I originally wanted to post this on the 8th of March, being International Women's Day, but something known as 'real life' got in way. Anyway, I would like to grab the occasion to take a look at how all that feminism* and gender equality is working out. Right here, right now. I have talked about it before, in Spain, and I gave an overview of the situation on the streets of Denmark. But really, where are we?
Denmark is, according to studies the 7th best place in the world to be a woman. By simple logic, everybody can't be number 1, so I guess that's good, and even on Iceland, there are men who hate women. I wonder if the Icelandic tumblr reflects a continuation or a backlash? A lack of communication? In USA feminists are aka “evil femi-nazis” – I don't think that's a general opinion over here, thank goodness (and that our parents taught us better!)
Quantitative studies on access to studies, maternal healthcare etc. etc. are all well and good, yet they're only part of the picture. What about the small actions in everyday life? On to my anecdotal evidence! ('Cause my life is so exciting.)
Exhibit A: Door-holding
This is a typical manifestation of chivalry, and at the same time sort of a symbol of a feminist position of don't-treat-me-like-a-porcelain-doll. I am personally very clearly positioned on this. I am not made of porcelain. Don't treat me as if I were. I am fully capable of opening a door. And I can't stand it when people go all “must hold door for the lady” and in their eagerness to hold it open end up standing right there in the door so as to block passage both for the lady and for everyone else. Move it, buddy.
However, this does not mean that I'm against the practice of holding doors for others as such. If seven people have to go through the same door, it is by far easiest if one person does door duty and lets the others through. Same thing about holding the door for the next person so person can grab it and not get it in person's face. It's really just about basic human decency. My point is that it should not be gendered; do it because I'm a person, not because I'm a girl.
This point seems to be lost to many people. In Denmark it seems to have been interpreted as “must not hold door for female person at any cost so as not to offend her”. (Polite foreign men tell stories about women freaking out when they offer to carry her groceries out of decency. So maybe this idea comes from somewhere? Heh.) While the respect for my door-opening capabilities is admirable, there's a reason why the idea not strictly efficient. Take last summer. I was visiting a friend and helped her carry stuff from the basement upstairs. There I was, walking with two chairs, a box and a bag, needing to open a door with a key while not dropping anything. A young man waited respectfully behind me, while I struggled with this. It was only when I was simultaneously using my elbow and my head to not have the door slamming into me that he intervened with his two free arms and helped me out, holding the door open for the moment I needed. He was clearly trying not to offend me, and I appreciate that. It was just gender equality gone one step too far, or rather, being misunderstood. My femaleness doesn't mean you're not allowed to help me at all, ever – just treat me like you would any other normal person, and help when needed and don't when not.
Exhibit B: Giving up your seat for a lady
Fast forward to New Year's Eve, late at night. I'm sitting with a group of (male) friends waiting for the night bus, and at some point declare my need to stand so as not to puke (too much alcohol does that to you.. ahem). My friends very quickly get me on my feet and as I stand and they sit, random young woman comes over and starts criticising their lack of gentlemanly behaviour for letting me stand while they're sitting. We tell her to get lost and I loudly declare my not being made of porcelain while her friends whisk her away.
While I naturally think me & friends did well in treating me as any of them, I think the young woman had profoundly gotten something wrong. She wanted them to treat me with respect and seemed to think that gender equality does not include that girls get to stand, too. With freedom comes responsibility. And why on earth did 'treating people properly' suddenly become about reversing to the gender roles our foremothers struggled to get us rid of? Luckily, it seems to be getting less of an issue here.
Exhibit C: Paying for drinks
A late Friday night I was cruising through the centre with a friend and our bikes (walking, not biking – 1. traffic law, 2. it's important for the story). At some point we're stopped by some young men, one of whom starts hitting obviously on my friend. It's cold and we were going somewhere and this is boring, so I cut to the chase and tell him she has a boyfriend so he should just forget about it. My friend politely confirms the information, and next thing we know he freaks out. He starts shouting like crazy and walks down the street away from us, yelling something long the lines of “Fuck you! I would have paid your drinks, but you obviously don't care, fuck you. You could have gotten a free night out, but since you don't want to, fuck you!” Being the polite, yet empowered, person I am, I yell back, in essence, “Fuck you! We pay our own drinks!” (Kind of like this!)
Now, that a drunk guy should start yelling at strangers in the street doesn't surprise me particularly. Male privilege and such. But why the “I would have paid your drinks” part? I mean, what? People I would not ever want to meet seem to think that paying a drink for a woman means she owes you a sexual favour – was something similar at play here? (That would be messed up, I would like to think better of people.) Paying drinks apparently still means taking care of the lady, and is apparently still expected? Theory of a friend: paying drinks shows you have money, so you're more of a man, so rejection of drinks = rejection of manhood. I have a feeling that this guy was not aiming at respecting our personal economy and self-determination, and was expressing a backlash. Too many independent women around here.
The problem with which I fail too see. Is it not nicer for you, too, if people around you take care of themselves so you don't have to? Then again, even if symbolic power carries responsibility (and the cost of drinks), ultimately humans strive power, or rather, are taught to strive it. Here is an excellent breakdown of what this guy is likely used to, and I would argue that the high heels extend to drinks. Which is then used to keep up his pride in the face of the symbolic rejection of his manhood.
Exhibit D: High heels
They're just all over the place. And getting higher. It pains me to see 16 year old girls stumble around in them because “that's what grown up women do”; because why is hurting your feet still what adult women do? This really needs a separate post [upcoming!]
But again, apart from maybe the heels, these are small things. They stand out because they're the worst that happens when dealing with Denmark. I dare say tolerance has come a long way when I can show up for class in brown pants, green t-shirt, shoes with different-coloured shoelaces, different earrings and green mascara and still be taken seriously. I worry not for me, and while I do worry for Denmark, I have faith that my fellow Danettes can deal with it (we just need to get it together).
The entire 8th of March circus had me worrying about something else, though. You see, here, it's a day of fight. It's the day we as women go to the barricades and ask for our right to vote, our free abortion, our equal pay for equal work.
In other places, it's just Women's Day. Celebrate the women around you (as if they were not women and important the rest of the year?) and keep them happy with this. Facebook was a genuine flood of pictures of flowers and teddybears and cute rabbits yesterday – I was more or less spared, because people know me and what reaction to expect, but my goodness. Such stereotyped so-called feminine symbols. (Ok, I did receive a photo of red roses all over a white bed, see the illustration for the post, but the sender evidently has no idea who he's dealing with. Let's just say it will not happen again.)
As I see it, it comes down to this, and I would like this to be a more or less standard answer: “Don't give me flowers. Give me equal rights.” And I intend to celebrate my gains any day on the year by going out there and pay my own drinks.
*This term is being used with a certain reluctance. Post explaining why is on its way.