In her first article for the Observer, Aoife Campbell writes a response to a recent article published in the most recent issue of MSU’s The Print titled “Women could rule the world, if they didn’t hate each other”.
In The Print’s recent edition appeared the article “Women could rule the world if they didn’t hate each other” – a fascinating take on female subordination, by Lyndsey Farrell, page 23. In it, through personal anecdotes, pop psychology and a quote from the popular ‘Mean Girls’ flick, the author attempts to pursue us that the key to the failure of the women’s movement lies in our inability to respect each other, to celebrate a universal sisterhood. According to the piece, in the “Girl’s World” which we, the female gender, operate, girls relish in spreading “disgusting rumours” about their best friends, flippantly re-arrange their Bebo top 16 on a fight-by-week basis and divulge dis-trust of their comrades to other mutual, spineless, little girls.
I’m sure I wasn’t the only reader to find this piece offensive, lazy and ill-informed. At best it’s a weak pastiche of a Kevin Myers article. Perhaps most worrying however, is unlike the sexist propaganda that Myers churns out of his anti-women gut, this piece was probably printed with little thought of its potential offensive and with little debate, discussion, or up-roar in its subsequent publishing. The fact that such a sexist, derogatory and dismissive article could be published in our university paper is unfortunately, quite reflective of our male dominated union. With women holding just three of the eleven executive positions and with no women’s officer, Maynooth Student’s Union could almost be forgiven for attempting to solve the puzzle of why women have failed in their fight for equality in this embarrassing piece of journalism.
Aside from general stereotyping and clear confusion about the objectives of Feminism, the rhetoric in the piece is dangerous. The author suggests that male objectification of women is borne from women themselves labelling each other as “easy targets” for derogatory terms. Ending the piece with:
“How do women expect respect from men when they can’t respect each other?”
The author paints a view of male sexist behaviour as, essentially, the responsibility of women themselves. The objectification and lack of respect denoted to women in our society occurs, in fact, because structural and societal inequalities construct a society where women are subordinate to their male counterparts. A particular version of masculinity (no, not a fatalistic characteristic which affects all human beings with male sex organs) performed by certain groups of men, has succeed in producing and re-producing a world which achieves power through the subordination of others. This subordination is harmful to all other: sexualities, ethnicities and genders which are not valorised by the version of masculinity in charge.
Gender inequality is a structural fact. On a political level women make up just 15% of Dail Éireann whilst earning 17% less than men (The 50:50 group, 2010). In terms of violence and exploitation 1 in 5 women worldwide will experience rape or attempted rape in their lifetime (WHO Report, 1997). While in Ireland 1 in 7 women compared to 1 in 17 men will experience domestic violence (E.S.R.I. 2005). To argue that women themselves are responsible for their own inequalities is absurd. Such an argument neglects interrogation of the entire patriarchal system, and, at a very basic level, neglects the fact that women lack the power to contribute in the structuring of society in the first place. In addition, such a conviction promotes the idea that men, who objectify women, whether structurally or through exploitation, are void of any responsibility. That we, as women, must earn the respect of men, that it is not a basic, human right.
The only aroma of reality in the piece presents itself when the author overcomes her bewilderment and decides that the answer to female oppression can be found in the chronic insecurity of women and girls. Whilst obviously I dispute the labelling of any group of people as being wholly afflicted with a singular characteristic, the issue of female insecurity is worth discussion. The author of course, continuing to be baffled by her own disappointing sex, fails to interrogate why it occurs at all.
From a very young age with the gifting to young girls of frilly dresses, Disney princesses, lip-gloss and Barbie, the value and worth of the female gender is conferred as being found almost exclusively in one’s physical appearance. Continuing into adulthood with a persistent version of girlhood been valorised in the mass media (conforming to just one body type, ethnicity and class) women are educated that failing to adhere to particular physical attributes will render them invisible. Combined with the fact that they are already invisible in politics and are subsequently silent on decisions which affect them (such as reproductive rights) it’s quite clear why the female gender may potentially experience anxiety throughout their lives. This anxiety however, is a mere consequence, not a contribution to the process of gender inequality.
Unfortunately, alongside its failure to interrogate the social aspects of gender construction, the piece subsequently fails to award either gender the respect of autonomy or choice. It confers just two genders the merit of discussion (ignoring a person’s autonomy to identify as being a different gender than the one society assigned them). The eerie murmurs of biological determinism at work in the author’s construction of a “Girl’s World” are damaging to any experience of any gender. The piece describes how boys deal with conflict and friendship in a much more straightforward and ‘efficient’ fashion. So we are to assume that in a “Boy’s World” unlike the overemotional and whimsical carry on in the female universe, emotions and insecurity are traded in for good old fashioned common sense. While depression and suicide remain a huge problem particularly for young men, a light hearted praise for a version of masculinity which avoids emotional displays is especially obnoxious, particularly in a university paper.
It is, in reality, contributions to the media such as this – void of any empirical truth, intellectual interrogation or basic understanding of power structures, which assist in the functioning of a society characterised by inequality. I’m no journalist but when the conviction of an article is based on anecdotal populist tripe, quotes from a chick flick and a clear misinterpretation (or lack of reading) of Simone de Beauvoir, the embarrassment in my membership to the union who produced it swells up until I am forced to respond.