Filed under: psyops
* Data on women’s/girls struggle for equality has gone missing in the Bush Administration.
* Women are still underpaid.
* Women are still massively underrepresented in the sciences.
* There are too few female tenured professors.
All vital matters and hopefully people more qualified than I am, properly armed with supporting data, strong arguments, a passionate commitment to ending oppression and plans of action will tackle those and related areas.
What I’m thinking about right now is something more immediate, smaller scale and personal but still, I hope, of at least some significance; the moment when the reality of sexism – which, being the sea we swim in, was everywhere yet still invisible to me – emerged sharply and permanently into view. It was only a brief moment as events go, but it has had a lasting effect upon my thinking.
Years ago I dated a woman who possessed, among other impressive skills, a deep understanding of cars. This understanding came from a geek’s love of the technology and her childhood summers spent on a farm where mastering multiple skill sets with serious machinery was a normal part of life. It was nothing for her to put on some coveralls and, with service manual handy, open the hood of her aging Honda to troubleshoot a problem most of us scramble to a mechanic to sort out.
She was, you see, far more capable with autos than I was.
On that particular Spring morning, a car stalled in front of our house. Two men got out, opened the hood, and began puttering about. We looked out of the window, briefly, then returned to breakfast.
They’d figure it out soon enough.
But minutes turned into long minutes and then into over an hour and they were still puttering. My lover opened the curtains and looked out at the men, our cat curled in her lap. “I don’t think they know what they’re doing” she said softly. She listened to the sounds their car made as they repeatedly tried, and failed, to start it. She quickly identified the problem.
“Why don’t you go and tell them what they’re doing wrong?” I asked. She shrugged her shoulders and gave me an odd look. “I think you should go.” she said. “Tell them…” she gave me instructions to relay.
I quickly put on some clothes and walked over to the men hovering over their dead machine. “Here’s what you should do” I said and passed along my girlfriend’s instructions. Unsurprisingly, after following her directions the car roared back to life.
“How did you know?” they asked. I explained that my girlfriend, who’d been watching their little drama, listened to the sounds their motor made and very quickly figured out the problem.
And it was at that point their admiring gazes morphed into a sort of profound puzzlement, even a kind of mild disgust. Something was wrong. “Your girlfriend? Oh…yeah?” was all one of them could muster as they climbed into their machine and swiftly rolled away.
A small moment, not earth shaking by any stretch of the imagination, but a small universe of meaning was bound within it.
As Bitch|Lab points out, oppression is a process, it creaks and groans its way from the realm of the very small to the very large institutional and structural obstacles we rightfully strive to remove.
On that day, years ago, several unspoken ideas were in play:
There are things women shouldn’t know
There are things women shouldn’t do…even if they do know
The culturally enforced job of men is to observe these informal rules that are woven into daily life
Men who stray from their role are seen, in some hard-to-define sense, as vaguely untrustworthy
My girlfriend didn’t want to approach those guys because she felt a certain, programmed shyness about showing what she knew in an area traditionally reserved for men (family, friends, lovers…yes, but the wider world was suspect). The men she helped didn’t know how to respond to my admission the knowledge they thought resided in me came from a woman: even if this was the case, my ‘job’ at that moment was to lie – to preserve a fantasy of exclusive male expertise. The way their admiration quickly turned to…something else revealed this.
Sexism is, of course, many things but at that moment it was a very small thing: an exchange of information, relayed via a man, because the woman who actually knew what to do felt constrained and the men in need of help were, she correctly assessed, unprepared to listen.
By the end of that day I knew quite clearly what I was for and what against.
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