Author: Julia Hodgins.
Published with the support of Sofia Staderini and Leigh Dawson.
Recently issued UN Report Our Common Agenda states “No meaningful social contract is possible without the active and equal participation of women and girls,” certainly for good reasons. The global and growing trend of gender equality awareness constantly collides with multiple Nemeses, resulting from the trivialisation at the very least – invisibilisation mostly – of gender matters and milestones. In the pursuit of gender equality, or even of partial alleviation of struggles that women face daily, trivialization and invisibilisation divert attention from relevant points. It seems like women are sentenced to walk a Teflon Road where nothing sticks or sticks briefly. Plentiful actions, debates, discussions, roundtables, publications, reports, books, films, protests, advocating for gender equality are not enough to either extinguish the re-signification of gender milestones, or to fill the policy vacuum in equality, sometimes counterproductively rolling-back advancements as recently seen in Afghanistan and Texas.
A salient example of resignification is the commercialization of the International Women’s Day. March 8th is a commemoration day that seeks bringing to mind multiple events happened along the last century and a half, having all in common the push for advancing gender equality, whether voting rights, work and safety rights, health and reproductive rights, access to resources and power, economic security, education, reward and income parity; the list just goes on. Media and sales treat March 8th as another yearly business opportunity with messages that transpire the flavor of either a late Valentine’s Day for unmatched women, an early Mother’s Day for single mothers, or a sort-of-birthday for women with ‘an attitude’. At the very best, male partners and colleagues honor women for complying with specific behavioral traits such as being kind, brave, sweet, maternal, and for ‘selflessly’ performing with many roles, always silent and patient. A critical eye would rather see indoctrination efforts leading women on complying with such roles.
A dantesque example of policy vacuum is the worldwide difficult access to period products, still called feminineproducts. Estimates show that about 800 million people on the planet menstruate daily. Despite that women are unemployed, underpaid, and have a heavy glass-ceiling limiting their advancement, period products are taxed as luxury goods. In some countries, girls lose school due to both lack of access to menstruation and hygiene resources and to stigma; this last one perpetuates feelings of shame around an organic function that women cannot opt out from while generating an environment of fear and insecurity, all which hinders societal advancement. Period poverty is reported globally, to which only Scottish lawmakers have responded properly by making such products free to their citizens. In addition, while in some contexts women advocate to have paid period leave, in other contexts women struggle for lost productivity due to menstrual pain.
Both Nemeses in action
On a side note, resilient capitalism found a way to resignify and exploit women’s physiology when suggesting that, “Learning to sync your female hormonal cycle with your work and life schedule is the ultimate bio-hack … helping women harness their energy and productivity.” Such bio-hack would sound better if harassment and public shaming would not exist.
The structural level – lack or insufficient policy – and the individual level – attitudes and beliefs – articulate to support a patriarchal system whose connecting lines are often invisible. Sylvia Walby argues that patriarchy is a cumulative product base on everyday practices. Often, those practices happen in the form of daily micro-aggressions in family, school, or workplace contexts where women are systematically ridiculed, laughed at, unheard, ignored, disbelieved, disregarded, dismissed, held back, or blatantly silenced. Women are called to endure those practices under the premise that those are not–ill-intended or lacking harm intentions; doers remain unaware and sometimes disinterested in the outcomes of their actions. Two lenses come relevant here. First, the logic of intention—effect. At this point of history, we know better that no matter the initial intention – or lack thereof – we evaluate actions based on the outcome, which in human relations is the effect in the other: pain, suffering, fear, stress, trauma, etc. Second, what Hannah Arendt calls the banality of evil. Under this perspective most of wrong doings are not intended but inertial acts that follow preestablished social patterns, introjected as normal.
Mansplaining, public-shaming, belittling, discounting, gaslighting, harassing, controlling, subjecting women to higher standards are understood as relational misdemeanors, therefore treated as a natural part of interactions that women should take lightly. However, such misdemeanors weave a support network that eventually upholds lack of accountability for major aggressions –physical violence, rape, femicide. The cultural permissiveness based on lack of bad intentions leads into an inertial indulgence supported by education, where women are thought to not take issue and be tolerant, reframing the micro aggression while bearing the burden of abuse. Women are expected to program into their brains that men are ‘like children’, granting green-light to the micro-aggression, not even a yellow.
The psychological science available, therapeutic resources, communication, and leadership training, amongst other tools to improve relations, did not stick enough to provide safe grounds for women. In fact, an over-indulgent look at systemic and cross-cultural gender abuse enables its perpetuation. This pattern constitutes the resistance to laws, policies, regulations, and codes of conduct, and the reason those fail to protect and support women; those laws, policies, etc., do not permeate beliefs, attitudes, and interactions. The Teflon paved roads between laws and behaviors precludes the advancement of gender equality, no matter how many glass ceilings women break.
Drilling holes in the (Teflon) road ahead
Women’s and supporters’ work, therefore, is instead to visibilise – signalling yellow at least – and not let micro-aggressions pass unseen; to stop making excuses for abusive behavior of any size. The immediate goal is to corrode the cements of gender-based violence aiming to debilitate inequality in daily interactions. Ultimately, the resistance to major aggressions should ebb leading to the decrease of sexual harassment, child-marriage, female genital mutilation, rape, femicide, etc. Besides breaking glass-ceilings, we must drill holes in the Teflon Road, everywhere.