Since Hillary Clinton failed to ascend to the presidency of America as the first female over 12 months ago, gender generalisations have percolated into most perspectives supposedly to understand the machinations, malfeasance and malice around the world; be it about toddlers and the toys they play with, academic choices by students, achievements in the workplace, participation in politics and business, sordid sexual harassment, the incidence of domestic violence as well as of course the controversy about income inequality and salary equity, among others.
Socio-economic and political interpretations and analyses of these significant issues are increasingly debated in gender parlance, powerful males as the usual suspects in inhibiting female efforts at equality across all walks of life be it in Australia, America, Asia, Africa or Europe.
A plethora of books, media articles, magazine musings and broadcast rants focus on females as hapless victims in some pervasive male conspiracy that undermines their intelligence, talents, sexuality and prowess, not just in so-called western democracies but patterned almost so universally that I am grieved by this gender grip that eschews more pertinent and profound complexities that are just as relevant and real. This grip seems to preclude perceiving the particular about circumstances, ambition, needs, wants and most other details that affect all people’s lives more comprehensively. Attributing gender as the only and important definitive reality denies our quintessential humanity.
Moreover, it traps everyone into simplistic solutions that subsume just and equitable outcomes will inevitably ensue without appreciating a myriad of other encompassing elements. Promoting gender as the paramount paradigm above and beyond others obfuscates responsibility for one’s own life, conveniently and disingenuously plying the gender grip as the raison d’etre for all misdemeanours, misadventures and miscalculations. This apparently is the new agenda for both males and females.
That’s not to affirm gender as a neutral, but to highlight that singling out gender as overwhelmingly significant in all realities negates other factors that contribute to our existence. In over 50 years, the rhetoric of revolutionary zeal to augment female power as “equal” to male doesn’t seem to have changed except to have become even more fixated and fashionable. The dramatic change is gender is not only the preoccupation but an obsession, not just for females, but males now too, whereby individual differences within gender are ignored, generalisations reigning sacrosanct.
Undoubtedly, many females and males DO see gender as the only issue as do diverse social commentators, academics and other ordinary people, with all the biases, both conscious and unconscious, that point of reference suggests. This is sadly how public discourse has evolved over the decades as if gender explains and clarifies all unfairness, injustice and inequities for males and females.
If young Johnny actually prefers to play with toy trains rather than dress-up dolls, why is this problematic? Similarly, if adult Annie prefers being a homemaker, mother and uninterested in an ambitious career, why is that a source of shame and guilt? Should societal tenets tell anyone what to be or what to do and how to live? Yet, underpinning the obsessive gender discourse is exactly that; if only more girls studied STEM subjects, more females asked for pay rises, called out sexual harassment, reported violent abusive male partners, complained more vociferously about their subservient status, they would be afforded greater opportunities and receive “a fair go”. It is as if females must be more like males, aping their modus operandi in order to redress their second-class realities. Surely the quest for all of us is to enjoy the opportunity to be who we really are as individuals with our gender at times relevant as much as irrelevant at others.
Furthermore, as testimony to this phenomenon, we read that women can be as lustful as men are presumed to be, and as violent, and ambitious, and ruthless, and…and; there seems no end to the scribes and research revealing women are now, or can be, the “same as men as if it’s surprising, or maybe shocking that this is for real. This gender emphasis permeates so much public discourse that over fifty years since I first started thinking about all these issues we haven’t ventured into a domain with a dialogue about difference but instead are simply now applauding the modern female living as the traditional male did in the past.
The tragic irony about this gender grip is that while the 60s and 70s feminist movement inspired liberating choices, certainly for me, the opposite now seems extant where women are being told they must ‘compete’ with males to be fully functioning and free women, no longer trapped in the kitchen, the bedroom, in lowly paid jobs or traditional female occupations such as teaching, nursing or retail. The question I ask is how free, and/or liberated, are young females today to make choices that are individual, based on their personal interests and passions rather than be dictated by what many 21st century feminists, parents, politicians, teachers and peers believe is the more politically correct destiny for them? Likewise for young males who may still fear ridicule and persecution for preferring to be a nurse rather than a doctor? Or any man who does want to adhere to an alpha male 24/7 lifestyle as his own breadwinner and boss instead of being some hyper-sensitive, touchy-feely, doting dad who tucks his children into bed every night? Past traditional stereotypes may have been abandoned and adapted to this 21st century, but seem no less proscribing and limiting as many I experienced 50 years ago.
Tired, even bored and fed up with the gender mantra for today’s males and females, I can only hope that common sense inculcates itself into social conversations about individuality with more imaginative and genuinely liberating ideas in the future.