Sunday, 4 August 2013

Feminism is about equality

 [Traducción española en violeta y cursiva]

I found a great quote in Facebook yesterday, and I agree wholeheartedly with it:
 Ayer encontré un cita muy buena en Facebook con la que estoy 100% de acuerdo:

Here is my translation of it:

  "Feminist movements do not want to impose a matriarchy based on violence against men, just as patriarchy has done until now. They do not want to deny them a vote, or rape them in the wars, or mutilate their genitals to uphold a cultural tradition, or confine them in the domestic sphere, or kill them for commiting adultery.
   Feminist movements do not expect men to be the property of their mothers and then of their wives, nor do them wish that men earn lower salaries, and neither would they want to banish them from the media, business and political spheres of power.
   They don't want to traffic with male bodies for the enjoyment of the female ones, nor do they wish that the male children be malnourished or abandoned in orphanages, nor, of course, would they promote their social or economic marginalization.
   They would not ban male children from going to school either, or deny them access to health service and university.
   Understand that all these insane ideas are not what feminist movements promote. Feminist movements have always fought for the equality between women and men."

  Coral Herrera Gómez

Friday, 2 August 2013

Public space sexism: Egalitarian stickers on buses and bathrooms

          Gender bias in public signs: The "woman as nurturer" stereotype.

                                                [Traducción a español en verde y cursiva, al final]

   For years, this had been the reserved seat sticker I had been familiar with every time I took the bus. The one informing us that the front seats are reserved to blind, old and injured people, pregnant women, and women with children.
   Then, a year ago, I noticed that this sticker was on one side of the bus' front rows, but that in the other one there was a variation:

                                     (pics taken not long ago)
  Here the blind person and the old person are not depicted as males, but as females. And while the figure holding a child was female in the classic sign, now it was male. The pregnant figure, of course, continued to be female.
    Well, I was very glad to see this. Even if I haven't seen this variation in all the buses (I did see in the underground while in Austria, too, though).

   Because what was wrong with the first sign, equality-wise?  Gender stereotypes.

What does it matter that the blind/old/injured person, or the person carrying a child, be a man or a woman? Only in the case of the pregnant woman is the sex of the person relevant. And yet, the individual depicted carrying a child is a woman. Which means that apparently it is the women who always care after the children, only the women. It is no man's territory. The sign was perpetuating the classical stereotype of the woman as the nurturer, the one who has the obligation to care after the children, because, apparently, it is 'in her nature', all that biology determinism rubbish.  The blind person, the old person, the injured person, those don't really need to be recognized as females, they are either recognised as males or as standart human depictions  - which is the way everyone should be depicted unless sex is really relevant, in my opinion. But apparently the sex of the person looking after the child is relevant somehow. And it is always female.

Which bugs me, because:
 a) It is unfair that women be told that it is in their nature to have full responsibility in looking after their children, leaving the male partner (if we're talking about a heterosexual relationship) free of any duties in this respect.
 b) It is equally unfair to say that it is not in men's nature to care after children, because taking on a nurturing, caring role is 'not masculine'. And although things have gotten better, fathers are still being mocked and gaped at for caring after their children openly. You know, that stereotype which involves a man with his child in a park surrounded by mothers and feeling awkard (questioning his manliness, even) because they generally gape at him, surprised at seeing such a rara avis. Reactions go from 'He must be gay' (ie, a man with a nurturer side must loose his masculinity or be considered as homosexual, yet another stereotype, not to mention the homophobia of these kind of statements) to 'Wow, you're so cute and/or admirable, you're actually looking after children!'. 

   Gru in the first film (Despicable Me) comes to mind, for example:


   Men should have both the same rights and the same obligations as women when it comes to taking care of the children. They should feel that taking care of a child is not going to lower their masculinity, and that they should be able to enjoy showing care and affection, if they wish to. They should also know that caring for one's children is not only the mother's responsibility. The father had a part in it all, too, and should act accordingly.

 The new signs seem to take that into account, which is good. A step towards equality. Little things, but those also matter.

Update September 2016:  This bathroom sign in Cardiff's Waterstones subverts gender roles and shows equality by depicting the male figure being the one taking care of the children (the sign for the child-caring part of the bathroom, which was a shared bathroom in this case).

 I feel, however, that the fact that so many signs feel that they must specify the sex of the person depicted often only perpetuates gender steretypes. In the case of the first bus sign, they were perpetuating the 'women are the child-carers, not the men' stereotype. It can be solved showing both men and women, in alternate possitions, doing the same things, as they have done here. But is it really necessary to show all those skirt vs trousers variations? The skirt vs trousers issue is another rather unfortunate stereotype used to differentiate between men and women, although yes, it is hard to find a better alternative, and a stereotype-free one, unless it be by showing the genitalia in the stickers - which our society, highly used to hypersexualization and objectification,... might be scandalized about. Oh the irony. Also, the genitalia option is also problematic because it would be exclusive to trans people, for example.

   If the world were as I'd like it to be, signs like these would not need to make a difference between women and men, because we would be simply considered as human-beings, the sex would only be specified when it were really important (like, for example, in bathrooms signs and the like), and all the rest of the signs would only show human-stick-figures, representing both men and women.  There are quite a lot of apparently 'unisex signs' out there, true, although I sometimes wonder if they're supposed to be humans or just men/males. Because exclusive sexism has made "men" a synonim of "humans", something which is widely seen in literature and other writings. So in a way, I do like seeing "trousers" and "skirts" in equal measure...even if these differentiations can easily perpetuate unhealthy stereotypes when used incorrectly. But in an ideal context, I'd much rather see unisex stickers.

Miscelanea links: Useful pdf I have found (in Spanish) with guidelines about the egalitarian use of public signals: