Tuesday, 26 March 2019

Thinking about equality of social opportunity.

My friend Colin recently mentioned in his blog having had a conversation with a young woman in a computer shop or some such place. It was the young woman who started the conversation. He made this comment: “I wonder if a conversation would ever be started by a young Anglo woman. Well, possibly in the USA or Australia but never in the UK, I imagine. Where all men are seen as imminent - or at least potential - rapists. Should they have the temerity to talk to you.”

I have been pondering the truth of that statement and have been meaning to ask my daughter and my granddaughters how they feel about this.. I have not got around to doing so but when I do I’ll report back. I am pretty sure it was not always the case.

And has the world now really become such an female-unfriendly place? I was reminded of a conversation with a work colleague, possibly twenty years ago. He said that he would not like to get in a lift on his own with a gay man as he was afraid “that he might jump me”. A bit of homophobia there. Also quite a bit of arrogance. Did he really think he was so attractive to gay men that they would be unable to control themselves alone in a small space with him? I pointed out to him that I frequently got into lifts allne with men and was not afraid of being “jumped”. Was I so unattractive or were heterosexual males more self-controlled?

 But I do understand my friend Colin’s comment, to some extent anyway. It is harder for a woman to initiate a conversation without it being misinterpreted. We should have got past that. Is a young woman walking into a pub on her own still seen as fair game for any of the males there? Maybe so. At my age, a woman can walk alone into a pub with impunity, so it’s hard for me to judge. Then I read this report: “When the actor Jameela Jamil tweeted about her negative experiences of rejecting unwanted advances, she unleashed a torrent of similar stories from other women. Many men, on the other hand, seemed completely shocked.

“Was out at the shops with my friend,” Jamil wrote. “Man ogles me. Man then approaches me to give me his number. I explain I have a boyfriend but thank him for the offer. Man then threatens my career, saying I better remember that I rejected him. And then shouts at me that I’m low class …”

Her experience is the end result of a breathtakingly sexist assumption (perpetuated by media, advertising and our wider culture) that women exist primarily as potential partners for heterosexual men, that they owe men their time and attention without question, and that they are rude, arrogant or ungrateful if they dare to decline sexual attention.

Jamil later added: “I once said no thank you to a man when I was 19 and didn’t have an excuse ... and he punched me in the face. After that whether or not I have a boyfriend, I say I do. Being a woman is truly, constantly scary. It’s like existing on thin ice.”

Particularly dispiriting, although not particularly surprising, were the number of replies to Jamil’s tweets containing suggestions of how she could better cope with the situation in future. This is a telling indicator of how deeply normalised these inequalities are in our society – that our focus remains firmly on how women should tackle and defuse the situation rather than on how we might dismantle male entitlement and abuse in the first place.”

No matter that women have been shouting about equality for ages, the disparity remains apparently.

I also read that NASA had been planning an all-female space walk on March 29th from the International Space Station. They have had to cancel. Why? because of a shortage of female-sized space suits!! there you go! It must be rather like when seat belts were first introduced into cars. Women died despite wearing seatbelts. This was because the prototype had been tested on males and the first seatbelts did not adjust to protect the female torso. There are other examples - computer chairs, for example. Most of these things have been improved over the years but nobody seems to have done much about the straps that hang down from the ceiling of trams and other means of transport. You know the things I mean? the straps for standing travellers to hold on to to prevent them from falling over. Mostly they are too high for many women to reach them.

Maybe we women should all go to spend time on the International Space Station. It seems that microgravity makes you taller. Astronaut Anne McClain tweeted this month that she was 2in taller than when she launched. There is a solution to everything!