Three whales of gender disparity

In the summer of 2016, the Ukrainian social networks exploded with the #яНеБоюсьСказати ("I am not scared to say") movement. Reading the blood-curdling stories about sexual abuse and harassment, I could not understand why it was happening and why Ukrainian women had been silent so long. And most importantly, why did only the flash mob trigger realization of what has happened to the girls as an act of violence, and we must speak about it as loudly as possible.
 © Olga Kurilina
A week ago, I was shocked by a message which appeared in one of the groups in the social networks. A participant of the group was asking for the opinions of her virtual friends: “During sex with my new partner, I was feeling pain. Sex was very, very painful, even my hands felt numb, and I could not bear it any longer. I asked him to be gentler, and he said, “Oh, you are sissy!” And he continued. So, I wondered whether his behavior was normal or maybe, I am really sissy?”.

This quote characterizes the situation in the world of home violence, indeed. This world rests on the idea of violence allowed in the society. In this society, a woman does not understand that she is forced to do something. This is supported by the existence of superstitions, later generating discrimination. While our laws are more or less close to the European and Americans standards, the darkness and confusion in the minds of the people and fixed in the human culture: they are the main cause of the position of the modern Ukrainian woman in the society. This huge turtle of superstitions is supported by three whales: women are always to blame, women are a kind of an accessory, and women are kept within the boundaries of traditional values.

Whale one: women are always to blame

Victim blaming is a firmly established method to explain negative events in the life of a woman: sexual abuse and psychological violence, beating, etc. When I understand that it is not the criminal but the victim who is to blame for what happened, I will behave differently, and the aggressor will not hurt me. Our brain helps us in fixating such a stereotype: it is easier for our conscience to understand that a girl did a bad thing having painted her lips red, rather than to admit the probability of crime happening to anyone! How can we live and walk along the streets safely?!

Did you notice that when a rape happens, the public looks for the reasons of this fact in the victim’s behavior: what did she do wrong and what was there in her behavior and clothes that provoked the man? The time of the day, the design of her dress, her gait, alcohol, the company, the district of residence — anything may be such a reason. I have an impression that, whatever the situation is, she is to blame, because she was born with the ХХ chromosomes. A rape may happen to a modest girl, who walks only in the morning and in the places where there are many people, but even such girls seem guilty in the eyes of the society. An act of aggression cannot be approved of in principle!

If a woman is beaten by her husband, the society blames her for having chosen the wrong husband: she should have been more cautious communicating with her fiancé, before she registered her marriage with him. Or she may be to blame for not leaving him. And if she leaves him, she is to blame for having destroyed the marriage. If she puts up with it, she is to blame for putting up and not being assertive. If she was assertive, it is her fault, too: let her now do the time in jail, she made the poor guy act that way, she provoked him, and then she mutilated him… The society may find lots of such ‘guilts’ for each of us. Get ready! Maybe, you are the next...

The society expects a woman to be simultaneously successful in her career, to be an interesting companion in a conversation, an excellent mother of four children of close age and a terrific lover of her husband! Do not forget about the abs! If she fails in something, she is to blame. If she works hard, she is a career freak, and she has abandoned her children completely. If she stays at home with the kids, she is a nothing but a housewife. If she breastfeeds her baby until the age of two years, she spoils him and does not allow him to grow up. If she has chosen formula for her baby, she is bad, as mother’s milk is the best which Mother Nature has invented! And if her partner is not successful, guess who is to blame? This is the reason why there are so many workshops and trainings devoted to inspiring a man to earn a million or more. “Well, are you ready to keep him?” — an advertisement asks. The answer comes immediately:

“You must:
1. be feminine;
2. give him the necessary energy;
3. easily and gracefully manage your relationship”.

Of course: if he left you, such a nice woman, that means you tried little. Perhaps, you were not feminine enough or maybe, you did not give him enough energy.

If something happens to a child (for example, your child does not behave at school, is hanging around, or maybe, something more serious has happened), neither mass media nor the people question the father’s participation. The active discussion and public judgement hit the mother, as if the father has nothing to do with the child. I would say, each news about an incident with a child is accompanied by comments in the internet accusing the negligent mother.

I have an impression that a woman is always to blame, no matter how much she tries and what she does. That is why the girl discussing the pain caused by sex to her assumes the guilt and asks, “Maybe, something is wrong with me?”

Whale two: objectivation of women.

In the eyes of the society, a woman is an object, an accessory, a gadget with its own characteristics. When we select a car or a telephone to buy, we check a number of parameters: the material it is made of, the design of the device, and its functionality: whether you are comfortable with the device or not. We wonder whether the accessory has been used, as it may have affected its quality. “Has the car ever been crashed or re-painted?”, we ask the seller.

