You would hope that by 2019 the issues regarding human rights that people fought to destroy wouldn’t still pervade our society, but much that dominates the news and social conversation still centres around a lack of rights affecting many around the world. Many are shunned due to a disregard for multiple different human rights, but the violation I, and so many others in today’s society, experience is directly related to my sex and gender identity.
Sexism, in its many forms, is something that we should have left in history, but still appears at the forefront of women’s lives, despite many in history fighting for basic rights as well as their own autonomy. I think back to 1903 and the formation of the suffrage movement that fought for the right to vote for women, marking the start of what would later be referred to as the first wave of feminism. In gaining the right to vote, women were given a voice to exercise in order to make themselves heard and claim what seems to be the most basic of human rights: equality and freedom of speech. Feminism as a movement has made waves since 1903 in an effort to further the rights of women and gain the same privileges as men so we may become equal to, not better than, them.
However, whilst this isn’t an exploration into feminism, the rights of women are inextricably linked to feminism as a movement and the feminist ideology. Had I been born a man I would not experience half of the violations that I do on an almost daily basis. It’s true that there may be other sources of ridicule used to degrade others’ human rights but those that defile a woman, and that I have experienced, can be attributed to none other than my sex and gender identity.
There is a certain impossibility in trying to pin down when sexism was first evident in my life and I couldn’t even say when I first noticed it. All I am reminded of is sitting in a French class learning grammar and my teacher informing us that the best way to remember that ‘kitchen’ holds a feminine preposition is because ‘women belong in the kitchen’. Cue retrospective shock. At the time I wasn’t surprised, making clear to me how ingrained sexism was as part of my understanding of the world and the place of a woman.
Sexism towards women is present in a multitude of ways, but lucky for me I can count my experiences on one hand. What is most prominent in my life, at this current moment, is the unwanted attention and abuse from strangers in public; I recall the cat calling, shouting, leering, unsightly gestures, and the more serious side of all of this, assault. I have experienced all of these at one point or another in my life, and although one could say the same abuse can happen to anyone, I fear that that assertion only makes reductive mine and others’ encounters of sexism.
Cat-calling permeates the society I live in, where women (generally) are the victims in everyday mundane situations; there is no link to the clothes they wear, what they are doing, or even their age. However, a new breed of cat-calling has sprung forth: the silent, less obvious version that is more threatening and invasive. There’s huge debate over whether or not we should be less offended by the loud-mouthed cat-calling we receive as, after all, shouldn’t we take it as a compliment? I completely disagree with this notion, but it is harder to argue over this new, ‘silent-but-deadly’, type of attention as it comes down to perspective.
A discrepancy in perspective became apparent to me when walking with my male friend. We both noticed a man in his car signal someone across the road; he saw the man as just gesturing the woman across, whereas I saw the same man gawking at this woman, winking, and staring as she walked off with that infamous and indescribable ‘laddish’ smirk. But why did we notice two completely different behaviours? Perhaps because of my experience of the later and seeing it happen to multiple women around me every day, and his lack thereof? Or am I imagining it? Such behaviour is responsible for this damaging thought process; it’s silent, there is no obvious evidence of it happening, and the interpretation of it is subjective. It takes away the conviction of women to say something has happened and diminishes our experience of human rights violation down to heresy.
In addition there is a more sinister side of violation which I feel happens as a result of my sex: assault. I have been assaulted twice in my life, both at different ages (13 and 18), both by men that were much older than myself, both with physical abilities that could overpower me. I disregard what I was wearing and my age, because I don’t think that plays any role, and focus on the fact that because of my sex I am viewed as passive, vulnerable, powerless, and therefore at risk of such violation. What I take issue with is that I played into this view of my sex by not knowing what to do, in becoming passive and letting it happen for fear and lack of understanding about what I could do. So, how do we combat this?
No one should be violated because of their sex, but I have no idea as to the right way to go about stopping this. Maybe we shout back when we are called at instead of smiling passively with our head down. Maybe we change the social thinking of what it means to be a woman -something already happening with the growing feminism movement and helped with increased support. Perhaps education is needed for women to learn what to do in the event of extreme violation because, after all, educating people that assault is bad wont help if that’s their goal.
It’s hard to know what to do and how to maintain women’s human rights. I pin that pessimism to the fact that no matter how many people say we have equality between the sexes, we definitely don’t. Many are still walking around blind to the injustices women face and selfishly think it is an issue left in the past. It is present, it has always been present, and unless we use our voice and our actions to fight for it, we might as well chain ourselves to the AGA.