“I don’t get much time. By the time I’ve come back from work, prepared the food and done the things women do there’s not much left.” She wasn’t moaning or complaining. Very matter of fact. This scenario is not uncommon. This leaves me in a quandary. Can she change? On naïve examination it seems she has “chosen”. (Case 1)
“I cry every day”. As she recalled how her 2nd partner was physically and emotionally abusive yet her biggest torment was not knowing what happened when she left the kids with him to go to work. Deep pain. She described being trapped by the very real fear of having her kids removed and the control displayed by her mother in times when separating from spouses/partners was frowned upon. She felt guilty about her kids failed relationships. This scenario more extreme but asks similar questions. (Case 2)
Maybe I should be nihilistic. What can I do realistically? What could anyone do? Surely they are just unfortunate circumstance?
Point 6: Powerful advocates. Because physiotherapists have earned a high degree of social support, they can speak up for those less fortunate, and advocate for people whose voices are not being heard. Marginalised communities, children, the elderly, disabled people…whomever they serve, countless people benefit from physiotherapists’ voice and support;
Our social worlds seem infused with power, freedom, will. But what does it mean to choose, and choose freely? Here lies opportunity and danger. The danger is we “have earned a high degree of social support”. With this comes social standing. Financial gain. Influence. Our (‘privileged’) worlds are infused with relative power. Freedom and will. We project this easily and objectively onto every person and situation. The politics of (neo-) liberalism or libertarianism tends to this. The ideology of individual choice and freedom. Assuming equality of voice within a society. This works well for the powerful, the privileged. It maintains a power gradient. Those with a voice are heard. The others drowned out. The stone remains.
It takes a community to give voice to the marginalised. This is the opportunity. Emancipation is a community endeavour. Indeed its very definition is being set free from legal, social, political restrictions. You cannot emancipate yourself (alone). The cases above touch on broader societal contributions to sexism.
Language plays a prominent role here. Being a social construct does not demean language rather it adds to its power. Words are powerful. Literally created for meaning within a community. It is important what is heard. What is said. How we say it. In Case 1 we hear connection between role and gender. Not liberal choice. The choice is made by her gender. Case 2 is laden with helplessness. Gender compels her to remain mired in dire circumstance.
Gender is more than sex. It is the process of becoming a man. A woman. A transsexual. Or anothing inbetween. The sex or biology is usually determined at birth. The ‘becoming’ is a process. Including biological changes but also social contribution. Reminisce on your own childhood or teenage years. What were the things that shaped your gender and sexuality?
What clothes were you given? What toys did you have? What were you encouraged to do? What were you expected to steer clear from? What sorts of relationships did you form? What things and subjects did you value?
This process differs across families, cultures and even history. What being a man is in one family may be different to another. What being a woman is today may diverge from what it was 100yrs ago. What being transgender means between cultures may vary vastly.
For me becoming a man was about playing sports (football, rugby not hockey, gymnastics) and winning, being strong, being competitive, not being concerned with detail or appearance, not trying (or at least not being seen to try), ignoring girls, becoming emotionally distant. Looking back a lot of this was to distinguish myself from female forms. These forms became less valued to me. (I will detail more of my journey with this in my next blog!)
Compared to 100yrs ago in the U.K. there has been some progress with overt discrimination. But Isms are alive and well. No longer as obvious they lurk beneath the stone. These are more tricky to weed out. Taking more time and effort whilst giving more resistance. Changing every day occurrences.
We know that if you are female you are more likely to have chronic pain, IBS, fibromyalgia tension headaches (all conditions with heavy psychosocial contribution). You are more likely to get paid less or get overlooked for a promotion you ask for. You are less likely to avoid work place harassment or work in prestigious or socially powerful roles such as a judge, CEO, scientist or even win a Nobel prize. Even books whose main character is female are less likely to be awarded acclaim or considered for prizes. You are more likely to suffer domestic violence, rape, sexual assault and stalking. You are more likely to be politically disempowered or work as an MP. You are more likely to do the lioness share of the housework, caring for children and parents. You are more likely to have your appearance commented on and perceive professional judgement on appearance rather than ability.
Regularly I hear justification accepting these issues. My wife, girlfriend, mum, sister thinks it’s ok. Hmmmmm. Is this sound reasoning? 60% mysoginistic language on social media is by females. We should be under no illusion that women go under similar socialising processes. Here they can be just as ingrained. Women may be unaware of sexism for a number of reasons. They more than likely were brought up in masculine lead family units, with traditional female roles exhibited. They may value traditional female traits and have worked to cultivate them. Alternatively they may not spend time in masculine cultures. Or do so in ‘subservience’. It helps but does not guarantee.
In all truth about 3-4yrs ago I would have dismissed any post like this. I was ingrained in the culture. If it had not been for vicariously living my wife’s struggles. Furthermore it has probably only been in the last 5-10yrs that my wife has actually started to live experiences in male dominated arenas that she began to recognise these issues. Before this she was brought up with very traditional female roles and qualities. It is only when trying to move outside the accepted norm that resistance is met.
Is it time to grow up as individuals and grow up as a profession and a community? Juveniles see absolutes. Binaries. It is only with age, experience and perception that we can start to see nuance and learn that others see differently. More than this that we project ourselves into others. ‘I could do it so therefore so could they’. When we see in absolutes we dismiss lived experience (read more in this helpful blog from @abebab). We can either grow into ourselves. Our lived experience. Our culture and world view. Or we grow out of ourselves and become more human. Transcend ourselves.
With power comes responsibility. For more than ourselves but our communities. Those who have more, more is expected. To empower someone can be to help them take responsibility. It takes power to move the stone.
Who knows how much change the 2 women will end up making. What we need to ensure is that the next generations do not end up in the same place. To be human is to collaborate, to be in community, to empathise, to look out for one another. The more we isolate, individualise and withdraw from our community the more robotic we become.
Be more human. Be less robot.
Thanks for reading this far. There happens to be a little extra ‘bonus’ with this post. This happens to be my first mlog (musical blog). So if you have the inclination I have written and performed a short song below to add further embellishment to the post.
In the deep of night, over rugged uphill terrain.
Will you make it, under incessant fire.
Can I stand aside and watch this struggle unfold.
Can I tell you to work harder and not help share the load.
With nothing against me, how can I help you free?
With nothing against me, help me see what you see.
Will I be remembered for what I did for myself?
Can I distinguish where I fit in all of this.
(How do I stand beside, something I never saw.)
How will my body remember a fight I never had to win.
Emancipate nothing and the stone remains.