There is an attitude I have heard over and over, and (un)surprisingly, not exclusively from men. Be grateful things are better now. Get over the past. Don’t draw lines between past misogyny and present discrimination.
I’m supposed to be grateful that Title IX finally provided legal grounds for protesting differential treatment of women in schools and sports programs in 1972, when my mother was in college? That women didn’t have the legal right to safely terminate an unwanted pregnancy until 1973, a time when my mother and aunts were sexually active as young adults? That the first marital rape law wasn’t passed until 1976, just a few years before my mother and father got married? That sexual harassment wasn’t considered “illegal job discrimination” nationally until 1986, the year I was born?
I could go further back and further forward in history, but you get the point. People say to me “well, yeah, but things are better now, and you weren’t born for most of that anyway.” No, I wasn’t. But I do have a mother, and had a grandmother (who was born in 1911, the year before Oregon passed women’s suffrage, and 9 years before women achieved that nationally). I had a great aunt whose face drooped on the right side due to nerve damage. The man she had been having an affair with shot her in the head after she had an abortion. My grandfather was an alcoholic, abusive shit, and my grandmother had little support, as intelligent and educated as she was (she worked as a number-cruncher on the Manhattan Project, and later worked with the military on a project to do with submarines). My mother dealt with her father’s abuse, endured harassment in med school and after as a physician (much of medicine is still very much an old boys’ club), and raised me and my brothers to be extremely sexist – she told me I could grow up to be whatever I wanted, but that didn’t make my upbringing feminist. I was taught to be quiet, to accept violence from my brothers, to make peace, to not be assertive, to not stick out, to accept unequal treatment – because that is how she grew up.
The impact of those legislative victories is huge – and still reverberating, still gathering momentum. 1972 was only 40 years ago, which in terms of generations, is negligible. Women and girls are still being raised by people whose attitudes were shaped in a world without those victories, or where the immediate impact of them was localized. As much as we all wish passing legislation meant that everyone immediately fell into step (at least when it comes to legislation we agree with), that’s not how it works. So to say that I should be “grateful” and forget about past discrimination, when that discrimination still affects how people treat me in my everyday life, is unfair and infuriating.
40 years ago is a long time…only if you forget institutional and generational memory. It’s the same issue with people who think that African-Americans should just get over slavery and Jim Crow, or Jews should get over the Holocaust. They ignore the very real impacts those events continue to have on people being born today, through continued and related oppression, and through the effects those things had on the people who are raising these new babies. Oppression sends shock-waves into the future generations, and to deny that this ripple effect has legitimacy, or exists at all, is to apologize for and minimized the original oppression.
You think the bus driver who said “Hey girl!” and “Have a good night, girl,” to me the other day decided to use the word girl spontaneously? You think the man who decided I needed his help with my computer without asking formed that assumption in a void? You think the EU Commission’s “Science, It’s a Girl Thing” video came out of nowhere? You think the media’s treatment of rape victims doesn’t come from a long, long history of apologetic narratives about rape? You’re naive (at best).
Women have been infantilized for centuries (women and children, children and women, women are like children). Technology has long been a male-dominated field, where even today tech professionals who are women are repeatedly assumed to be less knowledgeable than their peers. The EU Commission’s poorly thought-out video was obviously made under the assumption (age-old) that women primarily care about their appearances, and wouldn’t be interested in a scientific discipline because of its substance. Don’t even get me started on rape. (I’m reading “Transforming a Rape Culture” which so far has been a great book.)
So don’t tell me to be grateful that things aren’t as bad as they were – I’m still feeling the aftershocks. The Misogyny Earthquake (started at the dawn of time, presumably, or maybe with the meteor that allegedly killed the dinosaurs) is far from over. I will be grateful to my forebears, men and women, for what they achieved and suffered in fighting for the rights that have made my life so much more free, but I will never feel grateful to the wider culture for reluctantly accepting those victories. I will never concede an inch to misogynistic assholes who think that I should be grateful to them when they comply with the letter of existing laws, and shut up about the rest of it. You haven’t earned any gratitude from me, asshole. I’ll be grateful when you stop being a misogynistic douchehound.
(By the way, I turned as I got off the bus and said “Please don’t call me girl, I’m a grown woman!” He apologized in a disbelieving tone. The computer guy fiddled around for twice as long as it took me to fix the problem when I wrested the computer back from him, and failed to make any headway. Awkward. All the female scientists I know winced at the EU Commission video, had a great discussion about misogyny in the sciences, and complained that the science in the video wasn’t even cool! Just dry ice, colored water, and a hydrogen molecule! (If it wasn’t a hydrogen molecule in the video, then it is my memory that is incorrect, not their identification. I did not take hard sciences in college.))