“I don’t know about a woman in the White House!”
Back in 2008 when Hillary Clinton ran against Barack Obama as a candidate wanting to secure the Democratic Party’s nomination as a Presidential Candidate, a popular reaction across the United States, especially in the conservative states, was that they couldn’t trust a woman in the White House. Having been brought up in a country that had a Female Prime Minister back in the 1970s and had its first female President in office at that time, this popular opinion confused me completely.
The roots of the problem
I know now that the roots of a patriarchal system, rife with misogyny and sexism were so deep that they were – are – part of people’s consciousness. You see, for these people, most of whom weren’t conscious misogynists, the idea of a woman being able to do a job, so far done by a man, seemed unimaginable. Sound illogical or absurd to you?
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Well, let’s look a little closer at ourselves. How many times have we laughed at jokes about women’s ability to drive? How many jokes per WhatsApp group do we have which make fun of the dynamics in a marital relationship, where the husband is clueless or oppressed under the absurd whims of the wife? Do you share them? Do you find them funny? Do you think some of them are right? These jokes are just one of the million outcomes and ways in which the myth of the confused man and confusing woman keeps staying alive.
There are two answers
When we ask the question, “What is it about women that confuses men so much” we are taking it for granted that women are confusing. Which is not to say that they aren’t, but there are two things to be considered here.
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Humans are a funny bunch
The first one is the fact that human beings themselves are confusing. They make irrational self-destructive decisions in love and in life. They talk about wanting to solve their problems and yet keep sitting on the couch. They go to war with each other for pride and oil and perceived wrongdoings. They deny climate change, steal, kill, loot, riot, resist. They also make love, bring life, bring up the next generation, sacrifice, teach, create, make music. We are a curious bunch that scientists say will be extinct a million or so years later and yet we keep building things for the future. Humans are extremely confusing, but this confusion is not gender based.
The myth and its results
The second one is the myth and its results. You see if you cry wolf enough times people will stop believing you, but the wolf will still eat the sheep. If you say women are confusing, that they are irrational, that they play certain gender roles, you’ll eventually see this play out. You’ll start perceiving their actions and reactions as confusing. The same applies to men. Their gender roles and the effect that toxic masculinity has on them, the fact that they aren’t allowed to show emotions, be macho all the time, pick up the cheque, be the provider all of it, comes from the same place. (This is, of course, a simplified argument and deserves further attention and study.) The hegemony, the predominance of these gender roles leads to people taking the idea that women are confusing for granted. This is why when a woman’s reaction is deemed confusing, we don’t lean in and ask or see the reasoning but instead brush it off with a sigh and an exasperated utterance: ‘Women!’.
If only we looked deeper
To answer the question at hand then, there is nothing really confusing about women. They react emotionally and logically, just the way all humans do. These reactions are also dependant on and part of their respective socio-cultural conditioning. If men and other women and the rest of the genders, don’t brush them off, or mansplain and just look at them with care, we will be able to see the point.
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The times they are a-changing
This myth is also breaking. With every women’s march and the vagina monologues and discussions, people are waking up to the fact that gender roles, though easy to categorise, are doing toxic things to us. With every woman who speaks and every man who is willing to listen, the idea of a WhatsApp joke making fun of the disgruntled husband and domineering wife breaks.
Even if we think it’s innocent fun, the joke is a symptom of a system that has caused way too much trouble to be called to redeemable.
They are all symptoms of the same disease
If we think about it, if we laugh at jokes about women not being able to drive, in other words, if even for the sake of humour we don’t trust women with cars and bikes, then, the idea that conservatives didn’t trust a woman in the White House doesn’t seem too absurd. It is precisely this perception that needs to change.