MEN, WOMEN: DO WE HAVE A PROBLEM?
I suppose I became a feminist when I witnessed domestic violence at close proximity. Within Asian families, I’m sad to say, violence against women can be rife. How that statistically compares with white families I don’t know, but I’m pretty confident in saying there are deep-rooted cultural traditions that value men more than women and let them get away with minor and major sexism against women.
I’m going to play the race card here for a bit, because I think it’s worth doing. Asian men are terribly bad at feminism. I say this not because I derive some sadistic pleasure at bashing Asian men, but because there is very little support for Asian women who face violence or intimidation at home. I’ve also made two documentaries (here and here) that bear out the facts that the situation is grim.
Saying all this is pretty easy. But there are important caveats. As Nesrine Malik pointed out earlier, women play an important role in perpetuating that imbalance between the sexes.
Second, you may not be surprised to hear then that I have no time for accusations of racism or “lacking cultural sensitivity” when social services try to deal with problems such as forced marriages. As far as I’m aware, the harsher the punishment for parents who try to force their children into marriages, the better.
However, the situation does get murkier when perceived “outsiders” are involved. How shall I put this? A lot of well-meaning people care about the rights of women across the world for the right reasons. However there is an equally vociferous contingent that use women’s rights as a tool to push their own agendas.
The forced marriages example is perhaps a good one. Our media and politicians frequently cover this heinous practice in the UK, yet the same level of outrage is never afforded to thousands of white women who also face domestic violence. Furthermore, there is never really that much outrage, except among feminists, when women are routinely subjected to outright sexism or sexual bullying at school.
But let’s be frank about this. On the web it’s incredibly difficult to get people to sympathise in the causes of others that may suggest their own tribe is at fault. The Israel/Palestine debates are a prime example, but this happens frequently with topics on feminism too. Ending violence against women should be a straightforward feelgood goal, but it frequently gets caught up in “whataboutery” along the lines of: “But who will stand up for the poor oppressed men?”
However, as my fellow blogger Laurie Penny once put it rather brilliantly:
A crucial mistake that continues to be made is the fallacy that acknowledging male gender oppression somehow invalidates the whole concept behind feminism. It does not. However, across the debate sphere for decades the cry ‘but men don’t have it easy either!’ has been taken as a direct attack on feminism – and sometimes it has even been meant as one. Otherwise perfectly intelligent commentators descend into petty fights over whose gender oppression trumps whose, not realising that everyone’s gender oppression is equally valid, not understanding that the expression of someone’s struggle is not an attack on everyone else’s.
So in the same way I feel it’s important for me to keep creating a fuss about forced marriages and the existence of domestic violence within Asian families, it is right that feminists keep drumming the message that our society is nowhere as equal as it should be. That is the only way to shift attitudes and force people to acknowledge the extent of the problem in each case.
So yeah, let’s unite – men and women – to acknowledge there is a problem and our society’s attitudes perpetuate that problem. That’s the least we can do on International Women’s Month, March.