With people, things should be different, as we are not only the design (our appearance), functionality and convenience of use (our character). People disclose themselves in their relations, they have internal qualities: intellect, character, values. If we choose a partner only by his/her looks and do not consider the rest, it turns out that we do not even think about the rich inner world of our partner.

I can state with a feeling of bitterness in my heart that in our country women who are ‘used’ (‘who have been married once or more than once’) are discarded by the society. It turns out that the society does not agree that experience is a value we gain from any relations or events. An accessory may be used. A human life cannot.

Objectivation flourishes in Ukraine. Firstly, there are strict demands for looks. I think many Americans and Europeans would be surprised to find out how devoted our girls are to working out in gyms and to dieting. When I traveled in Mexico, I was often asked, “Are all girls so skinny in your country? Or maybe, you are sick?” When I came to the gym of a maritime town of Tulum, I was the only girl in it who tried to stay in shape. By the way, according to Ukrainian standards, I balance on the verge of the allowed weight with my fifty-seven kilograms (125 pounds).

Our women are used to taking care of themselves through and through: finger and toe nail care, depilation, XS size, maximum S, eyebrows lining, hair styling, make-up, beautiful and uncomfortable clothes and shoes. From childhood on, a girl is convinced that intellect is not important, only pretty looks and obedience matter. It is these two parameters (I intentionally use a technical term to emphasize the gender imparity) that open a door to a happy future, which is a good marriage.

A woman as an object and decoration of the man’s reality is widely represented in the media. It is considered that, having placed a naked or almost naked girl in an advertisement, you will be able to sell any commodity. I will give you the actual examples: the advertisement of concrete (a woman wearing a swimsuit and a slogan “It gets firm with us”), tires (a half-naked girl is straddling a tire), a meat restaurant (three naked bodies are sitting with their backs to the viewer, the motto “Always fresh veal”).

Wait a little, is it possible to consider the needs and desires of a girl, if she is nothing but a beautiful accessory, a toy, “fresh veal” for you? No. This is why the girl from our first story heard a reply to her complaint: “Oh, you are sissy!”

Whale three: women are kept within the boundaries of traditional values.

Do you know what the attraction of vinyl disks is? A narrow circle of collectors has this hobby. For some people, this provides a possibility of touching the relics of the past. For others, it is a possibility of becoming a snob and of demonstrating an exquisite and subtle taste to the general public. Yet, generally, we listen to music from our telephone or tablet computer — just because this method is more convenient.

I am sure the situation should be the same with the traditional values so ardently propagated by the Ukrainian mass media and politicians. Let us leave them to historians to study. There is no need to drag them into the modern society! It is strange that people try to tighten these moldy notions onto the real modern globe, the world in which women study and work together with men, travel around the world and decide themselves whether to have children or not, and most importantly, how many of them and when.

I have a degree in history, and I attended one of the best universities of the country. I was always interested the traditions of which historical period are meant in this context. When they try to bring a woman back to the grassroots, I immediately think: are they talking about the V, X, XV or XIX centuries? In different centuries, there were different customs and habits and different notions of the rights, obligations, and capabilities of a woman.

However, the adepts of traditional values do not think what exactly they are talking about. Thus, a strange fusion of different notions of the role of a woman in the society has been formed. It looks as follows: a woman should be submissive with her husband, stay at home, devote herself to her children, be involved in truly feminine activities, like handicrafts, wear a long skirt, and pleat braids. So, any woman who does not meet these standards may sooner or later face the judgement of the society. It is interesting that if a woman decides to be traditional and then finds herself in a situation of physical or psychological violence, it will be very difficult for her to leave the aggressor without a job to rely upon and with children to take care of. People may say to her, “It is your fault, you saw what you were buying”.

This is why the girl from our first story was ready to endure explicit violence. To be submissive to a man is a demand of our society for the woman. Submission means tradition in the imagination of the ideologists of the anti-gender movement.

I only touched upon those stereotypes a Ukrainian woman faces every day and did not even mention different kinds of discrimination when hiring for a job, the difference in wages between men and women, segregation on the market, etc. I have only slightly ploughed the black soil on which violence grows and on which inequality between men and women flourishes in Ukraine. Although… why exactly in Ukraine? The mechanisms of gender disparity are the same everywhere.
© private Facebook-Seite

Anastasia Melnichenko

Chairperson of the NGO “Studena”, journalist, social activist. Her research interests include the history of sexuality. In 2016, Anastasia initiated the action # яНеБоюсьСказати (I'm not afraid to say), which raised a wave of discussions on the Internet and attracted serious attention to the topic of violence.





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