No mind untouched

// 21 March 2011

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The kyriarchy leaves no mind untainted. If we examine our minds, our attitudes, we will all find biases, prejudices, stereotypes, stigmas, even self-hatred that is all coming from the oppression that we have been surrounded by from the moment our lives dawned on this world.

So what does that mean for us? On the one hand, it means that everyone interested in the cause of abolishing oppression can do a massive thing; challenge their own bias and oppressive ideas. That’s hard, but it’s also wonderful. It doesn’t require grand gestures, or publicity – just introspection, humility and a willingness to apologise for and learn from our mistakes. On the other hand, it complicates everything massively. Most people we interact with day-to-day don’t try to challenge their oppressive attitudes, and the old proverb about leading a horse to water holds firm.

Legal and political definitions of equality are vital; the right to work, to vote, to hold office. Fighting for the legal and political side of things a very important part of the work of feminism and of all anti-oppression movements – pay equality has still not been achieved, there are some groups who are not even acknowledged to exist, control of people who do not fit our norms is still legitimated. Politicians claiming to represent us can still launch attacks on vulnerable sections of the population such as those who do not fit our society’s norms of ability.

The relationship between official and social equality is complicated. Often, it is hard to get measures for legislated equality passed without social attitudes changing in favour of those measures but then there is also the fact that legislation can cause social attitudes to change, as happened with the death penalty.

(TW – discussion of rape culture) However, what we often see happening is that the kyriarchy finds ways to oppress us without legislation. (This makes it sound like a sentient, malevolent creature – sometimes that’s what it feels like!) For example, rape culture is propped up, not primarily by legislation (although in the USA some politicians are attempting to do so), but by the attitudes of both the people who enforce legislation and the people who we coexist with day in day out. And the danger is that those attitudes will lead to legislation again coming down on the kyriarchy’s side.

At the moment, we are seeing something of a backlash culture. It’s seen as socially acceptable to make oppressive jokes, both about groups who have always been reviled and groups who have made progress towards equality. Misogyny is casual and all-pervasive, among all genders. Misohomy is likewise a normal part of society, as are virtually all -isms/miso-s – and still people think that they are not being oppressive. That’s leaving aside the kinds of oppression that are so little talked of or so greatly legitimated that people often don’t realise they exist such as ableism, sizeism and binarism.

In the USA, a study of men born in 1960 and 1990 has revealed that those born in 1990 are more sexist than those born in 1960. This could be explained as part of their youth – they have not yet learned the value of women as equals etc – but it’s still deeply worrying and problematic. A study carried out earlier this month found that there is widespread fear of the Other in society.

One attitude that is incredibly widespread is that that devalues femininity and all things associated with it. Why do CAFAB people experience less censure when they express themselves in a ‘masculine’ way than when CAMAB people express themselves in a ‘feminine’ way? Why is the colour pink so hated? Why are ‘caring’ jobs less well paid? I have a small, but awful, example of this; I was told recently by a teacher I know that he had heard examiners looking at ‘feminine’ (rounded, neat) handwriting and saying, ‘that looks about a C,’ before reading it. The devaluation of things associated with femininity, with the female.

And these attitudes matter. Because people vote. People become politicians and lawyers. People raise children. People teach. People write books. And they do all these things with their ‘harmless’ oppressive views still on board. Through this, oppression is propagated, revived. The kyriarchy breathes another day.

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Comments From You

Clara X // Posted 21 March 2011 at 7:42 pm

This is really interesting. I agree on many of the points made here. Prejudice mainly exists in society, in the social attitudes, assumptions and beliefs which make up mainstream culture.

I suspect I differ from most of the other F-word readers in that I think most legislation should be gender-blind. (And everything-blind. I think generally laws should be made for individuals rather than groups.) But, as JKBC makes clear in this article, it’s how the legislation is interpreted and used that makes the difference.

polly // Posted 22 March 2011 at 8:15 am

“Why do CAFAB people experience less censure when they express themselves in a ‘masculine’ way than when CAMAB people express themselves in a ‘feminine’ way?”

Do they? As a woman who looks a bit dykey but not what I’d called butch, I get endless abuse for simply not wearing makeup, having short hair and wearing things like jeans and hoodies. While women may be able to wear trousers and be socially accepted, this is only acceptable if offset by other signs of “femininity”, such as long hair and make up and high heeled shoes.

Kit // Posted 22 March 2011 at 3:33 pm

@Polly – I think I don’t get abuse for not wearing make-up, wearing baggy jeans, hoodies and “guy” t-shirts because people who don’t know me either think I am a guy, or aren’t sure (I’ve had the whole “are you a guy or a girl?” stuff). Other times I wear “masculine” clothes I don’t get abuse or even light teasing because I wear “feminine” things with them too (like you said), but I have noticed that men I know have received even friendly teasing for wearing “masculine” clothes in “feminine” colours.

I got loads of crap when I had my hair short though. I think wrt JKBC’s question, my own experiences and observations agree (and I too wonder about why it seems that way), except for hair cut where it seems to me that it’s the other way around.

JKBC // Posted 22 March 2011 at 5:21 pm

TW – transhating violence

@Polly; CAFAB people who express in a way that is culturally-coded ‘masculine’ don’t have an exceptionally easy time of it (been there, done that. I don’t experience my expression as masculine because I use ‘masculine’ as ‘of the man’ and I’m not, but other people often do). However, CAMAB people expressing in a way that is culturally-coded ‘feminine’ (trans women, femme cis men, CAMAB non-binary folks with a ‘feminine’ expression, cross dressers) tend to get a lot more abuse. It’s no coincidence that most of the people remembered on TDOR are women. Transhating tropes tend to be directed most at trans women. A CAMAB child dressing in a skirt and growing the hair is more likely to be punished than a CAFAB child dressing in trousers with short hair. Partly it’s male-as-default and partly male-as-ideal. It’s all bad. (others have made this point better than me, I’m afraid – sorry if it’s a bit unclear)

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