We went to an indie cinema last week in Singapore (the projector), that is hosting a film festival about inclusion, diversity and womanhood. #femalepleasure is a fantastic documentary following 5 characters, all women, whose life has been through traumas of different kinds. One flew a Jewish Hassidic community in Brooklyn, after a forced marriage. She tells about her fight. A German lady got raped in a catholic institution, where she was a nun, and tells her story. One fights to end what concerns 200 million of women in the world — and herself — FGM or female genital mutilation. Another one is fighting for love, and women, to be given an honest chance in India, where rape and misogynistic culture prevails. The fifth character is a Japanese artist who represents vaginas in her art in very funny ways and get indicted for “obscenity” while male genitals representations is ubiquitous and totally accepted in japan. These five stories deal with sexuality, but first and formost in the context of “the basis of sex”, as Ginsburg put it.
There is a pattern here about the dual standard that prevails in societies, and how men and women inequalities express themselves in countless ways.
The under-title is “five cultures, five women, one story”. And that’s a story of inequities, and the clear a pattern about how the bad things that happen to these women happen. Structures of power — including religion , business, and political instances— have been pretty much ran by men, for men, for ever, in most societies. There is a lot to say about this, and probably as a counterpoint also about how the Sheryl Sandberg of the Corporate World did in the end truly little but helping themselves through this patriarchal system, as pointed out by Leigh Stein in “self care”. The 2010’s did little in trying to change the system of oppression of some, by others. The work of reduction. Because that is probably where the problem fundamentally: force and power can easily lead to abuse others, in all possible ways.
While I was watching the movie yesterday night, I thought again about some reflections I had through the years about things I cannot understand as I’m not a woman. Things I take for granted, as a boy grown man. There are many, but they are some of them I thought about again during the movie and wanted to share.
I am busy intercontinental business traveler, and did lots of running at night, or early in the morning. I have never been totally reckless and avoided the most dangerous places of cities or countries I was in, but by and large that was good sense. It is a whole order of magnitude more complicated for the women. There is more care and worries involved. One character in the movie is running in the middle of the street of an Indian city. She wears tights, a tight top too, pretty revealing. For lots of women, there is an intrinsic danger to do that, as such attire would be judged as offensive. But even in most advanced liberal societies, there is at least a certain level of thought process involved about where you would go, and how you would dress not be accused of being filthy and look for trouble. As a man, I never really worried about where and when to go jogging. And certainly, never had to worry at all about what to wear.
And what to wear is not only a concern for work out. Appearance in general matter much more for women than for men.
There are ample examples in the movie — like in any movie with female characters — about how the way women prepare, dress, wear make-up, do their hair, matter. No one cares about a guy’s attire at work, and not much more in most normal life’s circumstances. Looking good is something that lots of woman spend a lot of time on, every day. How to look good, but not too sexy, while not not sexy enough. Manage this complicated balance. When I started as an engineer 25 years ago, we were wearing ties. Some combinations were ugly, and no one cared. It even seemed like an totally not matching cashmere-prints tie on a red checkers shirt was a badge of honor, a kind of legitimization of being scientist that did not focus on the appearance. In 2020, it feels like we collectively judge much more women by their appearance than we judge men by how they look — and they feel this pressure too.
Obviously, as a man, I never had to face misogynistic bias.
Lots of women as being “characterised” by some as “temperamental”, “chatting too much”, “bossy”. I have been too assertive at times, I lost my cool in many many meetings, and I talk way way too much. But I have never thought, or be told, that these behaviors were inevitable traits of my gender. I have heard sexist comments about my bad mood coming from not having had great sex the night before (which could probably have been the case in couple of occasions), or menstruating. I do not think I did judge myself though the prism of my gender stereotypes or myths. I do not think others did. It is happening to women all the time. And to be brutally honest, I ignored it (or denied it) for 20 years. I surrendered when a colleague of mine told me a story… she was pretty upset and passionate about something that happened in a meeting with her boss and others and wanted to have a follow up chat. She was told “a male employee would have understood that I was done talking”. I lived in a bubble for 20 years, and that bubble exploded that day — in my company, there we still plain sexism practiced, or at least at play in some managers minds.
Another bubble, sadly, exploded more recently, as a friend told me she had been sexually harassed at work.
That is not something a very vast majority of guys must ever worry about. And I was shocked to discover it remains more pervasive than I thought. I never wondered how to react to potentially ambiguous behaviors from my female colleagues, or bosses. I never had to worry about being in danger, on a slippery slope that could lead to losing my job or accepting things that would not make me comfortable. And do not get me wrong — I do not think the whole society has anything to gain by being more puritan or totally sanitized. I met my wife at work. Friendship is OK and can sometimes be ambiguous. But the German nun in the movie who claims she got raped in a catholic institution in Roma also verbalizes a lot of the things that we know about sexual harassment in general. Society brings women to feel guilty if anything happens. The victim must prove she was harassed. She is the “temptress” anyway in most culture. Men are weak and fall easily because women are mischievous. She is to blame. She must constantly worry to be nice, but not too nice. Not something most male grown ups need to worry about.
So where do we go from here? A lot of what I say here might sound stereotypical, but it strikes me how these stereotypes are active in our society. I want to find ways to change things for better, and make sure that everyone gets that people are people. Individuals are defined by their own conscience and contingency — above and beyond the group you want to associate them with, reducing them, imprisoning them. Above all, I want my two boys to be great, in a great society. At least, there are a few things I want them to understand.
Hemka, Singapore, August 20th 2020.
Husband and dad. Marketer and Triathlete. Engineering a better world.
Self care, a novel by Leigh Stein — “[…] the self-aware callout culture novel that we need, but don’t deserve.” (in Salon)
The projector, “Pink Screen” film festival,
15 AUG 2020 TO 15 SEP 2020 —
6001 Beach Road, #05–00
Golden Mile Tower, 199589, Singapore