Gender stereotypes play a large part in persistent gender inequality. Women are still expected to be humble and withdrawn, or, in many cultures, submissive.
Men are still excused, by other men and many women, for their sexist or even violent behaviour. Because they are, apparently, “not able to control themselves.”
It is easy to find stories about poor girls and women being forced to marry their rapists. What is even worse is that religious and political leaders often support these decisions. “Woman tempted man. He, of course, could not help himself.” I can only try to imagine the fear and horror these women have to go through.
Primitive and Powerful
But this archaic behaviour does not only occur in certain cultures. Sexual harassment and misconduct still seem to be widespread even in countries where men and women are relatively equal.
On one hand, men still hold the majority of political seats and make up the vast number of business leaders. These are men who make complicated trade-offs and difficult decisions on a daily basis. Remember Dominique Strauss-Kahn, previous head of the International Monetary Fund? Not to mention the present toddler in the White House.
On the other hand, when interacting with the other half of humanity, they are suddenly back to the stone age. If they are not able to control themselves in the company of women, how are we supposed to believe in the decisions they make? That they have an extremely intellectual blue side of their brain, and an extremely primitive red side?
Sexual Harassment in Aid
Sexual harassment is highly likely prevalent in aid, but underreported. According to a survey made last year made by the Humanitarian Women’s network 55 % (!) of the respondents had experienced sexual harassment from male colleagues. Even more sadly, the majority did not report the incidents. They feared it would cost them a renewed contract or thought it was not worthwhile.
Sarah Pierce worked for the Carter Center and was raped by a fellow aid worker in South Sudan. She openly criticised her employer for the lack of support. That was, according to her, the reason why she was fired. I find it hard to believe that her story is unique. Adding to the horribleness was the fact that her supervisor, who asked Pierce whether she had led her perpetrator on, was a woman.
Primitive is Not Cool
Most men who commit some kind of sexual harassment do not end up as rapists, but they are still primitive. Furthermore, they are ridiculous. And I do not understand why any man, even if the perpetrator is their supervisor, accepts that these out-dated creatures represent their own gender. So, please do not smile or express any other sign of approval next time you hear somebody commenting a woman´s physical appearance in a sexist way, or makes more serious attempts of harassment. The good ones would even speak up against it.
But it is not only men who contribute to keep up archaic stereotypes. Women are in many cases just as guilty, through excusing these men. Dominique Strauss-Kahn´s wife defended her husband’s outrageous behaviour: “I’m even proud of it. It’s important to seduce, for a politician.”
I do not know whether to laugh or cry.
Most men probably do not have the clue about the damage and distress they cause through “innocent” remarks or unwanted physical attention. Hence, it is every human being’s responsibility to make them understand. Not just the ones who are the targets of the harassment.
I assume that for many men it is also about social approval, believing that being a “womaniser” makes you look cool and powerful. They do not.
Freedom to Be You
Ditching stereotypical behaviour is about being free to be yourself. That goes for both men and women. When you do not have to live up to an ideal most are not comfortable with. When men and women can indulge in needlework or boxing for that matter; without having to reflect on whether or not it fits into our image. You do it just because you want to.
As Barack Obama said:
Life became a lot easier when I simply started being myself.
Modern men are at ease with themselves. Primitive men are not.