"This is a bit sexist, isn't it?" asked my then twelve-year-old as we watched an episode from series one of TV3's The Bachelor. I replied that while on the surface it certainly could appear that having twenty-odd women vie publically for the attention of one man was indeed sexist, even misogynistic, an awareness of the bigger picture afforded a more benign view of the situation.
My understanding was that one of the losing girls would get her own spin-off series called The Bachelorette in which twenty-odd men would compete for one woman.
"And that is why, as long as men undergo similar indignities, we need not become too agitated about the signals this programme communicates," I explained wisely.
Well, what do I know? Sexism clearly rules at TV3 which is currently dishing up another series of The Bachelor. Different year. Different bachelor. Different set of women. Same old disempowering messages being broadcast to impressionable minds across the nation. It's not good.
But then it's all too easy to wind ourselves up about such obvious targets. Surely our energies would be better spent examining more widespread, more insidious, crimes against feminism. Every day tens of thousands of Kiwi women are making decisions that (whether intentionally or unwittingly) are bolstering the patriarchy. Here are five ways of betraying the feminist cause that are deeply entrenched in our culture.
1. Settle down with a man
There's nothing wrong with cohabiting or getting married per se. The concern is that the unwary may find that such conformist behaviour can lead to all sorts of crimes against feminism.
If there was a deliberate conspiracy to keep women in their place - you know, one being orchestrated by scheming men in a boardroom set into a cliff side in some secret location - I don't reckon it could be much more effective than the system that currently operates.
Women's power is kept diluted because individual autonomy is quietly eroded when women enter relationships with men - who just happen to be fully-paid up members of the controlling faction. How convenient!
If you decided to couch the power imbalance in terms of warfare, women are literally sleeping with the enemy. Add a bit of Stockholm syndrome and a dash of a what's-good-for-him-is-good-for-us attitude to the mix and you have the perfect recipe for women being downtrodden while encouraged to compromise their interests for the sake of the supposed greater good.
2. Change your surname
Women who swap their surname for that of their husband are signalling to themselves, to their children and to the world at large that women are less important than men. These women may well repudiate this notion - and will doubtless have all sorts of sentimental, romantic or even pragmatic reasons why they've opted for subservience in this regard - but the underlying message of women's inferiority and second-class citizenship is nonetheless furthering the cause of men intent on remaining at the top of the pecking order.
3. Give your children your partner's surname
This oversubscribed cliché is just another way of bolstering men's egos and reinforcing the status quo. The subtext is: "Men are important. Women are not. Men's surname's survive through the generations. Women's do not. So there."
4. Become the primary caregiver
When women decide to bear the brunt of the responsibility for raising the children, they free up the time and minds of men who then are unfettered in their pursuit of career advancement, self fulfillment or simply devising ways to ensure the patriarchal system endures. Meanwhile, the women who ease men's path through the world in this manner are so absorbed in the minutiae of child-wrangling there's little chance they have the energy to revolt. In this way men's power increases while women's power decreases. It's a win-lose situation weighted firmly in favour of men.
5. Give up your career
The low number of women on company boards is often lamented. Well, I reckon I know where some of these missing women directors are.
In 2008 when my daughter started school I met dozens of highly-qualified mothers at pick-up time. Doctors, lawyers, accountants and other professionals had left their jobs to become the primary caregiver while their children were little.
Eight years later, most of them are still not working in their original career. Of course, even if they are working, their career trajectory has been seriously compromised by the years out of the workforce. It's my belief that this group of women, who put motherhood ahead of career, represent the missing board members. Perhaps low levels of women directors are less about institutional sexism and more about the choices of individual women - choices, no doubt, fuelled in the first place by the gender pay gap. It's complicated.
For the record, I'm guilty of committing crimes one, five and, arguably, four. Even with my eyes wide open, I score pretty poorly on the feminist front - which must explain why I'm a minor fan of The Bachelor. It's such an un-PC train wreck, I can't not watch it. And we wonder why the patriarchy thrives.
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