In our Western, self-proclaimed civilized societies, women and their bodies are in a terrible state when it comes to our safety. For a woman, it is arguably impossible to grow up in these societies without suffering from several forms of sexualized violence, and from any form of sexual discrimination against her. Sensa Nostra speaks to one woman about her opinion on this issue.
The so-called ‘outcry’ that is taking place in Germany for several weeks now attests to the hetero-sexist environment women live in. Furthermore, it attests to the present of this culture’s sexist past; it attests to the arrogant and condescending attitude of mainstream media and its attempt to ridicule and belittle almost half of the population and what they say. It attests to the impact of the status quo created by a patriarchal and intrinsically unequal society. It illustrates both the impact of the status quo created by a patriarchal and unequal society, and the media’s sickening but successful pornification of the latter. It demonstrated the impact of what happens when masculinity is produced via the subjugation of women—as it, like this article, attests to what happens when people are eventually too sick to continue with the status quo: they cry out.
The German ‘outcry’ is the sum of many women, of many voices—over 60,000 within less than the first week—who are sick and tired of of their suffering from myriad forms of sexism.We’ve had it with being silent and with being silenced. We are angry at our realities and of an environment of which daily hetero-sexist experiences such as sexist comments, sexual harassment, and sexual assault and rape are an integral part. We refuse being continuously objectified, abused, and being ridiculed when speaking up about it. We are done with being told to dress sexy in order to be seen as real women, while simultaneously being punished when not doing so via condescending comments concerning our ‘unfeminine appearance’; but also receive punishment when applying to heterosexist norms of sexy by being degraded, by being raped and told it was our fault because we, our clothing, were asking for it.
What is utterly irritating within this ‘outcry’ discourse is the reaction of many men. Those German men who now try to appropriate the outcry by claiming themselves to be victims of sexism. Let me tell you something: you are not. Sexism is a form of discrimination and is thus related to power structures. Therefore, in patriarchal societies, men cannot be victims of sexism. Men are not suffering from the gender wage gap, not suffering from the dynamic of the glass ceiling. Men are not suffering from hetero-sexist rape myths the way and to the extent women are, and are not suffering from hetero-sexist, objectifying pornification by the mass media that perpetuates the traditional role of women as passive, a being that wants to be seen rather than heard. Men are not the ones who are excluded from positions of power. Men are not those who get hired and promoted last, but fired first—this is a woman’s reality. You are not those punished by your mere body’s potential to give life. Your career will not suffer from having a family or the mere wish to have one. You can have both; in other words, you can have it all. Women do not.
You might at last realize that you are negatively effected by hetero-normative ideals of masculinity. You might at last realize that you are negatively effected by traditional gender stereotypes—but this should make you our allies, not enemies. This could make you feminists.
For this is something that feminism has argued for centuries: gender stereotypes harm all genders. You don’t agree with stereotypes, you want to change them? Excellent! Then join in the fight. But don’t try to, once again, turn around realities and power dynamics to make men appear the victims. Don’t try to make you appear the major victim of this patriarchal society. Don’t perpetuate gender warfare when your goal is included in what feminists have been fighting for for centuries. Stop engaging in perpetuating blaming those who suffer from dynamics not made by those victimized by them. Stop engaging in narratives that evolve around the alleged ‘Opfer-abo/victim subscription’ for women. There is no such thing. If you started to listen, if you started to educate yourselves, you would understand this and so much more. This understanding, this education would also assist you on your way to liberation from gender stereotypes you say you suffer from.
Also, this outcry is not about competition, about competing with one another in who is suffering more—and trust me, there is not a chance for you to win this. Why would you want this, anyway? For the record: for us, this is not a game. This is serious business, for this is our daily lives we are describing and we are talking about. Instead, dear men, listen! Stop appropriating and become supportive. Whom is your empathy with? Instead of complaining about sudden insecurities concerning flirt-tactics, or again engaging in misogynistic comments about this outcry, and the alleged exaggeration of the testimonies—get over yourselves and listen. You are not the victims. Take a look at India, and take a good look: there, from the first demonstration on, many men have been supportive of the women. They have been with them in their protest. They are with them. Where are you?
To my fellow women: empowerment can mean many things. It can mean to say what you think, to do as you like, and certainly to wear what you want. But let me dare to ask where your ideals of beauty come from? Let me ask through whose eyes you see yourself when you look at yourself in the mirror. Let me ask who taught you what ideal of beauty? Let us be honest about appearances, and let us acknowledge that different types of clothing offer different types of narratives; narratives such as that of the internalized male gaze, such as that of internalized self-objectification. Different forms of self-representation offer different types of questions, such as: whose acknowledgement do you seek? Whose do you want, and what for? Who profits from your actions? Who do you think owns your body? Whose approval do you seek, based on what grounds?
To be absolutely clear: whatever we wear or not, however we present ourselves and our bodies or not, no man or any person has the right to do as he pleases with us. Never. My point here is to remind us of this: the end of objectification also starts with ending self-objectification. To me this is empowerment and liberty; setting up one’s own standards, to become queen of one’s queendom, to have the means to set and apply to one’s own rules. What are yours?
Financial markets, arm deal, neo-liberal capitalism—they all run free and uncontrolled, and dare those who say that this should change. The female body however is not free. Her body seems to be the greatest battlefield there ever was. Nothing is under more governmental control. But what if we decided to not be governed anymore? Instead, decided to disobey rules and laws we did not invent in the first place? What if we decided to remember what civil disobedience can look like?
What if we decided to finally use this one big word, that as Penny Laurie said, is the one big word no patriarchal society wants to hear from us, and that especially capitalist societies are most afraid of: NO! No to consumerism, no to less money for the same work, no to objectification of our bodies, no to pornification of our societies, no to turning us and our bodies into commodities, no to doing all the shitty work, no to being treated as second class citizens and any man’s property, no to rape-culture, and no to sexualized violence!
As I said: we are sick, we are tired, but we are also angry. And this anger is good, it is healthy, for it can make you active. Let us be active! Let us use our anger! Anger made us speak up. Anger can help us to see and find ways to change what we no longer want to endure, what we can no longer endure, and what we refuse to accept. Let us use this anger productively! Individually and together, let us find ways to create the changes we want to have. Let us create the world we want to live in. Organize yourselves, support each other.
This coming International Women’s Day is a chance to show the world that we are hurt, that we are sick, that we are angry—but that we are not defeated. That we are alive and that we are breathing. Let us show that we are strong, that we know how to fight, that we know we can defend ourselves. We are still fighting, and eventually we will win. Let’s rise!