(Man)splanatory Notes

I needed a full week to reflect some of the events and discussions that took place during the week that culminated in Women’s Day. Suffice to say, everyday is not women’s day, so I hope you enjoyed the 24 hours. Did anyone else make a guilt-ridden exit from the office on Friday 8th with a rose in hand, self-flagellating because “again I had failed in explaining the concept of women, despite an international theme day dedicated exactly for this? The one day I’m given 5 minutes of uninterrupted time to explain why us women need to exist, and I fail to deliver?”

The good thing is that there is never a shortage of men doing this for us. 

Man, at an event focused on getting more women to speak in panels: 

“I’ve tried so hard to get women to speak at panels! Maybe there is indeed something that you women also need to assess. In terms of your availability, I mean.”

Man, interrupting a female panel moderator who was wrapping the session:

“I would still like to add something…”

Moderator: “We have to finish here, thank you all for…”

Man, grabs mic: “So I wanted to add that it is also important that women take their space in the panels.”

Man, at a seminar, requesting the floor, referring to a senior woman expert who had just put forward a question:

“What my colleague here wanted to say, was that…”

Man, (proactively) assessing my performance at an event on Women’s Day:

(In a mock-female voice) “Oh I’m just here reading out my pre-prepared speech! That’s what you usually do, I mean, being a multilingual parrot. But hey, some of these arguments you gave during the chat, I mean, that was not pre-prepared! I’m not into this feminism and all, but I think you did good!”

In all fairness, it is not just men requiring us to explain ourselves and coming up with constant advise on how to be. Many women have been more than happy to chip in. Lean in! Lean out! Do this, do that! Be more like a man, play by their rules! Accept the game! Be a good guy! Embrace your femininity! Embrace your hidden masculinity! Network with other women! Network with men! Don’t network! Be a laugh! Don’t be a laugh!  Pick a tribe: be a Girlboss! Bosslady! Powerwoman! 

The focus is constantly on how women should be, in order to be right.

I thought about this a lot, especially because I heard the following arguments during so many discussions last week:

– It is our (us = women) responsibility to explain gender equality to men. We cannot expect our cause to be taken seriously unless we make ourselves understood to men. (Non-threatening) dialogue is important.

– Power structures (financial, political) will change on their own (as they so often do), and there’s no point in demanding a change through quotas, for example. Demanding is such an ugly word! We should aim for dialogue instead. Also, quota is such a charged term. No woman wants to be the quota woman. Quotas are discriminative per definition, and we want no part in that.

Eventually every discussion focused on how us women should be, and what should become of us. As if the equality of opportunity is taking its sweet time to assess whether we qualify, before letting us grab any of those high-hanging fruits. 

I was wondering whether we might be in danger of over-analysing ourselves to the point of losing the focus. More metaphorically, has the journey (of self-discovery) become more important than the destination (reaching gender parity)? 

In the future there will be more women in power, I’m sure of that. Being a sexist asshole will become as rare a thought as contemplating driving one’s kids around in a car without children’s seat and/or seatbelt on. Before that happens organically on its own (don’t start holding your breath just yet), it is a pity if the only legitimate public platform to make noise about this issue is once a year: on or around the 8th March. 

It is also a pity so many women feel that they do not have the right to demand. This is not the women’s fault, though. It is a huge, historical ship to turn: for the first 19 centuries it was a seamless, universal 100% men, 0% women quota for economic, societal and political participation. That gave men a rather comfortable lead to put together structures that reflected the constitutional quota of 100% men, 0% women. 

It is hallucination to think that this is something that will be rectified overnight.

So is thinking that women were given any rights without those before us demanding them.

It’s not all bad, though. The entertainment industry has taken great strides during my lifetime already. I recently happened upon some of the earlier seasons of Married With Children and The Nanny. The only explanation I can come up with for wasting air-time on re-running such  horrendous, sexist, misogynist, stereotyping, women-shaming, racist shit is to remind the Belgian audience of how far we’ve come already.

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