Mapping the relationships and hierarchies of an issue as extensive and complicated as gender based violence demands the participation and recognition of a diverse range of positions. Though all members of the group shared the focus of gender inequality, it was apparent within the first exercise of word generation that we had different but interlinked areas of interest in the issue. For example my focus of gender based violence is rooted in the same systemised subordination of women that is responsible for the pay gap and career roles as they pertain to gender. The second antonym exercise proved to be challenging as some of our words, though commonly used in the conversation of gender inequality did not have a strict opposite term. Even words that could be used in casual everyday conversations in a passive manner had ambiguous or multiple antonyms.
For example the word “slut” could apply to both of these categories, as it can be used in an active or careless manner. A discussion with one of my group members revealed the fluidity and contradictions of the term – though slut is conventionally related to a woman who has alot of sexual partners and/or wears revealing clothing, the term is certainly not restricted to those who do not meet the criteria. We later concluded on the term “prude” as an antonym for “slut”, however the relationship between the two words are inherently ambiguous as even women who are perceived as prudes (those who do not engage in sexual activity and/or revealing clothing) can be labelled as sluts. Whether in a burqa or a bikini, all women are seen as inherently guilty bodies, with no form of clothing or sexual behaviour deemed acceptable.
The images above document a stakeholders exercise where we mapped the human and non-human participants associated with specific words relating to our issues. This task was performed quite quickly to record as many stakeholders as possible and draw parallels between different facets of gender equality. The most common stakeholder observed from the mapping exercise was social media, both as a negative and positive contributor to gender equality. The power of social media allows for the subconscious perpetuation of destructive gender norms but also an confronting awareness of how gender misshapes and reduces humanity between the sexes. Media also controls the distribution of traits and qualities that determine how we navigate social, cultural, political, religious and economic domains. For example, media has historically assigned the overwhelming majority of positions of power, attention and humanity to straight white men, resulting in a society that finds difficulty in associating women (particularly women of colour) with capability, intelligence, integrity, diligence etc. These biases are deeply internalised and fails to be recognised until we actively look for gender and racial diversity in a heavily whitewashed media.
The image above was taken from a class exercise where students marked words that stirred controversy and attention within their context. The results demonstrated that the involved the majority of “power” words were adjectives used specifically to label women e.g. “slut, trophy wife, princess, stay at home mom”. These words ultimately shape how women experience and navigate social spheres through a socially constructed set of behaviors, qualities, physical features and habits specific to that label. Hashtags relating to gender equality also garnered attention, indicating that social media heavily contributes to the awareness of issue amongst the general public. The hashtags related to specific subjects within the gender equality discussion that confronted conventionalised gender dialogue as well as misconceptions of the feminist movement.
The group then proceeded to group the most active words and categorise according to their to emotive, inflammatory, factual, antagonistic, divisive and disruptive qualities. Whilst some words were easily categorised to emotively charged terms, some words were more ambiguous as to where they belonged on this spectrum. For example the hashtag #LikeaGirl aims to change the way we have historically associated women with more negative human qualities such as weakness, fear, disloyalty, emotional instability etc. The hashtag is used to reverse these comparisons, instead to use the phrase in a more positive, respectful manner where women can be associated with strength, bravery, intelligence, capability etc. Despite the feminist motivations behind the hashtag, its usage can still carry misogynistic values in the context of casual conversation. We also questioned the factual motivations behind the terms and what implications were present when including the notion of “factual” within the gender inequality conversation. We argued that some of the words that were categorized as factual were not generally accepted by society as being real or valid and this was disruptive in the gender equality discourse. Equality demands that society can first recognise the existence of a problem if we are to develop a solution towards it. Within my own research and contemplation of feminism, privilege allows you to deny the experiences of others, simply because you haven’t experienced it yourself.
5 Point Summary
- Controversial words within the gender equality discourse require a deconstruction of their context in order to see the greater effect of those terms.
- Media has given power a gender, race, sexuality
- Language carries a substantial role in our liberation and restriction from gender norms
- Gender labels function with fluidity and contradictions.
- Privilege prevents us from recognising that experiences outside our own context could be true.
The collaborative group exercise provided insight into mapping the verbal points of the gender equality discourse and the sociocultural implications they bear towards the issue. It was interesting to see how students both within and outside my issue group shared the same awareness of the controversial words even if their area of focus was outside of gender equality. I also realised that the terms that stirred an anxious response derived from confusion towards the meaning of the word and its place within the conversation of gender equality. A second attempt of this task would’ve involved a group analysis of our generated words to emphasise words that we didn’t understand or stirred ambiguity. A thorough explanation of these terms would’ve enriched the discussion and explored the reasons as to why there might be confusion attached to the word in the first place. I came to the realisation that anyone who is involved in the discussion of gender equality may not be familiar with more feminist language such as “rape culture” or “privilege”. As a feminist, I can’t naively assume that everyone involved in the gender equality conversation will be familiar with the vocabulary I use in the discussion. Just as those who are unfamiliar with the terms must be empathetic to understand their meaning, feminists must take the opportunities explanation Feminists must take note of those who are unfamiliar and confused about their vocabulary and take opportunities to explain and welcome them into the gender equality conversation. In turn, we gain a better understanding of those outside the discourse and how we can ensure that the movement is always conscious of inclusivity.
By Giselle Enriquez