Patterns of assumptions and stereotypes manipulate collective responses. Patterns based on things we refuse to acknowledge or even are aware of. "Strong man", "Caring mother", "damsel in distress", "hen pecked", "old coot", "shrew" and more aren't just common terms, they are common ways in which we see people and there are patterns. There are scales of gender, power and fear for everyone.
To see the astonishing impact for yourselves, observe a group discussion in any group - no matter how "equal". Observe when decisions are made. Sure, everyone is speaking freely, listening attentively, regardless of gender. But here is what you will see. It will be the voice of the powerful male in the group expressing an opinion, post which the matter will seem concluded. Consciously observing, as you are, you might even find really astounding moments, when most people in the group may disagree with him, yet they will be left accepting this conclusion. And no, it makes no difference if you point this out. They can't "stop" - you will STILL observe the same pattern.
There are many, many such ways where we can quickly get an understanding of what our unconscious beliefs are, from how they manifest. Specially visible when "logic" was actually going in another direction.
I'm not blaming men or anything. They are doing it as unconsciously as those following them.
- A woman will have to fight very, very hard to get her stand accepted as a decision, something a man will be able to shake with a careless word.
- Observe who was the last person to speak in favor of a certain action before it got adopted, and you will know who holds the string of the group.
- A single woman disagreeing in a group is likely to be ignored. A single man disagreeing in a group is likely to be convinced.
- Women are cannon-fodder. In a high risk situation, a woman are likely to be the leaders, till more is known, and men takes over with "expertise".
- When members of the group are speaking to a group, check their eyes to know who they are speaking to. Likely male.
You can tell the group you are observing them for these five things, and you will STILL be able to see them. Unconscious processes are, d'uh, not conscious. Can't be changed, only accepted, and they evolve if thinking changes. They can't be "acted out" - they are too spontaneous and all pervading. Once you see it, you'll see it everywhere, including yourself.
See who interrupts whom, who overrules whom, who may judge others without causing offense, and the map of power in any group of people is clear.
You can have an organization with the most women and with the most women speaking that is led by a man or a few men who have the last word. A notorious example to come to mind is the women's group Femen - that does nude or topless protests to draw attention to women's rights. Inspired and controlled by a man, femen does not accept protesters that don't fit their target body "look".
Countless political parties - even led by women at times fail to challenge problems faced by women when it comes to challenging male behavior. Sonia Gandhi had infamously responded with what seemed to be genuine anger when women workers of the Congress complained about sexual harassment within the party by leaders. From declaring that she would remove anyone found guilty to vanishing into the depths of everyone's memory has been a telling statement of how much power a woman can wield when it comes to wielding it against the male privilege.
Women are increasingly taking on more power in the world, and its a large scale observation you can make - becoming professional, influential, powerful, etc invariably accompanies many male influences - be it power suits, or coarser language. Increasingly, women are smoking - something that used to be a male thing. Short hair often coincides with increased "professionalism". Show me the liberated man who exercises his right to wear a skirt to work.
Quick Quiz: For a man to wear feminine clothing is an undermining of his mascilinity, so, for a woman to wear masculine clothing is.... what? Speak louder, I can't hear you!
I venture to say here, that somewhere in our minds, we associate the male with power and influence. Our so called liberation is also another subjugation by deeming the feminine not good enough in terms of betterment in life.
Think of all the women of power that you admire. Imagine them. What do you notice? Is it anything feminine? Or is it the successful integration of masculine traits?
Many women are deeply disturbed when I say this. They are the ones still fighting a failing struggle for their femininity. They still haven't pushed their instinctive responses far enough back in their mind to forget them altogether. Words like this make them feel a sense of helpless loss.
[From an email]
"All this struggle to become equals.... its false, isn't it? We are only struggling among ourselves to become better than other women at aping men."
Our gold standard is men. Ambitions of women empowerment begin and end with measuring them against men. Same rights, same privileges, same freedoms, etc etc. As though there is something to be envied about the largely insecure and increasingly incompetent male population these days.
I don't hate men. Love them in fact, but I don't believe they are paragons, and I am not blind to the emotional challenge to the whole masculine identity that "development" brings. They are as insecure as we are, because of these same facades. What we get overruled for, they get overburdened with. Everyone in over their heads. Low honesty. Lots of defensive judgments of others, particularly for being different. The problems happen when this inherent bias gets exploited to harm women because the odds then really get stacked against the women. Which is why, even when we are all humans, have emotions, feelings, etc the list of injustices against women for being women far outdistances injustices against men for being men.
A mistaken war of genders starts, where men oppose attempts to create space for justice by magnifying their own experienced suffering. this is as much an attempt to relate as feeling ignored, but it serves to sabotage the well being of women, because these objections too come with the bias heavily supporting the man's word. Hurt men feel victimized, and abusers enjoy the screen.
Other times, people mistakenly attempt to create justice by setting "equal" standards. This is of course trying to create for women, the "gold" standard of men.
In the times of my life when I was able to set my own standards of what would be good and right in my life, I achieved exceptional things. I led a nomadic life, I had affairs, I lived in the high Himalaya, bred horses, trekked in exotic lands, healed animals, I did all kinds of things men wouldn't have dreamed of. If my ambition was to arrive at that gold standard, I'd have missed out on a lot.
When our goals are our own, there is no insecurity, because they are real, meaningful, and look doable from where we stand, because they are measured in effort, not result. Our relationships prosper. No longer is another woman quietly measured in a race for power. No longer is a man someone to win the approval of.
Someone today called me a feminist. It is as appropriate as calling me an atheist. As a compliment, both are equally irrelevant, because they talk of things I'm not interested in. If it comes to being on the side of an issue, that is where I am. Normally? No.
A kind of enemy's enemy is my friend? No! I'm not against either God or Man. Let them do what they will. My purpose emerges from within me. I'm free.
By free, I don't mean that I never fall into this unconscious subjugation. Of course I do, like every other person, unless they grew on some island alone. By free, I mean that by acknowledging it, by accepting it, I free myself to unhesitatingly accept when I do it, and if it is dysfunctional, I am able to move on without feeling "wrong".
I find that men are often much more tuned to femininity than women are. Possibly because they are interested in women, and not men. In many ways men suffer this progress more, because they are the gold standard, but their world is increasingly cracked in many places. The overt, spectacular privilige of being a man, of receiving unquestioning service and nurture is eroding, but they are privileged still - only in ways that don't feel enough. They don't FEEL privileged. I have lost count of the number of men who speak less than happily about modern trends in thought for women, which is a caveman thought on a superficial level, but on an experiential level, there is little of the feminine self to gravitate to. In their words, I hear deprivation and abandonment under those sarcastic, defensive layers of protection of their vulnerability. What does it mean to be a man, if no woman with awareness of her womanhood is around?
And men are going through challenging times. Not only do the women do whatever they want, they wear whatever they want, get maternal leave without scolding, earn and contribute to household incomes as much if not more, are fine managing their kitchens, and can speak their needs easily. Their traditional role is changed, but the measures of self-worth remain and are increasingly taken to higher standards.
So here's the deal.
I am hoping for more freedom for women.. After being overtly suppressed for centuries, it is natural, but not necessary to spend another while quietly imitating in order to feel empowered.
Its like the Elephant, who as a calf was tied with a string and as an adult was perfectly capable of breaking the string, but believed that it was his limit.
Please note before you argue that village women suffer a lot, etc. This article is specifically speaking of women in a certain "development hit" environment, where their potential to celebrate the opportunities available to them is vastly undermined by the assumptions still caging them in. But the circumstances are certainly there.