Last week, women all across the world donned pink hand knitted hats (proceeds of which went to certain women oriented charities and initiatives) and piled on to the streets of major cities in their countries for the second round of protests against the oppressive injustices that all women face, no matter their country, race, ethnicity, religion or creed.
When the inaugural Women’s March was organised in 2017, it was a direct reactionary response to the inauguration of Donald Trump, America’s 45th president and an avowed rabid misogynist who joked months before about grabbing a woman “by the pussy”. This year, the conversation around the Women’s March and the march itself was necessitated by the ‘revelations’ of widespread sexual harassment, assault and even rape in Hollywood. Sure, heads rolled in the wake of a New York Times expose that saw many powerful women in Hollywood admit for the very first time, that a system more insidious and powerful than anything they could conjure had rendered them powerless and muffled their voices, and showed in startling detail so just how powerful silence can be.
Last week’s conversation also proved how important it is for the intended audience of discussions on gender and sexuality to care enough to listen. Aziz Ansari, a South Asian actor, comic and author of “Modern Romance”, a collection of essays that claimed to investigate and demystify the nuances of millennial sexual relationships was suddenly at the centre of a sex related controversy. He had gone on a date with a 23-year-old photographer, and had increasingly tried to pressure her into having sex with him. The crudeness of his advances and his seeming obliviousness to her refusals of sex and her pleas for him to slow his pace became the crux of a volatile discussion about the boundaries of sexual intercourse and the misogyny that sullies even the most consensual of heterosexual sexual encounters.
The vast majority of women rejected the naming of the photographer’s encounter with Aziz Ansari as assault, fearing that well meaning men with little or no nuance would be lumped into the same category as violent offenders. Others felt the photographer should have taken action and ended the date long before it went from pleasant to terrifying. But the consensus was this; the average woman conceded this was an experience they had had, this shitty date that stopped shy of assault but had long exceeded pleasant or consensual or even tolerable. But they were also unwilling to do anything about this, because they argued, they had already tried and no one was willing to listen. It was ‘normal’ women seemed to echo, as though it weren’t ‘normal’ two centuries ago for women to powder their faces with lead, or ‘normal’ a decade ago for women to be sold into marriage as a way to ensure families kept their wealth or married into wealth.
Forced into the public sphere to evaluate the ‘creepy date’, men felt for answers to explain why sexual encounters with one reluctant partner couldn’t remain pleasant, why seeking enthusiastic consent was ‘unrealistic’. The usual ‘women don’t know what they want’ was trotted out, completely choosing to overlook the reality that it is sufficient for a woman to know what she doesn’t want. Someone said with great importance that this was simply the way sex worked, as though the whole spectrum of non-heterosexual interpersonal sexual relationships didn’t negate this fact. Their excuses were disappointing but unsurprising. But at least it was a conversation begun.
Much like the conversation Oseyi Etomi (who is much due for a book of essays) began with a tweetstorm last weekend. Bearing strong similiarities to the Ansari story, Etomi’s discussion pinpointed an aspect of heterosexual relationships which harmed both parties but had been normalised as expected of women; the radical idea that marital co-habitation puts incredible strain on wives and mothers, often at the expense of their mental health and physical well being and that perhaps divorce and single parenthood often forces the small percentage of men who choose to co-parent responsibly post separation to truly appreciate just how much domestic and emotional labour is required to actively parent a child. It is hardly a radical concept, yet her unvarnished examination of the ‘uselessness’ of co-parenting husbands in the minutae of domestic life had many married, enlightened men, who had drawn the ire of governments without a single ruffled feather, careen into robust defenses of the institution of marriage and how a father, no matter how emotionally unengaged they are from the actual process of active fatherhood, are an asset simply on account of their presence. There were insults rained, accusations to the state of Etomi’s personal life insinuated, a righteous anger that Etomi would even dare say that a single parent not drained by the emotional and physical burden of a co-parent who treats the responsibility of this role as some chore to be shirked off on others is better off than a married woman.
Many men suggested domestic help, someone to take the load off the man and the woman, waving it like some giant discovery. “Outsource the raising of your children, the care of the life you are building with your spouse” they said. But again they miss the point, child rearing is an endless task that requires experience, experience that is often only gained by raising children of your own. People become domestic help out of desperation, driven by dire economic circumstances to offer their time in exchange for the chance to financially support families of their own. Domestic help does not solve the problem of shared, equally immersive co-parenting, it simply denies another child their parent, so you don’t have to do the work of parenting your own.
It was again, disappointing but unsurprising, because every woman eventually finds out that they are one epiphany from being called a ‘radical feminist’.
Women want us to listen. They want us to hear them at the Women’s March, they want us to understand that sensationalism is no longer a tool only oppressors are allowed to use, and they remind us through essays and threaded conversations on Twitter that patriarchy is a colossus and so we must map its entire breadth so when we move to kill it, we know as intimately as we know ourselves the monster we have to slay.
Patriarchy thrives on privilege. It is the glamour with which men convince themselves they are progressive and forward thinking, attractive if you will. It allows us to turn away from the March, to try to use our voices to drown out others because the alternative would be to give things up, to have things taken away. Put away your privilege and suspend for a few moments your idea of what is ‘normal’ and listen.