Reflections On Women’s Rights In Society & Education
Today’s metaphor is the modern caveman in all his guises and glories:
International Woman’s Day on March 8th brought with it a flurry of articles, insights and inspired shares all over social media. Men and women around the world wished to share their feelings on the gender divide and offer an explanation as to why we are the way we are. Most importantly, however, most people wanted to express solidarity and hope for universal peace and freedom.
Here are some of my thoughts on the wider issues and misconceptions regarding how women are treated in ‘respectable’societies.
1) Even women from the most liberated countries on the planet are not free.
Women’s freedom is very elusive because we often forget what freedom is. Or should I say that we can’t remember something that we have never had. Therefore one’s vision is thwarted from the outset.
This international celebration is potent, however, as a reminder of women’s struggles. It’s also valuable as an opportunity for men who truly respect womanhood ( and who have liberated themselves from the caveman effect) to offer their own support, questions and thoughts on the meaning of womanhood and gender equality.
It is in this light that I’ll discuss the gender issue in society today and what educators can do about it.
2) This blog post is an abstract on women’s rights – NOT!!
This article is not about theory, it’s about practice. It’s about the every day reality of millions of women all over the world.
It’s also not just about the kinds of extreme violence that gets front page coverage in the media. Rather it’s about the subtler kinds of every day violence that women have to put up with. These subtle kinds are even more deadly because they are invisible, chronic, insidious, pervasive, contagious and debilitating.
Women’s rights should not be based upon academic abstractions, they should be manifestos written from the collective blood, tears and pain of women, children and men all over the world.
Sometimes simple gestures speak louder than words.
Sometimes music, community and feelings speak louder than words.
Here’s a collection of empowering songs inspired by Cecile Florenty Paspa who initiated an international crowd-sourced songfest on facebook for International Woman’s Day.
3) Teachable songs make teachable moments for healthy social devleopment.
We could use this collection of songs for English language lessons on women and society. Students (boys and girls) could choose which song which tells them something new about women or makes them think.
a) What the song teaches them about women.
b) How the song makes them think.
c) How this song will change something they do in future.
The can begin this with the sentence stem;
” From now on…..”
d) They can comment on each others songs and insights.
e) If they don’t like the songs on the list they can embed their own meaningful songs and complete steps a, b c, d.
4) The law is not enough.
We can see that even when there are laws to protect women, there is nothing in place to create deeper change from within. Therefore the caveman will find new ways to exist alongside the law.
Today’s caveman has evolved to be quite disarming and paradoxical. He has come a long way in cunning but not very far in sophistication. Therefore we are dealing with men who have become street angels and house devils.
Many modern caveman are educated people, doctors or other highly-respected members of society who thrive in the limelight and fight in the homelight. They may be social campaigners who lead demonstrations on keeping the streets safe and then go home to terrorise their own families.
The women who are terrorised in their own homes can open their doors and try to get help if social taboos or downright fear doesn’t prevent them from doing so.
1 in 3 women in Europe have experienced or are experiencing psychological abuse from modern cavemen. These are just the ones we know about as these hidden crimes are grossly under-reported. For many women it seems too dangerous to even try reporting it – especially if their phone lines are bugged etc.
According the the EU report above:
“What emerges is a picture of extensive abuse that affects many women’s lives but is systematically under-reported to the authorities. The scale of violence against women is therefore not reflected by official data. “
To learn more about this, please check out this extensive EU-wide survey.
5) We perpetuate violence by counting the wrong blessings.
As women put up with the daily emotional/psychological abuse of the modern caveman, they may console themseves by thinking that at least their partners never hit them or engage in other more extreme acts of violence. However, they don’t realise that these many little abuses build up to become more than the sum of their parts.
If each little act of disrespect were envisioned as an ugly bruise or broken arm, then women would stop excusing these sinister ‘blessings’ earlier on in their relationships.
6) To pay or get paid?
Or should I ask about paying for getting paid?
Women have struggled hard and long for the right to work and get equal pay for equal work. Yet, even if every country and law in the world were to equalise women in this respect, many women still have to pay for getting paid at home.
