Was I going to chime into the #MeToo hymn? Initially I followed the debate from a safe distance. I thought I was “not really thaaaaat affected” and should not complain with so many serious cases in the limelight.
Then soon it wasn’t only about rape anymore. It was about the little acts in everyday life, about pay wages, it was about everyday fears and chicanes and unsettling acts of power demonstration.
If there is anything good about Donald Trump, Harvey Weinstein and Brock Turner, then it’s this, that, finally, the topic has fully emerged and taken centerstage. And with it all the little chicanes, too, the ripple effects of the big and disturbing acts of male power demonstration – all stripped down and laid out in the open before society’s eyes to analyse, to investigate, to seek justice and change.
The debate suddenly is also about immoral offers, subservience, objectification, mansplaining and the still socially accepted assumption that women are available to men and that any woman is inevitably judged by her appearance. Even by other women! Because this is what happens in a male-dominated world: we all live by its rules, all of us men and women.
And this is also why I came to understand that feminism isn’t a topic fulminating against men per sé. It’s a debate shaking old constructs, worn traditions and beliefs of our society that still hasn’t left behind the shades of a past where men are doctors, scientists, directors, professors, board members, judges and politicians, where men are those in power, and women are either birthing mothers and housekeepers, floozies or eccentric and prude spinsters on the margins of society.
Like all changes in society, be it women’s right to vote or the abolition of slavery, feminism, or as I prefer to call it, gender equality, too, now has to trickle into all levels of society, all professions and education. It has kicked off thanks to those who have spoken out, those that did not think “I am not thaaaat affected” like I did. As a matter of fact, we all are affected. And if I may go a step further, I’d say, we ALL are affected, men and women. Because is it not men who have wives, girlfriends, sisters, mothers, aunts and female co-workers? And is it not men, who are told “to man up”, to conceal their emotions and to be strong?
It’s not just a “woman’s topic” that at best makes it into a magazine next to diet suggestions and the new season’s dress code but a topic that, hopefully, in 2018 will continue to find its way into parliaments and schools, homes and newsrooms, social media and pubs, awards ceremonies, movies, art installations, comedy and stage plays, for that one day we may be seen and treated equally powerful and be equally valued – no matter the gender or interests.
Gender equality is not about ignoring the fact that women and men are different, it is not about women being better than men or women overtaking, or about women being just as capable as men in all areas of life. No, and this is also not the case and we know that. Men were built stronger on average, women were built to bear children – on average, as a rule. But not these traits nor any other traits that make us different from each other should govern us, they should not dictate our fate. Not in 2017 or 2018 and beyond. In modern society we should be free to choose to be strong or weak, to want children or not, to travel the world or not, to work in science or not, to sleep around or not, to run for president or not, to write blog posts and publish them or not. Equally powerful and equally valued. Not better, not worse. We want to be seen as human beings, as the professionals, the athletes, the adventurers, the free spirited, the artists, that we are.
There have been so many wonderful events recently, from closing the gender pay gap in Iceland to Hollywood stars standing up against sexual harassment, that I am hopeful for the women and men in the world. And relieved that I don’t need to take a deep breath and talk about how, #metoo, I am affected. How I change the sidewalk when a group of men approach, fearing inappropriate comments or a hand slip imperceptible over a body part. How I walk home at night concealing my figure with an XXL parker and hoodie. How my heart sank and I fought my body’s shaking when a group of men chose to sit around me in an almost empty train at 4 am and loudly and rather detailed reminisced about their visit to the strip club. How one time a guy skillfully let his hand slip into my jeans and between my legs in a flash and breathed into my ear that I “want this just as much as him”. How a mob of men lifted me off the floor, so that my dress slipped all the way up to my chin, displaying pretty much everything, and how helpless I had felt being unable to escape their grip but thrashing about and screaming like a wild animal. How I was offered “a massage in a private hotel room” by a tour guide when traveling solo. How I was groped and cat called for more than half my life. I am not going to talk about any of this in more detail, about the obvious stuff. It’s disturbing and none of it is acceptable. We know that.
Inequality really already starts more subtle. Power demonstration happens much more concealed, much more subtle. It happens in conversations, it happens in gestures, in the media, in art, at work, it happens around us all the time: power demonstration of men over women. It happens every time a man preaches to a woman and tells her what she should do, what she should want and how she should feel. If you are a woman, you know what I mean: the fatherly, masterly kind of voice that tells you that “hand on heart, all that women really want is to be a mother” or that “you look very pretty when you get angry” and just about any of the many forms of paternalism and machismo that subtly swap into conversations. There are the “avoiding eye-contact with the female participants”-moments, the “addressing only the men”-situations, and the “addressing the women only and specifically when it’s about the “soft” topics like wellbeing, family and appearance”-circumstances, to give some examples.
For most of my life I, too, have not given these moments much thought. I, too, have taken these moments for granted and accepted them as what they were, “a minor nuisance”. But minor nuisances pile up. They trickle into your subconsciousness to tell you “you are less important, less valued, less capable, you are an object of desire.”
Every little incident has turned me into a warier person. Wary of walking down a street at night, wary of groups of men, wary of looks and comments and always inevitably on the lookout for some form of hidden insult or chauvinism, wary when it came to the tasks my employer handed me, wary of every day situations and expectations of women in society – wary and confused and uneasy.
That so many women around the world are now uniting, speaking out and fighting back has provided us wary and confused women with scale, direction and clarification.
We know where we stand, we know that we do not stand alone, we know that we should not be standing here and we know where we want to stand in the future.
#Metoo, I am grateful.
I am leaving you with one of my favourite clips of 2017. What if not humour can heal the world’s depressions?