Saturday, 20 February 2010

The Trouble with Sarah

Sarah Palin. Why don't we like her? After all, she IS a woman.
Yep. Kind of.
Well, no she is.
Gloaria Steinem (I think) said that you are either a Feminist or a Masochist, but the truth is there are other reasons why women don't support gender equality, and one of those reasons is an 'I'm alright Jill' attitude. 'I've made it so why can't everyone else?'
Then there is the,
'Well, we have equality now,' p-o-v.

One of the things I have noticed from reading early feminists, is that feminism always goes hand-in-hand with social justice, so that the fight is never JUST for gender equality, but also for equality of opportunity for all.
And one of the things I notice about the 'I'm alright Jills,' is that they are also not interested in social justice.

Last week I read the following two things, and I wish I could find them again to reference, but right now I can't.
One in six women in the USA will experience gender based violence.
Only a very few men are rapists, but the fact that there are some means that all women are at risk, and especially as it's a victim blaming crime.

I realise that neither Canada nor Britain will have the same statistics as the USA, but I'd be surprised if they were hugely disparate and one in six is a significant and scary number.

In many cultures, the birth of a girl child is greeted with less enthusiasm than the birth of a boy child. Can we honestly say it is never the case in ours? See, it's a chicken and an egg situation.
This is where we start.

Ground zero = men are more valued than women. Maleness is more valued than femaleness. When a child is born, this is compounded by the FACT that the woman has carried the child in her body for nine months, suffered all kinds of physical discomforts and then given birth in unbelievable pain. So, people surrounding the happy couple have to make the man feel valued. He already is, but then because he hasn't done very much, he has to be bigged up even more. And many people think that every man wants a son, it isn't true of course, but it's a pervading myth. So when a son is born, he gains more kudos in the patriarchy.

And then, to ensure that our boy children never have to be maligned by being called 'she', we colour code them. And we know from research that if you tell people that a baby is one gender or the other, irrespective of what actual gender it is, they will treat it differently and interpret the baby's own sounds and actions differently.
Gender equality in the home is a powerful model, but every child is also subjected to influences from outside and the outside brought inside in the form of TV.

Simone de Beauvoir, writing at a time when the societal norm was for a man to work outside of the home and for the woman to work within it, noted that children therefore see that the man receives money for his work, is praised by and interacts with all kinds of different people and is active. He is the person who acts. The woman is largely responsive. She cleans the house, doing the same work over and over, she prepares meals, that are eaten and then prepared again. She receives no money and little praise. So the child, beginning to find its gender identity, sees that the man is more worthy and more outgoing, more active in one sense, whereas the woman is more passive, working constantly without achievement.

And all around both boys and girls is language that they don't even notice, but which emphasises that male is the default gender, female some kind of deviance from the norm, whereas in fact, in nature, the opposite is true.

SO what does a little Sarah do?
She can become more pseudo-feminine, redressing her invisibility by using what she is encouraged to use, her looks and 'feminine wiles'(the female eunuch).
She can become more male in dress and behaviour, so that boys see her as 'one of the lads'.
She can build her little empire, looking and dressing in a pseudo-feminine way, whilst contributing to the invisibility of other women by behaving in a masculine way and criticising other girls and women for not playing the game.
Because part of finding your male gender identity is reinforcing the desirability and worthiness of maleness.

And think about that. If you are even passably pretty, you can pretend it doesn't matter whilst playing it up.
Patriarchy-men like a woman who knows how to play up to them. Play her looks. They give a little of what they have to a woman who knows how to play the game. One who appears to know her place. They also like a woman who criticises other women, the ones who don't buy into the patriarchy.

And they give a little more, because after all, isn't it best to be able to turn around and say,
'See, you DO have it all because here's this wonderful woman, family person, career woman, we are not against you, if only you'd get off your backsides, you could all be as successful as her. It's YOUR OWN FAULT, don't blame us!'
Whilst they, and she undermine the choices and freedoms available to other women.

They want to take away reproductive choice from individual women and simply not allow them to have abortions.
They do nothing to address the issues of violence against women, inclusive language, pay inequality, childcare, work imbalance, the lack of women's voices on TV and radio.

Watch TV with a critical eye for a while. How many ads have male voiceovers? Documentaries? How many 'experts' are women? How many women do you SEE in ads, and what are they doing? In boardrooms, are there equal numbers of men and women, if we see a team of doctors, are the numbers equal according to gender? Or do only the ads about health and beauty show women?
In fiction, even where there are women in authority, the 'hero' or the one whose name or title is the title of the series, is more often a man. There is sometimes a woman who is the active one, the thinker, but then all the 'ordinary' characters are male, one strong woman has to be balanced by everyone else being male.

Think about the voices we hear.
In Canada is the French (seen by many as the second language instead of what it truly is, one of two official ones) a woman's voice and the English male? Is the male voice deep and authoritative? Is the woman's voice setting out the problem whilst the male voice is resolving it, telling us what to do?

The trouble with Sarah is that she is a woman.
And we all know that if a man does something, he is judged as an individual, but if a woman does the same thing, all women are judged by her performance.
And Sarah, simply won't do.


Anonymous said...

I have a co-worker who just had a baby. She is of Indian origin and was thus forbidden to have an ultrasound while pregnant in case she decided to abort if the fetus was shown to be female.
- Karen

Schneewittchen said...

The health authority in Portsmouth where I used to live wouldn't tell you the sex of the baby from the ultrasound even if you wanted to know, for that same reason. Obviously they couldn't do it just for certain cultural backgrounds, so it was a blanket policy.

Gail said...

Karen, that story sounds somewhat dubious. There are certain communities and clinics that have blanket policies on not telling you the gender early on but no one's going to be forbidden an ultrasound. The 16 week (I think now it's at more like 12 weeks) scan is pretty important for detecting some pretty major issues.