Today, March 8th 2020, is International Women’s Day and the entire month of March is Women’s History Month, though to be honest if you were not aware of that I am not surprised, especially in the UK. The theme for this year’s International Women’s Day is “I am Generation Equality.”
The problem with this is that there are many who seek to divide, creating a society which sets woman against men. When I changed gender almost 20 years ago, I fell into this trap. I identified as female, demanded that I was now a woman, and became an active feminist campaigning against male dominance and the patriarchy and in the process antagonised people, making the transition process more difficult that it should have been.
I met with some resistance. When I began reading for my MSc in Gender Research was when I first encountered significant opposition from some radical feminists and political activists who believed that to be a woman one had to be born a woman. But their arguments went beyond denying that anyone could change gender. They were telling me that the identity of Women was an exclusive biologically determined club that I could never join. I was male and therefore one of “Them.”
This I have since learned is at the heart of Social Identity Theory. These women don’t want equality; they don’t want equal rights; they are angry at men for their power and dominance and they want to take that away. Their aim seems to be for the destruction of the patriarchy, and I assume to replace it by a new matriarchy.
I can understand the anger towards men. I have identified as female for nearly 20 years and I have experienced all manner of discrimination, harassment and victimisation in that time. More importantly, I see the levels of discrimination and harassment women are subjected to; I see how women, from childhood, have their power crushed; I see how as a result of the behaviour of many men, women grow up in fear.
But I also see how as a result of the attacks against all men, their resistance grows. I found this quote from Amy Chua in the Guardian very helpful in understanding this problem.
When groups feel threatened, they retreat into tribalism. When groups feel mistreated and disrespected, they close ranks and become more insular, more defensive, more punitive, more us-versus-them. Amy Chua
And we have seen this exemplified so well over the Brexit debate. I dread to think how long it will be until we will set aside the damage caused by Brexit and the country allowed to heal.
One of the first things I did when I transitioned was to get actively involved in the first Hull Pride event. This was 2002, and the focus was on marching to oppose section 28 of the Local Government Act. This was the law that prevented all councils and therefore schools, from treating homosexuality as normal. Schools and councils were simply not allowed to even talk about LGBTQ issues.
Over the next few years, most of the legal changes to support LGBTQ inclusion took place, and we found ourselves wondering what to do with the Pride event. Since the first event in Christopher Street in New York in 1970, pride marches were protest marches demanding equality-but the laws had been changed, so there was nothing to protest about. We realised that we had to change the whole focus from protest to engagement. Changing laws might have been difficult, but changing attitudes was a much more challenging goal.
So, we hired lots of bouncy castles, inflatable slides and bucking broncos to attract children and young people. We found more money to hire better bands and turned Pride into a family friendly event, attracting straight people socialise with the LGBTQ community. In 2019 Hull Pride attracted 50,000 people and is one of the main events on the Hull social calendar-and Hull is probably one of the most gay friendly cities in the UK.
International Women’s Day is a day to raise awareness of the achievements of women and to highlight the ways in which women are still subjected to discrimination, harassment and victimisation despite all the laws now in place to protect them. This year is the 50th Anniversary of the Equal Pay Act 1970, but still we do not have equal pay.
But attacking men and blaming them for a grossly biased patriarchal system is not the answer. Unconscious bias tests show that women are often as biased against women as men are. It is ingrained into societies across the globe. Unfortunately, the negative stereotyping of women will just be reinforced if either side of the social identity binary is threatened.
I am reading Invisible Women: Exposing Data Bias in a World Designed for Men by Caroline Criado Perez which explores the way society is biased in favour of men and against women which I strongly recommend to anyone who wants to understand why gender equality is so difficult to achieve. We are all unconsciously biased; it is the nature of humans to be so. In our heavily consumer oriented western society, the primary aim of all marketing and politics is to encourage bias.
The only way to change bias is to first recognise that we are all biased. I took several Harvard Implicit Association Tests which test a variety of biases. Two surprised me. First the gender test showed that I was unconsciously biased towards associating men with careers, and women with family. The second showed that I was unconsciously biased in favour of members of the LGBTQ community.
Knowing that I was biased meant that I could correct it, whenever I am in a situation where that unconscious bias might result in an unfair decision or behaviour, I can now check myself by making a conscious decision free from bias.
We know after 50 years of attempting to make Gender Equality a reality that it is not going to happen simply by changing laws. We have to change attitudes which is very difficult partly because most men believe that there is no gender inequality and partly because many men think we can only have gender equality if men lose out.
The only way to achieve gender equality is by everyone “Working Together,” the title of a workshop I deliver on this topic. Men and women seem to work differently, but not all men are the same and not all women are the same. Creating stereotypes about men and women causes bias and prejudice.
When I changed gender, I experienced a great deal of discrimination, but it took a while before I realised that much of that discrimination was not because I am transgender, but because I now identify as a woman. I used to enjoy male privilege, though I didn’t believe that until I lost it. So, I know that unless there is equality for women-I will always be discriminated against as a trans woman.
But that also impacts men, men who are more feminine in behaviour or appearance, men who are camp, men who are gay, men who work in what some consider being female jobs, men who are “house husbands” etc.
Instead of trying to exclude anyone, we need to include everyone. Only by encouraging everyone to realise the bias prejudice that exists and recruit them to the campaign to change that, will there be any hope of gender equality.
Imagine what change we could achieve if every woman who marched for gender equality on International Women’s Day brought along a man committed to the same goals.