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Why gender feminism is not about equality

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Monday, February 22nd, 2016
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I often tell people off for saying “oh, I hate feminists.” “Feminists really ruin feminism.” “I don’t call myself a feminist, I’m a humanist.” I am a feminist. I am definitely a feminist. I believe that all humans should have equal rights and opportunities. Therefore, I am a feminist.

But there is a reason for comments such a those above. There is a large group of feminists today who do not care about equality, but who only care about making things better for women. So much so that they feel giving men and women in the UK the same retirement age is unfair to women. Even though men have had a higher retirement age for as long as there has been retirement. There are now groups protesting in the name of equality to stop what is a change toward equality.

This may seem ridiculous, but it is so often the case. Allow me to demonstrate with an example that is, to me, a horrendous example of the disregard that gender feminists show toward men. The World Economic Forum is often quoted by serious papers and journalists as a reliable, statistical source. In 2014 a Swedish newspaper reported that it would be another 81 years till women in Sweden reached equality. Of course they gloriously misquoted the whole report, stating that it applied to Sweden when it in fact applied to the world. What study can reliably tell us that it will take 81 years for equality to be reached in a country, or the world? If we choose to ignore that great changes in civil rights movements occur at unpredictable times (see Martin Luther King Jr., or the legalising of same sex marriage in the U.S. and Ireland last year) we can pretend for a moment that such things are predictable events. This Swedish paper did just that, and quoted the 2015 Global Gender Gap Report, compiled and published by the WEF. That sounds really good and reliable, doesn’t it? I mean, it’s the World Economic Forum. So I went to have a look at the report.

Here’s a direct quote form the report: “While no single measure can capture the complete situation, the Global Gender Gap Index presented in this Report seeks to measure one important aspect of gender equality: the relative gaps between women and men across four key areas: health, education, economy and politics.” That sounds good. That might give us a bit of an overall picture of what things look like at the moment. And the WEF report talks a lot about progress in closing the gender gap, which is slow in some areas and faster in others, and about how “…governments must align their efforts with those of business and civil society to foster growth that includes both men and women. ” So both men and women. This sounds great to me. So many gender feminist approaches only focus on helping women. So this report should be pretty reliable then.

But then you get to this little clause, and I beg you to read it carefully.

“Gender equality vs. women’s empowerment

The third distinguishing feature of the Global Gender Gap Index is that it ranks countries according to their proximity to gender equality rather than to women’s empowerment. Our aim is to focus on whether the gap between women and men in the chosen indicators has declined, rather than whether women are “winning” the “battle of the sexes”. Hence, the Index rewards countries that reach the point where outcomes for women equal those for men, but it neither rewards nor penalizes cases in which women are outperforming men in particular indicators in some countries. Thus a country that has higher enrolment for girls rather than boys in secondary school will score equal to a country where boys’ and girls’ enrolment is the same.”

So just read that last part again for me.

Hence, the Index rewards countries that reach the point where outcomes for women equal those for men, but it neither rewards nor penalizes cases in which women are outperforming men in particular indicators in some countries. Thus a country that has higher enrolment for girls rather than boys in secondary school will score equal to a country where boys’ and girls’ enrolment is the same.

So this report is saying that in cases where women are outperforming men, it will be counted as equal. As equal. So by the time this report indicates that equality has been reached, it either means that it’s equal, or that women are doing better than men.

So how is that actually about equality? How can cases where women are doing worse than men be counted as negative, but cases where men are doing worse than women be counted as equal? How are we going to reach equality if we ignore when the scales tip in the other direction?

In my workplace, there’s a minority of men. There are three toilets, two for women, and one for men. In the first toilet, for women, there are two cubicles, a sink, and a mirror. In the second toilet for women, there is a cubicle, a sink, and a mirror. In the one toilet for men, there is no cubicle, no mirror, but thankfully a sink. Did I mention the one toilet for men is also the only disabled toilet in the school, so has to be accessed by disabled people of both genders? Oh, and also, it has a sanitary bin in it, for disposal of women’s hygiene items? So in reality, it’s kind of also for women?

Did I also mention that it is actually called a “hygiene room,” which means that cleaning ladies store their hoovers in there, and have to access it at the beginning and end of the workday to fill their mop buckets and take their hoovers out/put them away? Do you have any idea how awkward it is when a male teacher has to ask permission to use the only toilet available to them, while the cleaning ladies are waiting outside, pretending they don’t need to fill their mop buckets? I do. I’m a cleaning lady, and I see this issue on an almost daily basis.

So it occurred to me early on that this was strange. Very strange. I thought for the longest time that that second female toilet was actually for both genders, but had a female sign on it. After all, it’s the only toilet close to the other end of the workplace, and so it made sense that men and women could both use it, so that neither gender had to walk from one end of the workplace to the other. I only discovered this was not the case when a male teacher sincerely apologised for using that toilet.

It baffled me. Why had they not complained? Why did everyone think it was all right for the men to have a toilet without a mirror, without a lid on the seat, without a cubicle so someone could enter to wash their hands or check their face, while someone else was using the actual WC? It hadn’t occurred to the men to complain. And it hadn’t occurred to the women that the men might have something to complain about. So I brought it up, and with some encouragement, the only male in a remotely administrative position wrote an email to his two female line managers, asking if we could perhaps turn that third toilet into a unisex toilet. This would be the only thing that made sense. Then both genders would have an alternate toilet to use if the other was being cleaned or occupied, and the men working in one half of the building wouldn’t have to walk so far to use the toilet. Since there’s a cubicle and a separate sink, there is no risk of walking in on anyone doing anything unfortunate.

After a week or so, the male employee received hedging replies from both female managers, saying how they didn’t quite know how one would go about turning that third toilet into a unisex toilet.

I know.

Change the sign on the door.

Had this been a workplace with a minority of female employees, and their toilet facility was this poor, it would have been a case of discrimination, brought up within months, if not weeks, of women beginning work there. But these men are afraid. They are worried that they will receive a negative response if they push too hard for their rights. And I am afraid. I am worried that I will be seen as a trouble-maker, a traitor, for standing up for men’s rights in my workplace, and pointing out discrimination where my managers do not see it.

And this is why it is so important that we ensure feminism is always about equal rights and opportunities for both genders. Because I don’t want to be afraid to stand up for men’s rights, and be attacked by women acting as if I’m some sort of apologist for men, who are all somehow rapists and misogynist a**holes; and even though there are many who aren’t, we’re not supposed to care about that, but focus on all the poor women who are being oppressed. I will not have a world where the scales start tipping in the opposite direction. Women have been treated atrociously in the past, and in many countries, they still are. It was right to fight for that, and it is right to fight for that now. But I will not have a world where men end up being the 50’s house-wives of today; afraid to ask for anything, afraid to point out situations where they are being treated unfairly, afraid to embrace their masculinity, no matter how they choose to express it. This is why I’m an equity feminist. I am a feminist. I hope you are too. A real feminist.


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