Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Why our feminist rights go hand in hand with LGBT-phobia.

I think it's true of a lot of women when I say that for myself, I'm still learning the various ways that I'm being oppressed as a woman. I was even reluctant to write that sentence for fear of being ridiculed and labelled as an angry feminist. I'm not angry. In fact most of the time, I feel I'm quite passive about the negative experiences I have as a woman. I am regularly no more peeved than I would be if I saw someone else in the lunch queue receiving a bigger pile of chips than me. It irks me, but I never used to do anything about it.

Now, in being exposed to all the facts and figures of the inequality of the sexes (because that's what feminism is really about, equality) like the 30% difference in pay, or the expectations of childcare, I'm getting more curious about what the route of the problem is. There is the historical context of how things have always been done, and I used to think that was it. We just hadn't shifted out of the old ways yet. This doesn't quite make sense though, because there must have been an underlying cause that made it happen in the first place, and what makes it a persistent problem today.

I know I seem to be generalising a worldwide problem here, feminist issues being as extreme as basic human rights in other parts of the world, but LGBT rights being on the same kind of spectrum, I figured there must be a link.

I didn't really start to think about this until I met my current classmate. He's a normal guy, watches TV, studies Graphic Design, lives with his mum. And you could say it's quite a normal thing, however wrong, that gay men make him feel uncomfortable. I've come across it more than once, where people are more comfortable with gay women than they are gay men. Straight men watch lesbian porn, and girls get drunk and "experiment" and this is all acceptable behaviour in modern society. I was having a conversation with the previously mentioned classmate about feminist issues after a contextual studies class discussing Laura Mulvey's theory "The Male Gaze", and find that he's quite open about the fact that women are more suited to "feminine" roles such as taking care of children, or primary school teachers. When I asked about the position of a head teacher, he said it would probably be more suitable for a man to be in a position of power.

I couldn't believe what I was hearing. A guy in his early 20s having such archaic beliefs on the position of women in the world. A man with a similar exposure to the world as me, growing up in the same place and with similar interests when it comes to popular culture and line of work. He's basically telling me that if he and I were working for the same company and a promotion opportunity came up for a managerial position, that he would have the upper hand regardless of skill because he's a man and better suited for it.

With this level of thinking in mind, I got to thinking about his extreme homophobia (He's been known to jump 10 feet out of his seat if a male classmate so much as brushes his shoulder). The physiology involved with sexuality and gender identity is something I'm interested in, but I am in no way an expert, so bear with me on the stereotype. If you were to imagine up a stereotypical gay man, you'd imagine him with effeminate qualities. Not everyone would, the experiences of people being so varied, but your average human being would. And this is because they are the qualities of a gay man that stand out. They stand out because of how the brain works. When the brain is scanning the environment, it notices the changes in something familiar, and when something is unfamiliar, it feels uncomfortable and tries to rationalise it as simply as it can, very often without conscious thought. To any kind of person, the qualities and characteristics that stand out in a person are the ones that don't quite belong, from their own unique view of the world.

I think the link between homophobia and female oppression is simple. He thinks it's less to be female. He thinks that if you come out a girl, that your position in the hierarchy of things, no matter how hard you work at life, will always be lower down than a man's position. Women can and do wear typically men's clothes, and it's seen as empowering, but it's less acceptable for a man to wear a dress. I don't think this kind of thinking comes from active thought or observation, neither do I think it's the malicious degradation of women's ability to accomplish in life. I think it stems from the same kind of thinking that had girls reading Housekeeping Monthly and the men conditioned to work and keep a family in the 50s. A man's job was to keep a woman, and bring money in. If you did any less, you weren't "manly", and if you weren't "manly", you were "girly", applying derogatory connotations to all kinds female identifiers. The fact that gender identity is such an unknown subject (I certainly wasn't taught it at school), means that people are unaware of it, despite their own private experience of their own sex, because they are conditioned to be a certain way due to their upbringing.

Unfortunately, the outcome of this is that female qualities belong in women, and for them to exist in men, causes upset in a man's mind, making them think that these men are lacking.

I've been heckled before for speaking out about gay rights, with people saying that there are bigger issues in the world than the right for marriage equality. But if you imagine an entire world of people not realising the full spectrum of sexual orientation and gender identity, but actually being forced by social propriety to act and behave a certain way, the repercussions can be felt in all aspects of human behaviour.


1 comment:

  1. Just read this - and then picked up a story about gendered expression (the full and probably flawed paper is up http://arxiv.org/ftp/arxiv/papers/1210/1210.4567.pdf) on twitter. Turns out I often type like a woman online.

    Nothing wrong with that. Nothing wrong with being more complex than your gender stereotype - as everybody is.

    Anybody that is heckling should consider that we are blazing a trail forward. While some societies are stuck in bad places and we can offer some help, we still have to put some effort into improving our own culture along its path.

    It's good to see clear and thoughtful words on the topic. I'm looking forward to reading more.