Ignorance is bliss… although not for the 3.7 billion people it oppresses
1964: Civil Rights Act outlaws sexual harassment under Title VII. 2016: A man recorded encouraging sexual assault is voted US President. 1993: Spousal rape declared illegal in all US states. 2016: US President’s aide recorded saying ‘you cannot rape your spouse’. 1937: A judge overturns New York’s law against the exposure of male nipples. 2016: New Hampshire State Rep. Josh Moore posted on social media that men should be allowed to grab the nipples of breastfeeding mothers if the law banning female nipple exposure failed to pass.
Western society seems to hold itself superior to the rest of the world, particularly on the subject of equal rights. ‘Backward’ and ‘medieval’ are some of the terms used to describe treatment of women in less industrialised states. In every anti-Islamic or anti-immigration comment there is, is laced with an undertone of ‘us vs them’ and ‘that would never happen here’. Ignorance is bliss for this section of society, who are quick to shame Western women for their liberal freedoms but even quicker to shame non-Western women for their different religious and cultural morals.
We are not exempt as a Western society; shaming cuts across racial and cultural boundaries. Women are not only denied ownership of their own bodies, but we continue to deny dependency on the female body, and disrespect the importance of the female body in the existence of the human race. Most recently this has arisen in a backlash against public breastfeeding. Claridge’s Hotel caused outrage when they asked a breastfeeding mother to cover up, despite having no complaints from customers, and having no legal right to do so. The response to this was very telling – people divided into those who supported mothers’ rights to feed their children, and those who felt uncomfortable at the sight of a breast (and are apparently unable to avert their gaze). And more to the point, which is the more pleasant scenario – a screaming, hungry baby or the glimpse of a nipple?
Ironically, the same people who disagree with public breastfeeding also are more likely to be in favour of the burka ban – perhaps one of the most modest garments a woman can wear. This ignorant section of Western society most probably looks at strict policing of women’s clothing in places such as Saudi Arabia and wonders how some countries are so far behind Western liberal progression – meanwhile on a French beach a woman is forced by armed police to remove clothes to avoid offending ‘liberal’ onlookers.
We don’t just shame women’s bodies, we also shame their personalities.
Women have long been expected to have ‘feminine’ behaviour, which is often associated with being caring, gentle, or dainty. In our ‘superior’ Westernised attitude, we have reached some kind of feminine purgatory, where we say it is fine for a woman to adopt feminine or masculine attributes, when actually neither are well received.
When traditional expectations are met, women are deemed ‘too soft’ for traditionally male roles because they are supposedly incapable of the same emotions (or lack of) as men – meanwhile all-female Kurdish fighter troops are successfully pushing back ISIS territory in Syria. When these expectations are not met, women are viewed with suspicion and disgust.
For instance, take the popular ITv2 show Love Island. Over 2 million viewers tuned into the reality programme this year, many of whom taking to social media to critique the show’s contestants. Such comments demonstrate the ongoing struggle to accept that women are entitled to the same sexual freedoms as men. Outspoken girls such as Olivia have been labelled ‘slags’ … whereas after admitting to sleeping with around 300 women, Marcel was still voted the Island’s favourite male. Equally, the more softly spoken Camilla received ‘boring’ and ‘frigid’ jibes after not being as forward about her sexual exploits as the other girls. She was also mocked for being ‘sensitive’, despite having possibly the most dangerous job of any of the male or female contestants. This highlights the perpetual conflict of ideas of how women should behave.
While tweets about reality TV seem trivial, the overall attitude towards women in Western society still has very sinister repercussions. While it is socially acceptable for a man to have numerous sexual partners, in or out of relationships, women who do the same are bombarded with judgement and throwaway comments about their moral standards.
The problem is not the throwaway comments, it is the attitude that caused those comments, the same attitude that promotes victim-blaming, the same attitude that excuses sexual harassment and the same attitude that discourages employers from hiring and promoting women.
There is a labyrinth of root causes, not least the way we over emphasise gender differences to children, meaning that both girls and boys grow up expecting to behave a certain way, and to be ostracised if you do not behave that way. A perfect example of how these stereotypes still haunt us arose in a BBC article recently entitled ‘What can modern girls learn from Disney princesses?’ While Wilson makes a fair point that behind the fairy tale clichés there is a message of defiance, courage and ambition, is this really relevant or appropriate? In a world where young girls need role models to encourage them to take on traditionally male fields such as engineering, why are we talking about Disney princesses? Boys don’t look up to Disney princes, they are too busy saving the world as Superman or fighting international crime as James Bond.
While this might seem like a separate issue to shaming, it really isn’t. It all ties in together. Hyperbolising differences between boys and girls acts as a foundation for more troubling prejudices to be built upon, and has led to the plethora of problems we currently face.
Not respecting women enough to allow them to do and say the same things as men without shaming them for it is a universal problem.
Shaming is shameful.
Picture research by Donna Darafshian; featured image from http://all-that-is-interesting.com/female-isis-fighters.