy this imagery, but that is not the way that women should perceive men. In fact, this sort of imagery plays to commercial interests much more than to “men”… encouraging all of us to fit into specific stereotypes that can only be achieved by spending money on clothes, gadgets, make-up or whatever.
But men are a diverse bunch, you know*? There are men who are power-hungry and domineering, but there are also men who are kind and gentle. There are men who use their greater physical strength to intimidate and subjugate, but there are also men who use this to dig the garden, carry the heavy sacks of bird seed and lift the washing machine when the anti-vibration feet need repositioning. Men account for about half the world’s population, so there is bound to be a bit of diversity and it seems unfair to place them all in the same category. Don’t get me wrong, I accept that there are traits that are more likely to be exhibited by men than by women, but that does not mean that all men are the same.
It certainly concerns me that the political system in the UK is so adversarial and this is the result of it having been designed by power-hungry men at a time when women had no input, but you can’t blame a whole gender for that. The individuals who were aggressive and sought power through might were the ones who came to dominate in the past and so the political and social structures that suit them that have become embedded in our country. We shouldn’t stand for it – democracy means it shouldn’t be the case any more, but the system is designed to be self-perpetuating. Women and men who are not comfortable with the adversarial nature of politics tend not to engage actively, because they are forced to operate in a system that is alien to them. And thus, the bullies and domineering individuals come to the fore and succeed in gaining power. It’s not about gender per se, it’s about whether you can work within the system.
So, let us not be duped by the media into regarding all men as potential rapists and all women as potential victims. Let us celebrate the diversity and strengths of all individuals, irrespective of gender. And let us find a way forward, collectively, in which all of us can contribute and have an equal voice and representation (in the media and in politics) without having those who want to make money out of us or gain power defining the right way to look and act.
* You may even be one yourself!