In September, in a piece entitled 'Sexism is alive and well', I gathered together "examples of women not being afforded the equality and respectful treatment they deserve".

Now, less than two months later, may I present the second instalment of an ongoing series featuring gender-based news stories in which the dynamic between men and women is skewed, deeply problematic and even abusive.

Women from history are overlooked

The Passport Office stands accused of "airbrushing great British women from history" thanks to the gender imbalance of historical figures pictured on the brand new British passport: "[o]nly two of nine cultural figures depicted in a new version of the travel document are female."

My first response was one of curiosity, a desire to see the algorithm that was used here to rank the relative value of historical figures. If the inputs were robust and women genuinely failed to make the grade, then perhaps the choices can be justified. Maybe this imbalance could be used as a springboard for a discussion about the persistent social, cultural and institutional oppression of women over the centuries. But then my thoughts turned to the young British women of today who will carry these passports that silently infer their achievements will count for less than those of men, and I'm more inclined to wonder how difficult it would have been to have traded a couple of those blokes for sheilas.

Advertisement

Men feel threatened by "smart women"

An article that opens with the question "Why do some men run a mile from intelligent women?" is not what anyone would want their impressionable teenage daughter reading during exam time.

It revealed that a new study by psychologists from three US universities tested 105 men and found that "smart women made them feel less masculine". Evidently, "even though most men like the idea of dating an intelligent woman, put them in front of one and that attraction suddenly withers". This study is likely to unsettle both genders. Men, quite rightly, will be affronted by assertions that they are intimidated by intelligent women while women are given notice that being brainy just might backfire on them in a social setting.

Rules about how to be a lady

On one level Country Life magazine's light-hearted, tongue-in-cheek 39 rules on how to be a lady can be viewed as just a bit of fun: a lady owns a little black dress, carries a hanky and doesn't boast on Facebook. (Yes, they also have rules for gentlemen.)

But the assertion that "a capable lady knows when to let her gentleman take charge (or let him think so)" is guaranteed to raise a few eyebrows. It reinforces the notion that the natural order of the world involves women submitting to the will of men. It also reinforces the stereotype of the hapless male being outwitted by a scheming woman. It's an equal opportunity claim that manages to be offensive to both genders.

Uneven burden of "emotional labour"

Planning what is for dinner, remembering birthdays, arranging children's playdates and thinking about buying new sheets because the old ones are getting tired are all examples of "emotional labour" - a responsibility that is all too often taken care of by the woman of the household.

One article asks: "what if, much like childcare and house keeping, the sum of this ongoing emotional management is yet another form of unpaid labo[u]r?"

There's a school of thought that it is this taken-for-granted service (usually provided by women) that gives men the freedom to go out every day with minds unimpeded by the minutiae of daily life. Perhaps those people performing emotional labour should go on strike until their efforts are appreciated or at least acknowledged.

Covering up sexual exploitation

It was recently reported that "senior boys" from a New Zealand secondary school "had a competition where they would get young girls drunk and they would dangle their genitalia over their faces and take photos".

As if that wasn't bad enough the images were then posted on Facebook. But wait, there's more. The perpetrators were not charged; police just issued a warning to the boys concerned. And, to smooth it over even more seamlessly, the school has not been named, simultaneously ensuring that all secondary schools are under a cloud of suspicion and signaling to the offending boys that serious consequences do not ensue from performing "lewd acts on drunk girls".

All in all, it has the hallmarks of a very slick and coordinated cover-up operation. It's appalling that the interests of the male perpetrators have been deemed more important than those of the female victims.


- nzherald.co.nz