How old were you when you first realised what was expected of you, because of your gender? Do you remember? Maybe you’re so used to it now, you can’t even pinpoint the first experience. I can’t. I can tell you specific instances, but not the first. Two personal instances immediately come to mind when I think of gender imbalance. Both from my dad.
When I was a teenager, I was there to hear him tell my brother he should be dating multiple girls and I should only have one boyfriend. The second instance, he told my brother on the phone that while he had to work hard to provide for a wife and family one day, he wasn’t worried about me. He said I’d be fine because I’m a woman, so they’ll always be a man to look after me… I don’t remember the first time I encountered gender stereotypes, but I do remember instances when I felt the impact most. You always do. In a way, it’s a good thing. It can be the push you need to challenge what has become the problematic norm. It can make you strive for a gender balanced world.
Gender Stereotypes Affect Everyone
For so long, gender has been defined by certain parameters. Women are emotional. Men are physically stronger. Women should be pretty. Men shouldn’t wear dresses. Gender stereotypes are as harmful to men as they are to women. You might have seen a clip of Barack Obama talking about toxic masculinity floating around online (if not, where have you been?! Go check it out. He dismantles the image that rap culture has been perpetuating since forever in a few short lines. My man!) It’s great that the gender stereotypes that men face have been getting increasing attention and public discussion. There’s room for dialogues about problems pertaining to men AND women. However, not always the case that people make online…
For every response to ‘women’s’ issues being addressed, there’s a man saying “but what about us?!” When do we hear this the most? I would bet my fairly unhealthy bank account (don’t judge ok? My friends and I are on a mission of a delicious nature… aka. eating all the food ever…) that it’s probably around International Women’s Day, aka. 8thMarch. Tomorrow. Spoiler alert: International Men’s Day is on the 19thNovember. An easy, quickly Googled fact. Just saying! Anyway, as it’s International Women Day tomorrow, I thought I’d take the time to celebrate my sisters by focusing on the IWD campaign this year. #BalanceforBetter. With that in mind, here is how supporting female narratives is leading to a gender balanced world…
PSA: It’s important to note here that a more balanced world is an issue everyone should be focusing on. Whether an issue is based on race, gender, sexual orientation or religion, its solutions require the involvement of people it affects as well as those it doesn’t. They’re all human rights.
Owning Our Narrative
If you’re anything like me, you probably follow a lot of pop culture/current events. The German I learnt for five years in school may be long forgotten, but I can tell you who Kate Beckinsale is dating or when Captain Marvel is coming out in the UK. (On International Women’s Day by the way. They don’t play around at Marvel marketing headquarters.) However, say what you will about my almost photographic knowledge of celebrity, pop culture is a great arena to see the progression of humanity and our thinking. It’s been key in seeing more and more women own their narrative.
One of the most powerful ways that women have been striving for a more gender balanced world has got to be taking back ownership of their narrative. Whether this has been on a global scale, like the Women’s March and the #metoo movement, or opening up on social media. From sex opinions, to addressing how men write about female characters, or how we use the note app on our phones (a story for another time). Social media has allowed many, especially women, to connect with each other on a wider spectrum. Its allowed women who would have otherwise been silenced, to speak out.
How Lives Have Been Changed and Saved
You may remember the case of 18-year-old Rahaf Qunun. A young girl who fought back against being deported back to Saudi Arabia and her allegedly abusive family. It’s a story we wouldn’t have heard without Twitter and the Saudi Embassy stated as much saying, “Twitter changed everything.” She was able to live-tweet her experience of successfully avoiding deportation and making it to Canada, where she sought refuge. That channel was instrumental for her, but also allowed her to put herself forward as an example for others in her situation. This does come with its pros and cons. Pro, she can be a beacon of hope to many. Cons, her journey was extremely dangerous and by live-tweeting the whole experience, she could’ve been detained and deported at any time. Many are worried about copycat attempts.
