Like many others, I have been dismayed and shocked by events in the US surrounding the election of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court.
These events have forced me to acknowledge that we have a LONG way to go towards the fair treatment of people of different genders, race and cultural background.
There are those who are respected and believed and can get away with quite a lot before they are called out, and there are those who have to live up to a much higher behavioural standard in every area of their lives, in order to have a say.
Even if these brave souls are more credible, and are actually believed, they will not get very far. White Male Privilege* was clear to see in Brett Kavanaugh as he shouted back at his questioners and lied about his drinking history and the meaning of the term Devil’s Triangle. He was right to be so confident: a supporter from within the House of Representatives was simultaneously editing the Wikipedia entry to reflect Kavanaugh’s fabrication.
This is not my Government. I live in the UK. So why do I care so much?
Because this is personal. No woman could have behaved like this and got away with it (much less benefited and been promoted). No black person could have got away with it. You can substitute immigrant/gay/disabled person if you like. Some citizens are more equal than others.
Just to be clear, I do not hate white males. I am in a loving relationship with one. My dad is one. They are equally appalled at this situation.
This is an extreme example of White Male Privilege, but it filters through everything we do in our every day lives. A myriad of messages contribute to women and men knowing what to expect from one another, what they can or can’t get away with, or put up with, and how they feel about themselves.
I got a wake-up call a couple of years ago, when the tv documentary No More Boys and Girls aired. Before I watched this programme I had a gut reaction against the title. I was resistant to the idea of getting rid of gender markers in school. If this is you too, I urge you to watch the programme. The whole programme.
Without re-watching it, these are the key points I took away, and have remembered:
- The teacher tended to call girls ‘love’ and ‘sweetheart’ and boys ‘mate’. This resulted in girls being less resilient, and feeling they needed to be looked after by others. They shied away from a challenge.
- Girls felt they were not as strong as boys. Boys ‘knew’ they were stronger. Experiments showed that this was not in fact the case. The girls were amazed and delighted (some burst into tears at the revelation). Some boys were very angry at their lost status.
- Boys did not have the words to express how they felt, except when they were angry. They couldn’t say ‘I’m frustrated’ or ‘I’m disappointed’ or ‘I’m anxious’. It all turned into ‘I’m angry’. And they acted this out.
- Girls were initially poorer at spatial reasoning tests. However with practise with toys like Lego, they equalled the boys. They had just spent too much time brushing Barbie’s hair.
- Girls’ clothes were labelled with logos like ‘Princess’ and ‘Gorgeous’. Boys’ clothes were labelled with logos like ‘Monster’ and ‘Here Comes Trouble’. They lived up to the labels.
- Parents often said that their daughters ‘chose’ pink sparkly things. It emerged that they were getting very clear non-verbal signals that this was the right way to go. I realised that I have been guilty of this. Since watching this programme, I have been much more comfortable with my daughters going off-piste with their clothes and bedrooms!
- When babies’ genders were swopped, the adults around them reacted to them very differently depending on what gender they felt they were. ‘Girls’ were given boring toys to cuddle; boys were given stimulating toys to problem-solve and explore.
We think that so many things are just natural, and they are not. They are socially constructed.
On Friday, I took my car to the garage. For many years I have felt intimidated when taking my car in for any sort of work.
When I was twenty and took my first car in for an MOT I was told that it would need £500 of work. I couldn’t afford this, and rang my parents in tears. My dad told me not to do anything, and that he would take the car to his local garage. He was told that the car needed £100 of work.
When I was seventeen, my boyfriend taught me how to change a wheel. My mum got a flat tyre a couple of months later, and I changed her wheel for her, single-handed.
The experience of the garage when I was twenty made me feel under-confident with car maintenance. That this was not my domain. I left much of the car maintenance to the men in my life, saying that I found it ‘boring’.
I don’t think I meant ‘boring’. I meant: ‘car maintenance makes me feel crap about myself. I will never be taken seriously in this area. I will be addressed in a patronising manner and be called ‘love’ and be given the message that this is a job for the big boys.
So on Friday, I took my car to my garage. Our local garage has challenged my assumptions and insecurities. They have never over-charged me, and have always treated me with dignity and respect when I have asked questions. And so I felt confident in describing the symptoms I have noticed when driving my car. The mechanic listened, and said he would check the brake-pads.
I left the garage feeling elated. I had been treated with respect. It felt good. I walked with my head held high and my arms swinging.
I got half-way home. I got to the end of our lane.
A new housing estate is being built alongside the lane. I don’t object to new housing estates. People have to live somewhere.
The annoyance about this building project is that our lane has been closed for a year to allow site vehicles access. They stopped needing to use this entrance to the site six months ago, but have not re-opened the lane. And today, they had blocked off the footpath.
Women. You know the feeling you get when you approach a building site with a cluster of men in high-vis jackets and hard hats. But I was riding high on my garage experience. I am a confident, capable woman in my forties.
Workman: You can’t get down here, love!
Me: Why not?
Workman: It’s closed for six months.
Me: But I live down here.
Workman: Sorry love. You’ll have to walk around the other way.
Me: But that way is dangerous. [No footpath, blind bend, 60 mile speed limit]
Workman: Well, you can’t walk down here, love.
I surveyed the site. There was a stretch of 2 metres of footpath blocked off, with nothing in between. No dangers, no work taking place, just a clear footpath with a temporary fence at either end, and then the lane I needed to walk down.
‘F**K it’. I thought. ‘I’m going in’.
And I did.
I confidently and capably picked up the temporary fence, shifted it a foot or so, and squeezed past. I marched across the No[wo]Man’s Land, and did the same at the other side. The workmen looked dumbfounded, and stared.
I gave them a little wave, and I went on my way.
I held my head up high and I swung my arms.
I am not a rule-breaker by nature. I am very much a good girl, a book-worm, a people-pleaser type of woman. But today I found Direct Action. And I liked it.
It might have been the repeated use of the word ‘love’ to keep me in my place. It echoed back to the programme about little girls who thought they couldn’t.
Well it turns out we can. We can break the rules if we can see that the rules are stupid. We can act beyond our gender stereotypes. It doesn’t always have to be like this.
I’m not going to change the world by moving two temporary fences in order to walk on a footpath.
But Women of America, you can change the world by voting in the Elections on Tuesday November 6.
You can say that you have had enough of White Male Privilege. And you will set the tone for the rest of the world, because we are all watching you.
For everyone else, men included, I urge you to become more aware of the subtle messages we give and receive that tell us that the current state of affairs is the natural way and the only way. We can make things so much better, for everyone.
*To see every day examples of White Male Privilege, click here.
This is, essentially, a gardening blog. And it is generally a calm and mindful place. But sometimes I feel the need to shout.
Being ‘mindful’ does, after all, mean being aware of what we are doing and thinking, and what influences are acting upon us.
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