Ugh! Where to begin?
So I was watching the common wealth games with two female flatmates and inevitably the conversation turns to Britain’s despicable colonial history.
So here’s my paraphrase of our discussion:
Flatmate 1: If I had slaves I would have bought loads of them and let them be educated and treated them really well, let them keep all their languages and sent them back to their home.
Me: I’m not sure you can really claim that, there was a lot of social pressure at the time and without the aid of hindsight and wishful thinking. personally, I can’t really say what I would have done in that situation so confidently. If the community found out what you were doing, they probably would have killed you. And what about the slaves who had been born in America, would you have sent them back?
Flatmate 2: Yeah, there’s a big community in the Ivory Coast known as settlers who went back and have lost the language and the customs and now they don’t fit in.
Flatmate 1: No, It’s definitely what I would have done! I would have made sure that they could retain their languages and their cultural customs.
Me: Well, I’m not so sure. Racism still exists today and so does sexism. There are so many people against equal rights of all kinds, it’s not exactly easy even today.
Flatmate 1: well, it’s not really a problem anymore, especially us women, we have got it good.
Me: Have we? I can’t walk down the street without being sexually harassed. Women still earn less than men and even in parliament they just rejected measures to equalise the number of male and female politicians. Because hey, it’s not like as women, we make up 50% of the population or anything.
Flatmate 1: That’s positive discrimination and that’s not right! We can’t get women to go into politics because they want to be mothers; men aren’t as invested in children. The gender pay gap is only 35%! And I don’t care when I get sexually harassed on the street because I’ve flirted and pretended to be emotional to get opportunities that I wouldn’t have got otherwise, so discrimination works in your favour.
Flatmate 2: I’m all for equal representation, but I don’t think positive discrimination is going to work.
Me: Maybe not, but we need to do something because women are discouraged from standing for parliament hence why there are so few.
Flatmate 2: That’s because women have children. Someone has to work and someone has to care for the children. In our society it’s the men who go out to work and not see the children or even leave.
Me: Well, I don’t think that’s quite true! My father is the director of 5 companies, is single and has always been my soul caregiver; I don’t think it’s fair to say that women are automatically more drawn to become parents than men and that women shouldn’t have careers because they are parents.
(Background: my mother actually walked out on me while I was 6 months old and stopped seeing me when I was 12 because she decided I was too old to have a mother, and even before that she only seldom visited. My dad’s finally managed to balance his career with parental responsibilities by working from home. Hence my upbringing and my point of view that; whilst it might not be easy, it is possible to have a family and a career!)
Flatmate 2: You are just one person; your experience isn’t the majority so you can’t base your argument on that.
Me: well, couldn’t we balance work and childcare? there’s got to be a compromise that society can make, maybe work place crèches or something?
Flatmate 2: No, I was in a work place crèche and didn’t see my parents anymore as a result. (!!!!!)
Flatmate 1: Besides there’s a big movement to get women to stay at home again and personally I’d feel better to be the one to stay at home because it’s cultural for the woman to do it.
Me: That’s fine for you and I will fight for your right to have that choice, but what about the women who want careers and have had to forego having children in order to get that? Culture isn’t ahistorical, it isn’t static! It changes so why not push for positive change?
Flatmate 1: because I don’t think women have it that bad anymore.
I left this conversation so furious I was in tears. Two things really bug me: Firstly, how easy it apparently is to be an activist of equal rights. We can just make blanket statements about what we would have done in light of current cultural points of views without taking anything away from those people who did stand up and fight, because hey, it was (and still is!) so simple. Silly me!
And secondly, when asking somebody to put their money where their mouth is, i.e. what are you doing about the current social climate?
I learnt that apparently, we women shouldn’t expect to make any more progress because our lives really aren’t that bad; after all, we actually get opportunities for being sexual objects (something that has never happened to me, I might add, or at least not pleasant!), the pay gap it is only 35% and we mustn’t create an unfair climate for the men just prove our that we are as capable and competent as they are to get over the bias we are up against every day. (To think we didn’t even get on to conviction rates… I think I would still be in tears if we had.)
I am in possession of a vagina, ergo I’m greedy to want things to be fairer. Oh right, I forgot it’s #MFIF
Sometimes, don’t you just feel you’re wasting your time?
Disillusioned, Durham, UK