BE BOLD FOR CHANGE: INTERNATIONAL WOMEN’S DAY 2017

This year the theme for International Women’s Day is #BeBoldForChange, as you may see from diverse sites on the internet. Tomorrow, 8 of March, we women are also invited to join a worldwide strike to demonstrate that without us the planet will stop rolling. The latest calculations suggest that we are 170 years away from gender parity, and this is an optimistic piece of guesswork, as it does not take into account possible setbacks (think Trump, think Putin, think ISIS). It is clearly too long to wait for, hence the call for action. Right now.

I have been writing this blog since 2010 and every year this is the most difficult post for me. International Women’s Day is a yearly reminder of our subjection to misogynistic patriarchy, for if we were truly free this celebration would not be necessary. For as long as we need to protest and show the evidence of the constant patriarchal terrorist campaigns against us, we women remain still subordinated and not at all citizens on full, equal terms with men. I do not like being reminded that my life as a woman is conditioned by patriarchy, hence my anger, sorrow and distress every 8th March.

Also my dismay. I go through the main newspapers websites in Spain, the USA and the UK regularly and it is always the same: most news items about women concern our bodies, whether these are on display for voyeuristic reasons or as objects of patriarchal violence. The same media that pretend to maintain a liberal outlook are guilty of the grossest misrepresentation of what women do and endure on a daily basis. Then, whenever there is a minimally positive article on women’s achievements, or one that discusses inequality from an intelligent point of view, you get all those anonymous trolls pouring out the most toxic venom. In the Spanish media they run unchecked; in the British newspaper I read (The Guardian) many contributions are erased by the moderators; some chains of comments are mostly blanks… I need not even mention the extent to which trolling on the social networks is becoming one of the most insidious, effective branches of patriarchal terrorism.

Yes, I am using the word terrorism insistently because this is how it feels today in Spain: about 20 women have died so far, killed by their current or previous male partners. I must say ‘about’ because not even the Director of the Observatorio por la Igualdad could name the actual figure with certainty (this morning on TV). It is possibly higher. Just reverse the situation and try to think of what would happen if 20 men had been killed so far this year by their female couples and ex-couples…

Whenever information like this appears in the media, I read a string of abusive comments from the habitual male trolls, with one argument that is constantly repeated: men also suffer from gendered violence, this might not be so obvious but it is also very harmful. Fine, if that is the case, please come out, you male victims of women’s abuse. Men are doing much better than they used to in reporting sexual abuse endured as children (by men…). So, if you’re being abused by your women, instead of pretending that patriarchal terrorism does not exist, do tell us what is happening to you and we will help you. Promise. What is not at all acceptable is a situation in which the women victims are made twice invisible by denying that they matter (I won’t even speak about the children killed this year, and those made orphans by furious, violent, lethal patriarchal monsters). And, yes, I support the call to speak about the survivors of violence, and not only the victims, for it seems to me that the exclusive focus on brutality contributes to patriarchal terrorism as an invitation to commit copy-cat crimes.

More dismay: the women themselves, and how we are contributing to our own discrimination. The women who voted for Donald Trump, the women who support Putin in Russia, or ISIS in Europe and the Middle East. The women who bully other women in school and on the internet, or beat them up. The women who publish sexualized photos of themselves and call this invitation to a demeaning use of their persons a free feminist act. The women who let themselves be used in fashion campaigns that are an invitation to abusive misogyny. The women incapable of working with other women in alliances to end inequality, at any level. The women who exploit other women they employ. The women who allow their girls’ genitalia to be mutilated. The women who reject feminism as if it is an infectious disease. The women who abuse the word feminism to defend absurd choices. I could go on…

Next, the lack of awareness and the refusal to know. I often feel like an abolitionist speaking to slaves who adamantly reject the idea that they are enslaved and, so, will not contribute to their own liberation. I wonder what it was like for the real abolitionists. I was teaching a seminar on Shakespeare within an MA course and we were discussing how having actresses play male roles (Hamlet, Richard III…) does not really alter the patriarchal nature of the plays, which, logically, reflect their time and society. One of the young women in class basically said that patriarchy is what it is and cannot be altered. Well, I replied, if that were the case you wouldn’t be here in class as a student and I would not be teaching in a university classroom. No reaction.

It might be the case that because I teach Victorian Literature I am particularly sensitized about the times when women had no rights whatsoever but it baffles me that young women take two oxymoronic things for granted: a) that patriarchy is basic human nature, b) that their rights are guaranteed. Patriarchy is NOT the same as human nature–it can and it must be changed and it is certainly changing, but not fast enough. If patriarchy was human nature, our lives as women would have remained unaltered for ever and I would not be writing this post; I’d be minding my ten children and be possibly illiterate. The problem with patriarchy is that it is not disappearing fast enough, and it’s clear to me that full equality can never be reached as long as patriarchy persists. 170 years? What a joke…

The other matter, that our rights are guaranteed, is another big joke. Right now the biggest best-sellers in the USA are George Orwell’s 1984 and Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. Orwell’s classic is a horrifying story about how any individual can be coerced into completely submitting to an ideology, no matter how hard s/he tries to rebel. Big Brother, no mistake about it, is the personification of patriarchy. In Atwood’s dystopia she narrates how fast and how easily women are deprived of all their rights in the early stages of the fundamentalist dictatorship that overpowers democracy in the USA. As happened to me while reading Houellebecq’s Submission, I was horrified by the good men’s reaction: the husband of Atwood’s protagonist does not defend her rights, he just offers her his personal protection (don’t worry if you cannot work anymore, I’ll support you). This kind of, shall we say?, secondary complicity is to me even far more scarier than downright patriarchal terrorism. In the event of a frontal attack against women’s rights, then, there is no guarantee that all women would fight for them, and no guarantee either that the good men would confront the evil patriarchs for us. Atwood got it right. And so did Orwell: it’ll be everyone for themselves. And violent coercion.

And here’s my main worry: it may be impossible to imagine a situation in which Africans would be again kidnapped and sent to America to be enslaved but 150 years after the formal end of slavery, a brutal racism against African-Americans persists. Likewise, homophobia and all forms of LGTBI phobia persist despite the changes in legislation. As for us, women, yes, we may vote, study, work in the professions and make a thousand choices we could not make before the 20th century but the pressure of misogyny is not easing out, whether it results in bloody murder or in what Luis Bonino called ‘micro-machismos’, that is, the small everyday acts that make our lives harder: from a sexist joke by a workmate to a partner’s dragging their feet until we lose patience and clean the dishes ourselves. How our energy, talent and time is wasted is a scandal if we think of how necessary women are for the survival of the human species and our progress as a civilization.

I discussed in my previous post two examples of positive female characters addressed to a children’s audience, Judy in Zootopia and Poppy in Trolls. I insist that this is crucial: let’s find positive role models, women who have been bold to change, and who have changed life for us by giving us more choices. Madame Curie, rather than Kim Kardashian, if you know what I mean. And may 2017 be better for women than 2016 was, though I very much doubt this will be the case. We may be as bold as we can to change, but if patriarchy is not altered nothing significant will change. And this, good men reading me, is our common enemy.

I publish a new post every Tuesday. Comments are very welcome! (Thanks!) Just be warned that I check them for spam; it might take a few days for yours to be online. Follow the blog updates on Twitter: @SaraMartinUAB and download the yearly volumes from https://ddd.uab.cat/record/116328. See also: https://gent.uab.cat/saramartinalegre/.

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