Opinion: Why I, As a Woman, Am Sick of Paternalism | Sarah Stook

In 2018, the push for equality is still one which is strong in many areas of society. For some, we have not gone far enough and for others, it has gone too far. Never has gender equality been so relevant in the public sphere in recent years, with the election of accused misogynist Donald Trump and the plethora of sexual assault accusations making many wonder if equality is an achievable aim. On a non-sexual assault basis, many question the lack of women in leadership roles, whether the gender pay gap really exists and if there is discrimination in the workplace. Of course, these will depend on the views of the individual.

What I have observed, however, is that one of the main fixes seems to be a rather paternalistic attitude.

So many examples of this are beginning to crop up in our world. An example introduced only days ago comes from the conservative darling (that’s sarcasm for the left wing reader) Auntie Beeb. The broadcaster announced that it would have a 50:50 gender split when experts appear on its news, current affairs and topical programmes. Such a concept has been as polarising as one would expect but in this writer’s humble opinion, it’s just another example of the paternalistic attitude that I, and many women, are hopefully tired of.

Why Sarah, you ask, even if it’s not an ideal solution, is not at least effective in that it does increase gender equality?

Essentially, paternalistic attitudes are almost patronising in their methodology. If a woman is given a role, it is not because she is extremely educated, an expert in her field or a brilliant debater. She is there because she is a woman, nothing more, nothing less. No more of an explanation should be needed as to why it is so wrong that a person’s only worth is in their gender- that is against feminism and what feminism stands for. I don’t want to fault them for good intentions, but I do not wish to feel patronised. Yes, maybe there are more male experts on the BBC but they are there because they have something to bring to the table. The news is meant to inform, especially when presenters are merely reading off a teleprompter. Any expert- male or female- is there because they are an expert. Putting a person on the TV because of their gender is progression for progression’s sake, not for the imparting of wisdom or sharing valuable information. Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hours theory suggests that one becomes an expert in a field- any field- and we would expect that these experts have done this. They are professors from universities, work in think tanks or advise the government. I am sure women like Kate Andrews or Lucy Worsley, both of whom often appear in the media, have a lot of knowledge under their belt and have spent many hours at work. They have worked far too many hours to be simply called up by the BBC or Sky News because they are a woman. It’s an attitude that ignores hard work in favour of gender. Giving people a leg up is not a problem always, but it is in this case. The BBC executives look down at these women with an attitude of ‘well, these poor dears can’t get on TV but we’ll help them. Look at us, so progressive and virtuous.’ Like I said, their heart is in the right place but I cannot help notice how patronising it all seems to be. There is such an obsession with appearing to be proponents of equality that they ignore steps that could help- such as hiring women on merit and taking steps to encourage women into the media- in order to virtue signal. Adding women may increase quantity of women, but an increase in quality will not necessarily ensue.

It’s not only in media we have started to see paternalistic attitudes towards women. Noted virtue signaller Mark Ruffalo caused quite a stir in an interview. The Marvel actor said the following in a Buzzfeed interview:

‘When you’re privileged, you have a voice, and right now, men are privileged. They have a privilege over women. You know, that’s just the way it is… [men] have to make a safe space inside our privilege for women to speak up.’

Several things are wrong with that:

  1. He is ignoring that whilst men as a whole have had a historically better time and in many cases still do as a gender, it does not always equate to being wholly more privileged. Try telling a poor, working class man with no university education, a physical disability and suicidal thoughts (all too sadly common in men) that he is more privileged than a physically healthy, rich woman with a graduate degree. The movement for equality has left men behind- yes, men have problems people.
  2. We all know safe spaces just stifle free speech and are used to censor opinions that are not deemed ‘mainstream.’ I am sure that women that are conservative, pro-life or critical of the #MeToo movement will not be welcomed into a safe space.
  3. I do not need a man to give me a space to speak. I am able to stand up and tell people what I think without kindly being let in by a well-intentioned, but misguided, Hollywood actor. Ruffalo, as both a man and Hollywood liberal, probably expects that both of these things allow him to be heard better. The Hollywood liberal thing is probably true (you’ve seen the Oscars) but I disagree about the man idea. This idea that all women are shy, meek creatures who have been crushed by the patriarchy for thousands of years is utter bull. For a start, our British Prime Minister is a woman. In the USA, Hillary Clinton won the popular vote, Nikki Haley represents the US at the UN and Sarah Sanders speaks for the executive. As much as I despise Hillary Clinton, she is a tough woman and I do not believe she was impeded by any man. I don’t think the women of Hollywood have been too quiet about the massive sexual assault that happens in the industry either. It wasn’t just men that covered up the mass level of sexual assault- it was women too, an entire industry of hush ups. In his attempts to address inequality in Hollywood and in general, Ruffalo instead did the opposite. Ruffalo portrays men as privileged oppressors who control women- not true and women as quiet, oppressed angels too scared to speak up- not true. Nice job.

