So, I finally commented on Pharyngula. Never really thought I would since the discussions often left me fearful of inviting a smack down of epic proportions. After reading the responses on the “Woman Problem” thread, I got to wondering why I was so fearful. I think I gained some insight into why I don’t often express my opinion. In some ways, I’ve been told repeatedly that my opinion doesn’t matter and that I shouldn’t exercise any type of self-confidence. Sometimes overtly, sometimes subtly.
For instance, there was one discussion I had with my husband a while back. We had a minor scheduling conflict involving a child’s birthday (our best friends) and our child’s soccer game. He thought our daughter should just skip her game and go to the party. I thought that we paid for her to play soccer, and her team was counting on her being there, and we could arrive to the party late, but still attend. He told me I need to be careful while asserting myself that I don’t shit on those closest to me. That pissed me off and at the time I couldn’t really see the real reason why. Now I know that it was a roundabout way of saying that he was always right, and I always had to fight for my opinion. In the end, I went to the game with her and he went ahead to the party with our other daughter. We showed up late and everything was fine, even if he was a little prickly towards me.
Not to give him a pass on this moment of bad behavior (it doesn’t happen often), but a lot of his opinion was borne out of fear. He has this idea that all it would take is one “no” to our friends and we will no longer be in their good graces.
It makes me think that a lot of the societal marginalizing of women is borne out of fear. (Before I hear a “No shit, Sherlock!”, I would direct you to an earlier thread which highlights the fact that I seem to be coming into critical thinking fairly late. )
As I so often point out to my husband, he is a straight upper middle-class white male, enjoying all the privileges that comes with being one. By this very nature, he is inherently blind to the issues of minorities (women, POC, gays, etc.). This is not necessarily a bad thing, especially for him, it just is what it is. The downside to this is that he has a tendency to deny there is a problem, sort of like a knee jerk reaction. Because it doesn’t affect him, it doesn’t affect anybody else. It’s a lazy way of thinking, but those that are “privileged” in society don’t really have a reason to think otherwise. Unless they are married or have daughters, or have minorities as friends, co-workers, in-laws, etc. He has become more sensitive to women’s issues due to the fact that I consider it my mission to educate him when he is dead wrong, and the fact that we have daughters that will one day be women.
Those in power (whether they realize the are or not) sense someone or something challenging their power, and they get scared. A common response to fear is denial. So combine the inherent blind spot and fear, then add denial, and there can be a major roadblock to progress. Add a few people who tend to be a little more testosterone laden than others, and a situation (either globally or personally) can become a very scary thing for women, gays, etc. There are many men who are aware of their power and wield it like a weapon, and there are others, thank goodness, who realize that they can use their power to make things more equal. We need more of the latter.
We also need more women to stand up and speak up. I acknowledge that this can be scary. Start with a fairly safe audience, like friends with similar thinking, and express an opinion that you normally would have kept quiet about due to fear. Sometimes it even helps to acknowledge that you are afraid you will be jumped on for this opinion and stress that you need a safe place to voice it. It’s practice for bigger audiences, or less receptive ones.
I need to take this advice more often myself. I “practice” with my husband. We can often have spirited debates, but I know that even if he doesn’t agree with me in the end, I will have been heard, and I may have even educated someone on the realities of being a woman. For instance, I expressed a desire to be more involved in women’s rights, whether through an organization, or involvement in local issues. He made a comment that all the issues have been solved.
After picking myself off the floor after laughing so hard, I explained to him that while a lot of big issues have been “solved” (voting, equal rights, etc.) there were still problems. In the U.S. there is still a pay discrepancy between women and men (it keeps getting smaller, but it’s not equal yet). There is the whole health care issue. Not just abortion rights, but rights to birth control, and affordable health care for women and children. Globally there is still a huge issue. There are many places in the world where women are not allowed to have an opinion, let alone any control over their own lives, and live in constant fear of rape as a method of control. When I stopped to take a breath, he acquiesced and admitted that maybe he didn’t know the whole story.
One thing that stood out for me in the comments over at Pharyngula, was how much us women see a subtle oppression, whether it is in assuming societal “norms” of behavior, such as women being quiet, diplomatic, and conflict phobic, you know, just smile and be nice, or as insidious as girls still being discouraged from the hard sciences and maths (Barbie uttered “Math class is hard” as recently as 1992), while men tend not to notice this at all. Yes, there are exceptions, but without research and statistics backing this up, would these men be aware of the problem?
I have been in situations where I point out that certain things are a problem for women (equal pay for instance), and I get a wave of the hand and a “Pshht” that dismisses me right out of hand. This has to stop. Just because you don’t want to hear it, or are afraid of losing power, doesn’t make it any less real or valid.
Wow, I got a little long winded. I could probably write about this all day, but there are many more who have done so much more eloquently and skillfully than I have.
I finally put on my big girl panties and commented, and I will probably continue to do so in conversations that interest me.