Sunday, 27 July 2014

Unwanted Kisses, Obligatory Handshakes, Pre-War Decorum and Feminism

Recently I had a pleasure of reading a very insightful and interesting interview (more like informal chit – chat - in Polish) with famous Polish rapper – Adam “Łona” Zielinski. In addition, Adam is a friend of the family and I know from the fact that he is freakishly intelligent so I eagerly indulged in the lecture while drinking my morning coffee.
The interview was mostly about everything and nothing, little bit about politics, little bit about social situation in Poland, little bit about himself. It was the brain-stimulant I need before getting ready to conquer the world – easy to read, yet very sharp and thought-provoking.
And then it happened. One fragment DID provoke me to think about the issue further.
Of course, recently if we start talking about doctors in Poland (and issues of women’s patient rights violations), automatically there has to emerge subject of feminism. And here it what was said (I did a quite awesome translation, I must say):
Interviewer: Would you participate in the Slut Walk?
Adam: No. However, I grieve when I see women who are falling into patriarchal system of thinking themselves.
Interviewer: I grieve when female politician talks about parities and then she’s offended when a man addresses her the same way as any other friend.
Adam: Okay. I myself do not agree with equal treatment, I would prefer to be gentlemen towards ladies. But it doesn’t mean that woman shouldn’t have equal rights. My female colleagues are the amazing lawyers. They are substantially better than their male colleagues, yet they earn less. I can forgive feminists the pathos, form, rabidity. On one hand I defend equal rights, on the other – the image of pre-war gentleman and ladies. I would love to see woman who is both feminist and lady, and for the world to appreciate and promote it. May the word “lady” prevails in use. No harm will come to feminists if they allow to preserve it. It’s a nice word.
Basically, this fragment mimics the entire interview – it’s witty and comprehensive. And yet something is missing here. Depth.
Let me explain.

First: The choice of Slut Walk as example of feminist activity.

Ban Ki Moon
It always baffles me why everybody keeps mentioning only the most controversial activities of some factions of feminism? There is such a wide spectrum of types of feminism: liberal, radical, Marxist and socialist, cultural, black, eco-feminism and probably millions of others examples, as probably each woman is a feminist in different way. But we all have this radical and provocative notion that women are actually human beings and deserve equal rights. Different groups can have different vision and agendas regarding what is specifically meant by “equality” and most importantly all of the groups have different vision of how to bring equality into the society. So please, tell me, where this persistence of giving label “feminist” only to the most radical and controversial groups came from? And why there is this persistence in ignoring all this high profile people, who are obviously feminists? Just because they are not showing their tits and yelling, they are not worthy to be called “feminist”?

I would love to see an article (or video or song or anything) where somebody sparks a  conversation about feminism starting from: “what do you think about Angelina Jolie’s speech during Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict?” or “What do you think about Anna Dryjańska’s feminist activity?” or if you don’t want to go into heavy stuff: “Laci Green really have a point (didn’t have a point) in her video about…”; or to have male representation “have you seen any video of Jackson Katz? What do you think about male feminists?”.
And yet there is this persistent, consistent, insistent and absolutely annoying mania for sticking to feminist stereotypes of aggressive behaviour, “rabidity”, questionable personal hygiene and expression of other forms of behaviour widely described as “masculine”.

Second: Preservation of ladylike behaviour

I understand where Adam is getting here. After WW2 Poland lost many representatives of aristocracy and intelligence, scientists, poets, writers and therefore we lost our models for higher standards of behaviour. With emergence of communism the promotion of hard work and simplicity, the state of that pre-war decorum deteriorated even further until it was totally forgotten. I also weep for those times, especially when I’m going to the theatre and I see people in jeans and sneakers, or people wearing sports clothes in the church.
There is nothing wrong in longing for seeing people behaving more… gracefully and tactfully. But it is wrong to pinpoint specifically the disconnection between “ladylike behaviour” and feminism. The truth is, we are so far from that times. Men in general couldn’t be more apart from the image of gentlemen – instead there is plague of rude, sex driven, sexists. In such situation, expecting women to protect the word “lady” and generally “ladylikeness” is showing the worrying insistence in preserving the perception of how women should behave, but at the same time absolutely ignoring the fact that men rarely have to adhere to any properly stated form of behaviour. Especially the one that requires them to respect other people, women in particular.
Again, I understand Adam’s love for those standards. However, I don’t see it happening in the nearest future. Not because it’s against “feminist agenda”, but because it is simply not feasible, as in the modern world women cannot be graceful, moderate and passive (as pre-war ladies were) and at the same time fight with everyday sexism and being silenced, objectified, belittled and not taken seriously. You cannot expect women to preserve and promote ladylike behaviour without strongly promoting gentlemanlike behaviour and equal rights.
In short: mutual respect for each other as human beings and our rights.
However recently, with this obsession for promoting men’s rights to sex, their promiscuity, rough masculine power and ruthlessness, there is little gentlemen left. And if those few golden boys want to improve general standard of behaviour, the job need to be done starting from their fellow men and then they can start complaining that there is deficit of ladies. Otherwise it just sexist and discriminatory.

