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Kaammini Chanrai

March 19th, 2014

Why I Study Gender…

0 comments | 2 shares

Estimated reading time: 5 minutes

Kaammini Chanrai

March 19th, 2014

Why I Study Gender…

0 comments | 2 shares

Estimated reading time: 5 minutes

As I leave the house to walk down the main road towards my closest tube station, I never forget to bring my headphones. I stroll along with my music on a high enough volume to cancel out the surrounding noise and, with an indifferent look on my face, I stare straight ahead, my eyes fixated at a point in the distance. This is part of my daily routine – not a particularly interesting part at first glance, but it has its own instrumental meaning.

The more I think of this routine, the more frustrated I feel. Why? Because I do this to detach myself from the everyday sexism that I am faced with on account of my gender. Walking down this street, parallel to one of the most main roads in London, I, like many others, have been subjected to cat-calls, wolf-whistles and beeping horns on a regular basis. And yet, whilst this angers and upsets me to the very core of my being, I walk on, pretending not to hear anything, too afraid to act. These occurrences are not exclusive to this road and are certainly not exclusive to myself. Disturbing comments, explicit words and abusive chants are, unfortunately, a daily occurrence for many women. This is only a trivial amount when considering sexist behaviour.

As a Gender, Development and Globalisation student at the LSE, I am often faced with the same questions that one might expect any master’s student to be asked. Why are you studying the course? What do you wish to achieve from this? What does it entail? However, after talking through this with some of my fellow course mates at the Gender Institute, we found that our courses frequently triggered another question too: What does that mean?  The majority of this was good-natured interest but sometimes this was a derogatory dig at the idea that we might study women and that, for reasons that are beyond me, this is not something that is particularly reputable.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the simple mention of the course I study often sparks a greater discussion: a debate on feminism. I say this is unsurprising because gender is one of the most loaded words in the English language. It is not easy to define, it is not a simple concept to understand and there is no single consensus on what it may entail. I also wish to emphasise that the MSc in Gender, Development and Globalisation does not just discuss feminist issues and, indeed, you do not have to be a feminist to take the course. However, feminism is a movement that is close to many of the students’ hearts, myself included.

I’d like to clarify a few things. Feminism is inherently misunderstood. Growing up, feminism sometimes felt like a dirty word. It is often stigmatised to the extent of warranting aggression and uttered with such snide tones that it is difficult to even have a clear discussion around it. Moreover, feminism does not refer to one clear-cut idea: there are multiple feminisms with different perspectives and focuses that can encompass an array of thoughts.

In all honestly, I have become increasingly frustrated by the question ‘Why are you a feminist?’ I am asked this time and time again but truthfully, there are far more important questions that should be asked. So for anyone who has ever asked me why I’m a feminist, this is my answer.

You ask me why I’m a feminist but do you ask if men and women are really equal in the world today? Do you ask why the vast majority of people living below the poverty line in the world are women? Do you ask why there remains to be a place where women are economically on the same footing as men? Do you ask why maternal mortality is, till today, such a prevalent issue despite the fact that many of these deaths are avoidable? Do you ask whether women are as socially protected as men around the world? Do you ask why universally, sexual harassment and human security are fears that are disproportionately worse for women than men?

You ask me why I’m a feminist but do you ask why we are made to conform to certain stereotypes on the basis of our gender in order to avoid being ridiculed or abused? Do you ask why so often dolls are labelled as ‘girl toys’ and cars as ‘boy toys’ and not corresponding to the toy of your gender is thought to be a cause for concern? Do you ask what are the implications this may have on a child who does not pick the supposed ‘right’ toy? Do you ask why a female performing outstandingly in the field of science or a male in the nursing industry is revered despite nothing to state that this is unnatural in any way? Do you ask why a man who likes pink or a woman who likes football are frequently made to feel that their preferences are not correct?

You ask me why I’m a feminist but do you ask why the ability to have a child is used as collateral against a woman’s opportunity to get a job? Do you ask why, despite the Equal Pay Act of 1963, women are still more likely to be discriminated against based on structural sexism? Do you ask why pay for women is still 10.5% less for women in full-time work and 20.2% less for women overall? Do you ask why approximately 70% of people in national minimum wage jobs are women? Do you ask why Ordinary Maternity Leave is 26 weeks but Ordinary Paternity Leave is only 1-2 weeks? Do you ask why the glass ceiling is still a very real reality in the UK where in 2012 only 16% of board members were women, which was above the EU average? Do you ask why women make up over 50% of the population worldwide but only made up 19.5% of parliaments?

You ask me why I’m a feminist but do you ask why there is an unequivocally high rate universally of sexual violence against women? Do you ask why every year on average around 85,000 women are raped in England and Wales alone? Do you ask why out of the nearly 100,000 sexual assault cases that occurred in the UK, only 1000 rapists were sentenced? Do you ask why ‘no’ is sometimes assumed to mean ‘yes’ or intoxication is often used as a justification? Do you ask if it is fair that it is mostly assumed that the perpetrator is a man and the person who is sexually assaulted is assumed to be a woman? Do you ask why we live in a culture that teaches our women how not to be raped more than telling people not to rape?

You ask me why I’m a feminist but do you ask why it is fair that a heterosexual couple are allowed to be married but it is still not universally legal for a same-sex couple to be? Do you ask why in some countries, homosexuality is still punishable by law? Do you ask why those who identify as homosexual are more susceptible to being bullied purely on the basis of their sexual orientation? Do you ask why homophobic slander is still pervasive in our society, in our media and in our lives? Do you ask why the word ‘gay’ is often deemed an insult even by those who claim to be in favour of equality?

You ask me why I’m a feminist but do you ask why women are still majorly unrepresented by the media in newspapers, television and films? Do you ask why women in film portrayed only 11% of lead protagonists in 2011? Do you ask why newspapers increasingly feature men in text and women in pictures? Do you ask why this falls under the age-old idea that women are just objects to be looked at?

Do you ever ask if any of this is fair?

Granted, this is just a drop in the ocean in terms of how we can talk about gender inequality. I have not done the subject justice and I probably never could but I hope I’ve at least provided an insight into the extent of our current situation.

If you are not already asking these questions, I urge you to. At the end of the day, asking me about my views is infinitely less important than asking about other peoples realities.

This is why I study gender.

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Kaammini Chanrai

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