It is this victimhood status that is holding back women. This is not a critique of women themselves, but those who peddle the myth. On a Sky News debate on the gender pay gap, IEA worker Kate Andrews went up against Labour MP Stella Creasy. On it, Andrews stated that ‘the victimhood groups need to hit the reset button in order to keep their membership.’ She was referring to the gender pay gap in the very heated debate, but her point still stands for anything. In the modern media, women are portrayed in many ways:

  1. The Mark Ruffalo way, in which women cannot speak as they are downtrodden by men. No female privilege goes up against men, who make up the bulk of workplace accident victims, are the biggest victims of suicide and are often on the losing side in custody battles.
  2. The underdog in need of a boost. Positive discrimination is the prime example of this and as discussed, not the best idea.
  3. Constant victims as seen in the #MeToo movement. Yes, sexual assault against women is so prevalent that 1 in 4 women will sadly experience it in a lifetime and I am not going to detract from the seriousness of that movement. Yet, women who have been assaulted are constantly defined by their experience- they will always be the actor who spoke up against Harvey Weinstein and Brett Ratner. A woman should not have to be defined by their ordeal, but who they are and what they have become. We also should note that we have had male victims (Anthony Rapp accused Kevin Spacey) and female perpetrators- again, not all gender roles were set in stone.
  4. Always in need of help.
  5. Perpetual victims of the patriarchy.

Women are not inherently victims and that is something that we need to address. Yes, some circumstances make us victims- if we have been assaulted, abused or on the end of other societal ills but that is not exclusive to women, but men too. If womankind are constantly seen as victims, there is never going to be progression and it doesn’t matter if it’s women who see themselves as victims or men who do. Is it not as damaging to be stamped down by oppression than it is to be trapped into a box? In the United States, many on the left accuse the Republican Party in engaging in a ‘war against women’ and portray themselves as the only choice for the fairer sex. They forget that whilst a woman can care about abortion or birth control, they also care about the economy, taxes and national security. Identity politics and the expectations of gender have no place in the 21st century and are two things we have seen in older times. Only a year ago, a liberal friend ask how on earth I could be a female conservative or conservative feminist. Many on the left have a white knight fantasy, that only they and their social policies can ignite freedom in women. Is it safe to say that a woman who is educated in politics, participates in government and votes in her own mind is not a victim, but in control of her own destiny? I think so, regardless of whether they’re Thatcherites or Corbynistas.

As a woman- not as a conservative, not as a student, not as a writer, just a woman- I know I am not a victim. I do not need a BBC executive or Hollywood actor to tell me that I need them to help me succeed. I worked hard at school, got good A Levels and attend a successful university without being crushed by the patriarchy or helped by the man. In the future, wherever the wind has taken me, I do not want to be hired just because I am female. I want to be where I am because I worked hard and showed that I could do the work. What matters is what it in my head, nothing else. Theresa May beat out all the men in the 2016 Conservative leadership election alone, Nikki Haley raised her hand in that iconic image as a representative, not a woman and Oprah Winfrey became one of the most powerful businesswomen all on her own. They are not just inspirations as women; they are inspirations because they are hard-working, smart and amazing.

Considering all that women do in the world, it is safe to say victimhood is not in their DNA. It doesn’t matter if she’s a queen, lawyer, cleaner or housewife, she is not a victim. She may be a victim of circumstances, but she is not an inherent victim. Yes, some societies have an inherent bias against women but again, a victim of circumstances. Every woman is strong, brave and defiant in her own way. In Parliament, at work, as a mother, daughter or in the home, she is her own woman. Every lady needs to know that she is no victim.

I am no victim, you are no victim- and no woman is a victim.

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