Third: Wanting equal treatment equals being treated like a “one of the guys”.

Let me quote the fragment again: Interviewer: I grieve when female politician talks about parities and then she’s offended when a man addresses her the same way as any other [male] friend.
Actually, this fragment is so ridiculously inappropriate and shallow that I had no idea where to start.
Okay, I think I know.
There is huuuuge difference between equal treatment and equal rights (what actually Adam pointed out). Personally, I never understood the logic behind arguments claiming that feminists by equal rights they secretly want to be men.
For example: “I fight for equal rights” and answer “so why don’t you go work in quarry” or “I don’t know why you feminists don’t want to shave your legs” or like here “you are feminist so why don’t you carry heavy bags”. I really don’t know how some people can go from equal rights to unshaven legs. Or carrying heavy things. I don’t carry heavy bags not because I am hypocritical feminist, but because they are heavy and my boyfriend is stronger. I believe the logic: “he/she who is stronger does more things that require strength” has its merits.  
But all of this has nothing to do with the subject. Like Adam pointed out, feminists are advocating for equal right, for example to education, to progression in career, equal pay, to sexual freedom, to choose who to marry, when to have kids, with whom to have kids. And finally the right to participate in public life and be greater in numbers in governmental representation.
I don’t see the transition from talking about political participation of women to the nonverbal statement of “I actually want to be a guy”. Why is it so difficult to understand that we feminist first and foremost want to have equal rights, but at the same time still remain the women (whatever the hell that means)?
There is also one other problem with this statement: assuming that by wanting equal rights we simply want to be treated as guys.
Well, for example I don’t. I want to be treated as human being, not a representative of a gender.
Let me elaborate further on this. Imagine Frank. Frank is your good friend. Now think about Frank’s interaction with other men. How he interacts with his best friend, classmates, random friends from school, his teachers, his father, grandfather or distant male relative. Does he treat them the same way? Everybody, the same way?
Probably not. Frank adjusts his behaviour in male-to-male interaction according to the status, personality, age, etc. of other man. And that’s a natural thing. Because there is no prescribed ways of social interaction in man-man relationships, even friendships, the same as there is no prescribed ways of woman-woman interaction.
There is, however, an acceptable way of social interactions between man and woman and it implies that woman should agree to the way that man chooses to interact with her. Does he want to kiss her hand? Well, she better accepts it gracefully. He doesn’t want to kiss her hand instead he prefers to shake it, but she wanted the kiss? She shouldn’t have expect that, because he wants to treat everybody equally. He shakes hands with men but doesn’t with women and she wants to shake hands. Is she crazy?! She’s woman. Etcetera etcetera etcetera…
Now let’s back to the interviewer’s statement.
Why the notion of “equal treatment” implies being treated like “one of the guys”? That’s not equal. That’s enforcing dichotomy of interaction and rejection of greater spectrum of human interactions. And that’s sexism at its best. By imposing stereotypical “guys” ways of interaction as an equal treatment, we totally ignore somebody’s right to have their comfort zones, both men and women, and how they want to interact with each other and others.
Generally, there is no space for accepting that we actually want to be treated as human beings and therefore have the RIGHT to choose how we will interact with others in our everyday lives. Why this female politician cannot choose how she will be treated by her colleagues? Just because she fights for equal rights, does it mean she abandoned her right to be respected and being treated the way she wants to be treated?
Sure, some feminists want to be treated like men. But some don’t. And yet they also want to be treated equally. How? It can be achieved by respecting our boundaries, by respecting our willingness or lack of willingness to participate in certain practices and most importantly by allowing us to express our opinion on this issue. Without judgements, labelling, ridiculing, belittling.
I know that this statement implies some level of schizophrenia and bipolarity. But it’s actually very easy to achieve by following 3 A’s rule: Act, Ask, Accept or Ask, Accept, Act. (I leave it to your discretion).
So for example, Frank wants to kiss Mary’s hand, but she doesn’t want that. Frank asks what kind of method of greeting she prefers, she answers that she prefers to kiss on a cheek (or headshake or wave from the distance). Franks accepts that.
And conversely, if Frank wants to shake hands, but Mary would preferred to be kissed, she should say so. But she should also ask and accept Frank if he doesn’t practice hand-kissing in any case.
Again it's not only about handshake or kiss. That’s just a simple example for mutual respect and acceptance of equal right to choose how the person wants to be treated. But it can be applied to every human interaction.
Sometime ago there was this whole issue about a model who didn’t want to kiss Tour the France winner. There were comments like “I feel bad for the guy”, “that girl is a jerk” or “she is full of herself”. But most were just missing the point: that simply she didn’t want to give him a kiss, even though that’s the type of social situation, where it seems the kiss is “appropriate”.

Just to quickly sum up: I admire Adam and his work and I really value his opinion. The interview generally was well spoken and the questions led to really engaging conversation. But as comes to feminism, equal rights, equal treatment and forming opinion on this matter, both speakers should just check their facts first. And it wouldn’t hurt anybody to just accept that the world is changing and women’s behaviour will also change, but it would be lovely if we were free to decide about this ourselves. 

Written by Vespertilio

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