This means that rather than being liberated they have to live double lives. They still do the traditional work as an unequal partner in a patriarchal household, while receiving little encouragement or validation. Sometimes they even have to hand over all their earnings as well.
Women are often sorely tested in the home and pay dearly for daring to work outside the home.
7) What can happen if women open their doors?
a) Their neighbours may not believe them or take them seriously.
b) Their neighbours may try to fix their marriage for them or give well-meaning counselling advice that makes the problem worse.
c) Social proof and social standing will often ensure that the modern caveman becomes impervious to any criticism or calls for help.
d) The neighbours often have their own problems and reaching out to them is like sinking further into the quicksand.
e) The modern caveman is too cunning to leave visible scars on his wife and children. The modern caveman knows how to inflict invisible wounds that go unnoticed by society.
f) Neighbours may not want to get involved.
The main problem here is that there are no community structures in place where women or non-violent people can protect each other. Modern society has developed closed door societies that render women and children helpless in their own homes.
If women were to open up to each other, go back to community-style living, stop idolising privacy and stop fearing gossip, the modern caveman would no longer be able to dominate communities or homes.
8) What we can learn from the bonobo matriarchies?
This headline could have the answer:
Bonobos Join Chimps as Closest Human Relatives.
If cavemen want to keep their caves, women can thrive in their open matriarchies. Caveman may have evolved from chimpanzee brutality but what about our other closest living relative in the animal kingdom, the bonabo?
Bonabo societies are peaceful matriarchies completely different from the violent chimpanzee tribes. If we are evolved from both chimps and bonobos, it pays to learn how the bonabos manage violence and keep chimp-like tendencies at bay.
Women and men could do worse than to emulate how bonabo societies are organised.
” An international team of researchers has sequenced the genome of the bonobo for the first time, confirming that it shares the same percentage of its DNA with us as chimps do. “
The national geographic describes bonabos as The Female Alpha.
“At a juncture in history during which women are seeking equality with men, science arrives with a belated gift to the feminist movement. Male-biased evolutionary scenarios—Man the Hunter, Man the Toolmaker and so on—are being challenged by the discovery that females play a central, perhaps even dominant, role in the social life of one of our nearest relatives.”
What does this really mean for us?
Well, although we are stuck in patriarchal societies and although violent men try to use their strength against us by dividing us, we can do what the bonabo matriarchs do and refuse to be divided. If any bonabo female is ever in danger, the perpetrator is isolated and sent away by tne matriarchs and their supportive males.
That means opening up, telling the truth, refusing to be ashamed and laughing in the face of gossip. It also means raising our sons to express their feelings safely, and challenging teachers in schools to teach social and emotional intelligence.
9) Misguided sisterhood.
Even when women can reach out to their female friends it’s not enough. Too much sisterhood can isolate women from the men who want to understand. The ones who have found ways to evolve beyond the caveman mentality.
This is the way forward.
HeForShe is a platform for men who are standing up to address inequalities and discrimination faced by women and girls.
Here’s a TEDed lesson quiz I made from Emma Watson’s United Nations speech.
“If men don’t feel compelled to be aggressive, women won’t feel compelled to be submissive,
If men don’t feel compelled to control, women won’t have to be controlled”
If cavemen had the slightest inkling of how popular post-modern cavemen are with women they would surely try to ape the ways of empathy and social/emotional intelligence.
Yet, sadly, it’s often too late to undo damage and brutalised mindsets. These cavemen were the first victims of patriarchy. The ones bred to be violent.
Therein may they find forgiveness but never acceptance.
Yet, the way forward is for men and women to work together. This is happening now.
Women can also just associate with more enlightened men, isolate sexism and sexist men and get legal and psychological help if they are already in trouble.
The most important thing is to always express oneself and keep an open door policy.
As language teachers we can inculcate the values teenagers need to learn so that they can break through the violent cycles of present generations. We can teach our students to be socially/emotionally intelligent problem solvers.
I’ll be sharing lessons and concepts around this at the 36th TESOL Greece Conference next weekend.
The presentation is called “Seven multi-media lessons for highly successful teenagers” – based on a book by Sean Covey.