Millennia of misogyny aren't wiped away in a few decades of progress.
Yesterday was International Arguing About Why We Need International Women’s Day Day.
On that day, thugs and bullies managed to disperse an IWD rally on Tahrir Square by harassing, catcalling, intimidating, crowding and humiliating the 100 or so women who were there. These are the same women who so eloquently egged on the recent revolution in Egypt – the same women, even, who obligingly reverted to traditional roles and tidied up the square after the occupation was over.
The thugs didn’t care. They just wanted the women to go away. Be invisible, quiet, elsewhere. A necessary but shameful half of the population, unfortunately needed for vital tasks like child bearing and cooking, but otherwise unwelcome in polite society. A kind of plumbing, if you will.
Also yesterday, my friend Sian (I hope you don’t mind being pushed blinking into the friend zone, Sian) posted an eloquent and well researched article on Liberal Conspiracy, about the prevalence of violence, sexual violence, oppression and discrimination against women worldwide. Its thesis was that feminism, a political movement dedicated to elevating women’s status above that of plumbing, is still needed in the world.
Predictably, the comment thread below the article quickly devolved into a series of demands that Sian produce evidence for the statistics in her article and faux-concerned questions about why we’re not discussing violence against men. Now, to my mind, any thinking person is capable of reaching the conclusions that a) if they mistrust the evidence they can check it via Google and b) on International Women’s Day it’s kind of OK to write an article about, you know, women.
So I don’t for a moment believe that these (and there were several, persistent) commenters were interested in making the evidence for women’s oppression more robust, or broadening the conversation to include male victims of the patriarchy. They were banding to collectively create enough noise in the debate that nothing useful or interesting can be said about the topic at hand, which was feminism and women’s rights. They just wanted us to go away.
The current UK government is instituting a series of changes to the way the country is run that will, among other things, make more women unemployed than men, make it harder for them to leave the home to work through the lack of child care services, make it harder for us to be heard in court if we are in a violent or just miserable relationship, make it harder for disabled women (and men) to even leave the house in the first place. Make it harder to get online and express our opinions there if we’re unlucky enough to be poor and accessing the internet in our local library.
The government, too, just wants us to go away.
Last weekend I was at an event organised by the Bristol Feminist Network to discuss the absence of women from our cultural landscape. Not just the women directors and the women writers and the women poets, but also the women sportspeople, the women scientists and the women who happen to not be famous or talented in any special way but to whom newsworthy things happen all the time, things that are not given equal coverage in the news.
You can find some of the statistics and stories from the event on Sian’s blog, but my point was not to rehash that argument so much as to note the fact that the event was sold out ahead of time. There were over one hundred women in that hall that afternoon, and there’d have been more if there’d been more room, and almost every one of them had something to say, an outcry to make, a suggestion to offer on how we tackle this enforced invisibility, this cultural status of plumbing.
Now, I’m not a big believer in linear progress. I say, the Middle Ages called, they want their Roman roads back. Things can and do go backwards all the time. But there is one unprecedented thing about the current technological boom, and that is its global scope. Even if Europe and the West sink into another dark age, where literacy is low and communications restricted, there will still be women in Japan, in Saudi Arabia, in Russia, in Thailand who will witness the atrocities committed against women worldwide, and who will work to give voice to their voiceless sisters.
So no, I don’t think we’re going to go away. It’s frightening to the point of white hot fury to have such an enormous body of people suddenly stand up and call out for recognition in a deafening storm of passionate cries; I get that. Some days it frightens me too. But really – and I’m a congenital, happy and committed pessimist – I don’t think that it’s a tide anyone can reasonably hope to turn back.
We’re here; we’re here to stay; we’re here to stay and to be treated with decency and respect. Just, you know, deal already.