Myths and stereotypes that distance us from equality

Myths and Stereotypes that Distance us From Equality español

Atenea Acevedo

Translation: Machetera for Tlaxcala

One of the most deeply rooted pillars of inequality between men and women in societies throughout the world is that of the sexual division of labor.  Proponents of gender inequality, that is, social constructs based on genital differences as the element that grants greater or lesser hierarchical privileges to a particular sex, usually choose one of two easy paths to explain and legitimize different treatment granted men and women.

The first consists of trying to make inequality a natural phenomenon by validating it with supposed biological arguments, such as that of the genitals being the definer of temperament and character, abilities or clumsiness, predilections or detachments, and even the affinity for particular occupations and pastimes, in addition to the sexual orientation of people who, according to such a scheme, are considered “normal.”

Byzantine arguments persist surrounding the Spanish use of the word “gender” to refer to the arbitrary attribution of characteristics to one sex or another, on the basis of socio-cultural conventions.  Scores of disciplines around the world such as anthropology and sociology have integrated this component in their studies and reflections in order to conclude that there is no universality whatsoever in the roles assigned to women and men, including the division of labor.  However, in the name of suppositions that are little more than socio-cultural inventions, we’ve lost sight of the mosaic of human plurality in order to fall back on generalizations; it’s sufficient to spend a few hours in a bar or cafeteria in any part of the world in order to hear phrases such as the following: “Men are like that by nature,” (substituted for a favored prejudice or whatever comes to mind), and “What did you expect?  At the end of the day, she’s a woman” (a liar, an idiot, clever, emotionally dependent…).  “She’s on her period, it’ll pass,” or “He’s gay?  Wow, and I thought he was so manly” (as though homosexuality invalidates the genital characteristics that are a sexual attribute).  We forget surprisingly quickly that humanity is an infinite array, that every person is unique and that we are much more than the contents of our private parts and the flow of hormones through our bloodstream.

The second path to argue for inequality as something irreversible consists of dipping into history.  This argument is, that if the world has functioned since time immemorial under a social organization in which men and women perform particular tasks, why in just the last decades have we all gone crazy, seeking clarification and change?  Isn’t that going against not only nature but also our own past as social groups?  We ignore the fact that history is written by the victors, not the vanquished, and the documentation of the role of women through centuries of patriarchy would have no reason to constitute an exception.

That’s why it’s refreshing to read that the Provincial Archaeological Museum of Badajoz, in Spain, presented a show titled Woman in Pre-History, catalogued by the museum itself as gender based archaeology, namely, a compilation of recent investigations that toss out the window the things we were told in our grade-school history classes and still see in all the museums we are dragged to at some point in our childhood: images of prehistoric hairy men with an inexplicable sense of modesty, covering their genitals with animal skins, organized into groups of hunters, aiming arrows at a mammoth; prehistoric women with skirts made of grass or animal pelts, with a child at the breast while diligently gathering fruits with their free hands.  Our primogenital memory insists from a hidden part of the mind: men go out to work and are providers, women remain at home, raise offspring and prepare food.

Collective thought is marked by the unquestionable notion, thanks to history’s presumed weight and the supposed evidence from nature, that public space is the masculine domain and private space belongs to women.  However much we congratulate ourselves, either genuinely or hypocritically, for the “advances” represented by the determined integration of women in the salaried working world, and men’s timid incursions in domestic work, we carry within a tiny voice that insists that something about this is abnormal.

And behold, an exhibition, which as a traveling one, we hope might have sufficient stamina to reach as many places as possible – because it’s necessary everywhere – we must begin to say that it’s not what we were told: according to certain investigations, there were groups in which women participated in the hunt and men at the hearth.  Said quickly it might seem insignificant but it forces a relevant and even urgent reflection: neither biological nor historical determinism can be erected any longer as a thesis to sustain discrimination.  Since all of society is built upon common participation and no kind of work has any reason to be favored over another, there’s no reason that men or women should have to submit to a straitjacket that implies an obligation to meet unfounded social expectations.

Certainly, one of these expectations relates directly to men and what has lately been referred to as their “sexual performance.”  Recently an article circulated in the Spanish language media about the research being performed to create a pink pill; that is, a feminine Viagra.  In their determination to make us believe that with women, everything is complicated, specialists with expressions that might be either annoyance or irony, say that feminine desire is of overwhelming complexity and there doesn’t seem to be any way to pharmaceutically resolve the problem of weak libido…as though where men are concerned, effectively everything can be resolved with a tablet and half a glass of water.

One expert even goes so far as to say that masculine sexuality is like a simple switch and female sexuality like the dashboard of an airplane.  In a macho culture that is equally cruel to men and women, few males would dare to be indignant about such an affirmation and even less to point out that their sexuality is also complex, just like their private world, and it’s not simply about having an erection, maintaining it, and ejaculating – that their penises aren’t switches and satisfaction is measured by more than a few centimeters of swollen skin.  Few men recognize this truth: pharmaceuticals can provoke an erection (and a heart attack) but they are not capable of magically producing desire from an invisible hat.  Or that in these times of crisis there is no Viagra to aid against the depression of not being able to carry out the role of provider that was assigned to them at birth by society.

One must ask who benefits, aside from the pharmaceutical industry, from the misleading advertising campaigns disguised as concern for public health, according to which “one of every five males over the age of 40 suffers from erectile dysfunction.”  One must ask who benefits, besides the pharmaceutical industry, from the perpetuation of this mistaken idea that heterosexual sex, that is to say, what is considered socially “normal,” is only conceived in terms of penetration and marathon endurance, as though we were talking about a long distance race.

Wouldn’t it be more liberating for everyone to acknowledge that there are many ways of having intimacy and sharing delight?  How much bitterness would we save ourselves if at home and in school we spoke openly about emotions and self-care, as well as the mechanics of sex?  And if the anatomy diagrams that we studied like parrots in secondary education were to include the clitoris?  If we were to learn to see the skin as a territory without limits?  There’s no doubt that we’d be better people if we developed the capacity to link ourselves together on the terrain of respect and solidarity, whether it be through occasional sex or with a lifetime partner, and all the modalities in the array of possibilities.  We deserve more enjoyable, authentic and equitable human relationships, in and out of bed.  Unfortunately, the goal still appears some distance away.

Atenea Acevedo and Machetera are members of Tlaxcala, the international network of translators for linguistic diversity. This translation may be reprinted as long as the content remains unaltered, and the author, source, and translator are cited.

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