Comment | The Problem with Men: The invisibility of everyday sexism
Ideas, New in Ceasefire - Posted on Friday, November 1, 2013 17:23 - 6 Comments
By Usayd Younis
A group of us, three men and a woman, are having a semi-serious conversation about heartbreak. The guy to my left turns to me and whispers into my ear “a woman can break a man’s heart but a man can break a woman’s arse.” I look him dead in the eyes, frown and shake my head. “I’m not going to laugh at that. That’s not funny.” He nods in assent, admitting that it was neither an amusing nor appropriate comment.
Earlier, the man to my right tried to tell me (voice slurred from drinking) that the group of women sat at a nearby table were “literally there for the picking.” That they were just ‘waiting’ for a man to take them home. I told him that I didn’t think like that. He assumed I was implying that I already had a girlfriend. When I told him I did not (heteronormative assumption aside), he decided that I was, in Dutch, “sympathetic”. “Maybe just respectful,” I replied. “Yes. That is it. You are respectful of women. I like that.”
When I witness the plague of misogyny in myself, I wonder how my mind can be so convoluted. The answer is clear: In this world of white supremacist capitalist patriarchy, men are rarely, if ever, discouraged from speaking of and looking at women in such demeaning and objectifying ways. As this is societally acceptable (and in many spaces encouraged), the prospects of men being held to account for their foolish, insolent and often repugnant and violent words and actions disintegrate entirely. The figures speak for themselves.
Male dominance is not limited to heterosexual men either (though I don’t doubt that violence against women is largely committed by such). Recently, I had to point out to a friend why his marital plan was completely unacceptable. He had no intentions to share with his prospective bride the small detail of his sexual preference being for men.
Human beings can, indeed, be selfish. But having to explain to a man why entering into a contractual, and supposedly loving, marriage on the basis of a lie is more than just disregard for the other. In fact it shows how much we assume the primacy of the male, his ambition and desire, over our female counterparts.
Some assert that sexism exists primarily in private spaces, where people should be able to express their ‘feelings’ (a similar position seems to exist in relation to racism). Whilst this view is itself extremely problematic, it is also a fallacy. If you are paying attention you will see that issues surrounding gender permeate all spaces. The so-called ‘separation’ between public and private is largely used as a mask to allow those holding bigoted views to retain their positions of power and dominance over the others.
Here’s a simple case study from my daily life. I am a web developer and utilise the site YOOtheme for building website platforms. In my work I came across this slider which depicts the staff of a fictional web agency:
Looking at these pictures is like playing a game of ‘spot the difference’, or rather ‘spot the problem’.
Give yourself marks if you have already spotted that:
- The roles of women in this agency are explicitly inferior to those of the men, with not a single role pertaining to the actual work that the agency does (i.e. design and build websites).
- There is a numerical under-representation of women at the agency (only 3/11 of the staff), with two of them occupying only one of the visible spaces.
- Of the four female avatars, one is the office dog.
- A bonus point for anyone who’s spotted that there is only one non-white person in the staff. And, of course, no women of colour.
What I find most interesting about this simple example is this: The reality is that many workplaces are highly unequal spaces. Why, then, when given the opportunity to create an ideal reality – as is the case with this fictional workplace – would the curator not seize the chance to set the agenda straight? Unless, of course, this is how the ideal reality looks to a man benefiting from male privilege.
I often find myself having to explain to men the basic rationale for equality and the absolute need for feminism. We need to learn how to be allies in the struggle that is taking place. If you won’t speak out, the least you can do is get out of the way.