I’ve been distressed and disappointed to see that a survey released to coincide with the International Day of the Girl has revealed that only 8 per cent of Australian girls and young women perceive themselves as treated equally with males, and a mere 14 per cent believe they enjoy equal opportunities in life to their male counterparts.
Distressed to be confronted by the fact that half of our young people feel so disempowered by virtue of their sex and gender, and disappointed that 50 or 60 years of so-called ‘women’s lib’ has made so little difference to an age-old disgrace to the human race.
I have to admit that I feel not a little guilty, too, for this deplorable state of affairs. Because, as extensive involvement in Gender Studies has revealed to me, the feminist sympathies I formerly prided myself on having attained were and in many ways remain undermined by my seemingly ineradicable cultural conditioning as a male.
In other words, as strongly as I try to reject my allegedly superior and thus privileged position as a member of the patriarchy, I’m incapable of ever doing so entirely.
However hard I consciously strive to shed every vestige of sexism and genderism, even the very language in which I think and speak and write conspires to undermine and ultimately defeat my efforts.
In English, as doubtless in countless other languages, the female is not only linguistically a modification of or adjunct of, but also, as free association reveals, by clear implication inferior to the male, as in fie-male, fee-male, foe-male and flee-male.
And similarly the word ‘woman’ evokes such associations as woe-man, woo-man, war-man and whore-man.
Even ‘girl’ has its obvious downsides compared with ‘boy’, given that ‘girly’ has connotations of ‘silly’ or ‘flighty’, while ‘boyish’ is commonly associated with a positive quality like ‘charm’.
Faced with obstacles as fundamental as these, what on earth, I keep wondering, can I possibly do to help empower my wife, daughter and grand-daughter in their efforts to assert themselves as free-males?
Stop calling them ‘my’ wife, daughter and grand-daughter for a start, I guess, in a way that implies some kind of ownership despite the fact that I cringe at the thought of being taken to mean it that way.
At least I can console or perhaps kid myself that I’ve tried to do a few things right. When (with apologies for the possessive word) my now 21-year-old daughter Sammie was little, I did everything I could think of to exert my parental power for and with rather than over her by endlessly repeating the mantra ‘Sammie can’.
And, as childish as it might appear on my part, I made sure that one of the TV shows we regularly watched together was the Japanese cartoon series Power Puff Girls, with its trio of superheroines Bubbles, Blossom and Buttercup.
Perhaps most importantly, though, I tried to show her how much I appreciated her good fortune in having been born to such a ballsy and free-spirited mother.
A mother, who now that Sammie is an adult and a fully paid-up person in her own right, is also at pains to avoid smothering.
As I am even more so, and even possibly to a fault. Perhaps I go too far, as I suspect Sammie’s mother sometimes feels, in my project to empower my darling daughter by deliberately and concertedly abdicating the parental and inevitably patriarchal power I tried to exert with and for her during her childhood and teens, the better to foster her confidence in her own grown-up power.
Her unique combination of physical, intellectual, emotional, sexual and self-sustaining power that makes her at least the equal in principle and potential of any other person on earth, male, female or any other sex or gender.
Plus, for all those occasions in which she feels weakened, discouraged or even temporarily overwhelmed, as all of us do at times, by any of countless negative forces ranging from physical and mental weariness to emotional stresses arising from confusions, conflicts or even outright abuse, she has the support, thank goodness, of a stalwart group of free-male friends that collectively calls itself the V-Team.
That’s ‘V’ for not only ‘vagina’, of course, but also and most tellingly for ‘victory’.