This article can also be found on the Huffington Post here.
Like so many other people inspired by Emma Watson’s impassioned speech in her new capacity as UN Women Goodwill Ambassador, I shared it to Facebook.
Like so many other posts on Facebook and elsewhere calling for attention to women’s rights, it almost immediately received a comment from someone who took umbrage with the message.
Sharing to Facebook isn’t exactly championing the cause, but in my defense it was late at night and I’d been working all day — not the most ideal time to begin an impromptu egalitarian crusade. I shared it with the byline Fox News Headline: “Hysterical Woman Ruins UN Event, Possible Terrorist” — wit like this is just a fringe benefit of being on my friends list, folks. It’s a thrill ride over here.
The #HeForShe campaign is designed to draw men alongside women fighting for positive change. The idea is a noble one — challenging the ‘us vs. them’ mentality that possesses certain elements of both the men and women’s rights groups and is poisonous to the ideal of gender equality.
This point was profoundly lost on the commenter in question. He responded by quoting Watson’s remark about fighting for women’s rights being regarded as synonymous with man-hating, saying that the sooner ‘the feminists’ quit man-hating, the sooner the synonymy would be forgotten. As if everyone interested in solving problems of disparity in how people are treated based on their gender is necessarily man-hating until proven otherwise.
But that’s not the argument that really got me angry enough to write this post. It was the next one. An argument that I’ve heard before, but until now have never been able to accurately articulate how ridiculous, or cowardly, or irresponsible I find it to be.
The argument is this: feminists blame patriarchy theory for the existence and enforcement of gender roles. In fact, science explains the existence of these roles via evolutionary psychology. Feminists ignore the biology that underpins our behaviour and instead heap the blame on men as a group seeking to oppress women as a group. The blame doesn’t lie with anyone, but with the mindless machinations of gene selection and ingrained behaviour. The ‘why’ is more important than the ‘what’ — get your facts straight, feminists.
To this I say “bullshit.”
Personally, I don’t believe in letting something silly like biology get in the way of human happiness. If I did, I probably wouldn’t bother with glasses. I’d sit and reflect on a blurry sunset that my eyes are the way they are for a reason.
Instead, I embrace the ideal of using human ingenuity and reason to conquer primitive shit like that so that my life can be better. It’s the same reason we don’t have to exile the diseased to preserve the health of our tribes, because of this fancy new thing called medicine. Or why the speed limit isn’t enforced by ‘how fast your legs can carry you.’
So when people talk about the origins of behaviours that negatively impact both men and women as if these are insurmountable obstacles that we should learn to live with instead of railing against, I can’t help but think it as shortsighted as accepting… well, shortsightedness.
I don’t buy that the past, whether biological or psychological or cultural, should have any control whether people are happy today. We shoot lasers into our eyes to see better, and one day soon anyone born blind will be able to see as well — or better than — the greatest hunters of prehistory. Some of us already walk on bionic legs, free to pass on our genetic material and give natural selection a big metal middle finger at the same time. What measure is gender going to be when people can be as organic (or not) as they want? I find it hard to imagine two virtually identical brain-jar exoskeletons having a conversation about one not being taken seriously because of her outfit, regardless of the monkey hang-ups the brain’s bodies used to have.
Biology manufactured the human race as a binary group of men and women. It didn’t consult us on how we felt about it or how we would deal with it. And it was culture — that’s us — which established male and female roles; ‘just because’ passed down from the ignorant to the slightly less ignorant, generation after generation.
But we’re sapient, it’s 2014 on the latest calendar, and we can make our own damn choices about how we treat each other.