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Thursday, June 16, 2011

I should really stop reading the Globe and Mail...

...It always manages to make me mad, almost without fail. Here is today's infuriating piece:

Chivalry isn’t dead, a study has found. But according to the researchers, gallantry has become a front for "benevolent sexism."

Everyday acts that imply that women should be cherished and protected are a form of patriarchal control, they argue.

See, this is something I agree with, although I really wish it wasn't said in such a condescending way.

And also, gallantry hasn't "become a front" for anything. Chivalry has ALWAYS been based in patriarchal power.

Based on the report, published in Psychology of Women Quarterly, enlightened men should avoid the following:
  1. Offering to help a woman carry shopping bags (implies she’s weak)

  2. Insisting on driving her home (implies she can’t look after her own safety)

  3. Assuming she wants help buying a laptop (implies she’s clueless with technology)

  4. Complimenting a woman on her cooking (reinforces the idea that cooking is a woman’s job)

Okay, so I disagree with the last one, because when somebody has perfected a skill, or when someone does something for you, that should always be appreciated. Assuming that all women are good cooks is sexist, not complimenting an individual woman on her talent.

Insidious deeds like these are being overlooked by women as well as men, psychologists Julia C. Becker and Janet K. Swim report in the study.

To correct matters, women need to "see the unseen," the researchers note, while men need to be aware of their sexist behaviour and also feel empathy for the women targeted.

"Insidious deeds"? Now you're just making fun of this, Globe and Mail. At any rate, the problem is not so much with the actions themselves as with the assumptions behind them. If a person drives another person home for whatever reason--it's raining out, they live far away, they've had too much to drink, there's rioting in the streets, etc.--that is good. The problem is the assumption that women can't take care of themselves. Same with the laptop buying. Helping someone choose a laptop if they ask for your help is a good deed! Helping someone when they don't want/need your help is rude! Assuming that women need your help because they're women is sexist!

The question is, should men be on the lookout for benevolent sexism too? Based on our observations, women may be guilty of the following:

  1. Expecting a man to take out the garbage (implies it’s a man’s job)

  2. Leaving car maintenance, such as oil changes, for a man to do (see above)

  3. Ridiculing how a man dresses a child (implies a woman’s colour coordination is superior)

  4. Judging a man for being "cheap" when he wants to share the dinner bill (reinforces the idea that men should be earners)
The lists of offences cancel each other out, don’t they?

See, this is the problem with the patriarchy. It makes unfair assumptions about people of ALL genders. And feminism is about getting rid of that. Nobody ever argued that women can't be female chauvinist pigs. In fact, the reason the patriarchy is still around is that so many people buy into it, including women! Because, feminists? Yeah, they don't do the things on that list--well, maybe sometimes, but they recognize that as sexist behaviour rooted in a patriarchal social dynamic and try to avoid it as much as possible. The women who wrote that report would agree with the Globe and Mail that the patriarchal assumptions about men as well as those about women need to end.


As for the crusade against sexism, Sunday Telegraph columnist Jenny McCartney argues that feminists have bigger fish to fry (at least, they would if a woman’s place was in the kitchen).

Examples include female circumcision, child marriage, human trafficking, rape as a weapon of war and the proliferation of extreme sexual violence in films and on the Internet, she writes.

"I am inclined to think that when one finds a man who believes that women should be cherished and protected, it would be a good idea to send him forth to encourage the others."

Ooh, nice back-handed sexist joke there, Globe and Mail. You're not bitter and defensive at all about this subject matter.

And seriously??? Who the frack is this woman???? Has she ever been "cherished and protected"? Because I have and it SUCKS. I am an adult, not a child, not a porcelain doll. Please don't put me on a shelf behind a glass case because I will suffocate and DIE. To quote from an angry letter sent to an ex-boyfriend who was stalking me a few years ago, "You treated me alternately as precious china and as a property of yours (both equally annoying, worse when combined)."

Because that's the other problem here, that the kind of guy who treats women like precious china is also probably the kind of guy who treats them like property--another patriarchal sentiment. And a guy who thinks of his girlfriend as his property is likely to have trouble letting her go if she dumps his sorry, misogynistic ass.

And, you know? Neither china nor personal property is usually sentient. As I wrote my ex in that same angry letter, "I got the impression that you only cared about my feelings inasmuch as they affected my opinion of you, my behaviour towards you, or my actions." And, "I've probably heard more about your feelings since we broke up than when we were together. Selfishly, you haven't listened to mine much at all."

So, yeah. Doing things with underlying patriarchal assumptions is a problem. But the actions themselves are not the problem. The underlying patriarchal assumptions are the problem. As feminists have been trying to tell people for decades, patriarchy hurts men too. Now if only the Globe and Mail would realize that feminism is trying to fix this.

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