Saturday, 27 September 2014

Privilege

A few weeks ago I wrote another post about privilege (in Bulgarian) which focused on the "privilege pyramid" in this world - men>women, white>black, hetero>homo, cis>trans. I sort of concluded that even though I'm gay, I'm still a white cis male and as such I'm more privileged than a whole lot of people in the world.

But that was a simplistic who's more privileged than who. A few nights ago, during a short chat with a Facebook friend, it hit me how society treats women, even if they are white, cis and straight. In this particular case, my friend is in her late 30's and lives in Bulgaria, but I know that these attitudes are pervasive in the whole world, to a lesser or larger degree. Yes, I'm sure even in Sweden women have to endure certain patriarchal rants from their parents.. 

So here are some of the things my friend said: 
- "I've heard so many times, even from other women, how it's better to have a boy than a girl".. I've heard this too.. In rural patriarchal Bulgaria boys are supposedly stronger and can do more and heavier work on the field (of corn, wheat, sunflower, potatoes, herding, etc) than girls and, when they grow up, boys stay in the family home and bring their wives and everyone helps with the field work. Girls grow up, get married and move in with their husbands and their families and help on someone else's field. What a waste of time, money and food it is to have a girl, when 20 years later she won't help you in the field anymore. Besides, "you're always worried about girls" - that they'll get raped or knocked up and bring shame to the whole family because who will want to marry a woman with a bastard child? But how does a girl grow up hearing that her parents and everyone else prefers having a boy? 
- "I've had enough of being told that no man will marry me if I can't cook". Yes, a terrible quality in a woman - to not be able to cook (or rather, not be able to cook like her mother and even more so - like the future husband's mother!). As a comparison - I started "experimenting" with cooking when I was around 16 and I was often told that any woman would be lucky to have me for a husband because I like cooking. So a man doesn't *have to* be able to cook but if he does - he's a most eligible bachelor. On the other hand - if a woman doesn't like cooking - no one will take her and what kind of life is that? 
- "I've even heard that it's fine if a man beats his wife when she 'makes mistakes' - to teach her". Yes, I've heard this one too. The important thing for a woman is not to have a happy life but to get married.. at any cost.. to anyone.. do what her husband tells her.. and endure it no matter what.. In the worst case - she can go and cry on her mother's shoulder.. 

Of course I've had my share of gender stereotypes too. I was a shy, quiet, vulnerable and fragile child, who hated getting his hands dirty with field work, hated the smell of sheep, cows or pigs, couldn't raise his voice to anyone or hurt a fly. Instead, I preferred to play quietly with dolls, to help the women in the kitchen, to sing and dance, study my lessons, chat on the phone and read books. I often heard "what kind of a man will you grow up to be?!?" (suggesting that apparently - the wrong kind) or "you're so lazy and good-for-nothing" but in a way this also came with a silver lining - there would be endless intellectual possibilities before me, everyone would envy my curly hair and long eyelashes and any woman would be lucky to have me - so sweet, kind, smart and loves cooking. When I grow old I'll just look mature, when I get a beer belly it will be sexy, when I go bald it will be a sign of manhood, if I get violent - it will be because a man knows what he wants... 

And what can a girl "do right"? If she's pretty or sweet - you'll be worried that she'll get raped, if she's not - that she won't get married; if she's smart and ambitious and feisty - that men will be intimidated and... she won't get married... In a patriarchal society the girl's future is prescribed for her - she needs to be able to cook, get married and give birth and what happens in the meantime or how she feels is not important. A woman is only judged by the attitudes of men towards her. 

Luckily many girls (like my sister and perhaps my Facebook friend) grow up to be their own women regardless of what their parents or society or other women tell them. But they have to live all their lives with these deep-rooted notions of pre-determination, expectations and the constant reminders that they need to be pleasing to men. On the other hand boys - whatever they are and do - "will be boys" and that's normal, accepted and encouraged. 


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