Truthfully, Rahaf is not the first to use social media in this way and she likely won’t be the last. More and more people have being using social media to speak out. When other avenues haven’t worked, going public has been a lot of people’s next step. This was also the case with the #metoo movement. Women (and men) who weren’t able to come forward due to a combination of fear, saw how others who have come forward had been treated, ignored or threatened. In those situations, the narrative was taken back primarily through social media and that’s part of what lead to further investigations.
The public coming together to help amplify voices that had been told that they shouldn’t be heard for so long, finally fighting back. We’ve seen the same thing happen with R Kelly. Race, as well as the victims being women, was a large part of why it took so long to acknowledge that these women had been trying to speak up for so long. There is the worry that in owning narratives in such a public space, social media is becoming the judge, jury and executioner, but as an avenue to open up discussions, it’s almost unbeatable.
Voices Uniting and Supporting
Social media has become the number one way to own narratives. However, it can be seen in all sectors, from politics to entertainment. It’s been used as a way to tackle gender imbalance and show how women are often portrayed. We have been seeing more nuanced characters in TV and film. That’s all down to the roles being there for actresses, with more female writers and directors like Ava DuVernay and Patty Jenkins. Jenkin’s work is part of the extension of female narratives in the superhero universe, with Wonder Woman and Captain Marvel getting their own feature films, along with Harley Quinn’s soon. Personally, I’m waiting on a full-length film about Okoye #wakandaforever! However, for every step forward, there seems to be thousands back…
As much progress as there is being made in fictional stories, real life stories are still seeing woman being cast into antiquated roles before they’ve had the chance to say their piece. I am, of course, talking about the Jordyn Woods/Tristan Thompson/ Khloe Kardashian drama. How could I not mention it? Classic reality TV star drama? Not exactly, it’s actually turned into a global conversation about how women are constantly held accountable for men’s actions, as well as their own. However, voices have been coming together to dispute that way of thinking. I’m not going to go into too many specifics, but here’s a quick overview:
The Abridged Saga of Khloe Kardashian, Tristan Thompson and Jordyn Woods
- Khloe and Tristan were together, he cheated just before she had their baby and they stayed together
- Jordyn is a family friend, went to a party a Tristan’s house, they kissed
- Khloe and Tristan broke up
- Khloe (along with her sister, friends and members of the public) openly blamed Jordyn for the whole incident
- Tristan’s role in all this was barely mentioned
- Jordyn did an interview on Red Table Talk to address it
- Khloe responded by saying Jordyn did break up her family (she later changed her view)
Whew! You’re welcome people! Anyhoo, a sign of progress (in my eyes) is the amount of people who have been pointing out the disparity in the roles people have been given in the story. It didn’t take long for people to ask why Tristan seemed to be getting no blame at all. Those voices got even louder after Khloe claimed she blamed Jordyn for breaking up her family. Blaming the woman has always been the easy route. In this instance especially, the ‘girl code’ has been broken too. Girl code is meant to be a constant. Even when men are trash, you can tell yourself that the girls have your back.
However, on a global scale, this incident has gone beyond the regular Kardashian drama. It’s become a public conversation about accountability and how that should transcend gender and even race. The truth is, Tristan has cheated before. He still has a career. Jordyn has made a mistake and people are saying her career will never progress. However, after her interview, more people started to support her career. They identified with the fact that she was a flawed human like all of us and she owned up to it. People are demanding a balance in the treatment of both Jordyn and Tristan. This is far cry from how situations like this have been viewed in the past. This has been an exercise in identifying that women being seen as either a saint or a whore is just not going to cut it anymore.
A Gender Balanced World Requires Acknowledgement
I mentioned how men write about women and how that’s been challenged. The idea of women being viewed through a predominantly male lens (that quickly became the lens for everyone) is being constantly disputed. Women CAN be flawed. They CAN make mistakes. They sure as hell CAN speak for themselves.
The important takeaway has been that more people have been listening and becoming better allies. Regardless of gender, race, sexual orientation etc., people have been rallying around female voices. They’ve been championing them. The good news is that talking and acknowledging that there is a problem is almost half the battle. The next stage in building a gender balanced world? Acting on what has been discussed. Whatever the sector, don’t be afraid to raise your voice and know that a lot of the world will support you. Especially me.