The paradox behind gender equality
Blogpost by Halina Brunning and Olya Khaleelee
Media spotlight on sexual abuse and attacks against woman
Our newspapers have increasingly been preoccupied with sexual abuse in society. This trend began with the inquiry into Jimmy Savile’s paedophilia, but since then we’ve seen the outing of abusers in Irish residential institutions, in our public schools, in Rotherham, in the USA with the #Me Too revelations about powerful men’s abusive behaviour towards young actors and now the scandal in Oxfam and other charities.
Because this has impacted primarily on women, we have been wondering about the motivation behind these sexual attacks. Is there a growing hatred of women in the world? Recorded statistics show that attacks against women have increased significantly (Ref.1).
What has changed recently?
– The biological reason for coupling a man with a woman is to perpetuate Homo Sapiens, thereby ensuring the continuing existence of human life on Earth. Butsince developments in medicine made it possible for women to be artificially inseminated with a donor’s sperm,the biological link between a man and a woman as a procreating couple has been broken.
-Children may be born to women who are single, unmarried, in gay relationships and even post menopausal.
– Simultaneously, in the latter part of the 20th Century, women liberated by the pill and education have climbed the career ladder, thereby becoming financially independent, whilst some have attained the highest leadership positions in commerce and politics.
-Concurrently, statistics show a steady decline in men’s health both physical and mental. (Ref.2)
-There are well recognised phenomena called“Toxic Masculinity” and “Crisis of Masculinity”.(Ref.3).
Under these new circumstances it appears that technicallywomen no longer require men in order to bring life into this world.All they need is sperm donated, purchased or shared, and with thiswomen can independently ensure the continuation of life on earth. Therefore men are becoming increasingly “redundant” from a sexual and procreative perspective. Furthermore, there is no single part of the world stage where men can act in the knowledge that they are uniquely qualified to fulfil a particular role or position.
A tentative hypothesis:
As a result of the shift in power relations with women, it may be that men worldwide are beginning to feel threatened,be itin the context of family, at work, or in politics where previouslythey excelled and were uniquely positioned to rule. Feelings of redundancy and rage may explain the surge of misogyny expressed as the physical, emotional and sexual abuse of women carried out, most likely unconsciously, so thatmen can still feel powerful, be it sexually, in patriarchy, in financial hegemony or in the world of politics.
The growth of women’s independence and power will probablynever be reversed, but the gender struggle continues. Men will continue theirattempts to keep women down by various means: ensuring they are paid less than menorby disallowing women access to positions of power above the arbitrary glass ceiling. There are also traditionally expressed ways of dominating women: by FGM, rape, sexual abuse,honour killing and shaming them for being the victims of male sexualised brutality. (Ref.4)
This parallel dynamicplays out all over the world:traditional patriarchal domination with attacks on women in the public sphere. Little wonder that this issue took centre stage in the USA during theirelection. Itwas almost a microcosm of the genderstruggle. Now, according to the media,rampant sexuality is spilling over in all areas of society, a sign that men are regrouping and going on the attack. Men’s power against women’s vulnerability?
Not all appears so straighforward…
As psychologists,we know that power and vulnerability are closely interlinked and interdependent, these positions seldom function independently from one another, eachhidesin theother’s shadow. One can suspect vulnerability hidden beneath an overpowering stance and vice versa. Power and vulnerability are not fixed roles given in perpetuity but are fluid positions that are constantly changing (Ref 5). These attributes are not fixed permanently onto any gender: men are not intrinsically powerful nor women intrinsically vulnerable, it is a relational dance which changes constantly depending on many interconnected variables. Perhaps we have come to a particular point in this dance when men who appeared historically and traditionally strong and powerful may at present feel lost and hide their own doubts and vulnerability from themselves and from the world by becoming ill or by inreasing their level of aggression against women.
Not all is lost…
We end on a paradox that as women begin to free themselves from masculine oppression and become more powerful,it is now men who urgently need to become empoweredin order to find their way out of this destructive crisis of masculinity which devastates them as well as those around them.
1. Theme: violence against women WHO statistics
2. Theme: mens physical and mental health
3. Theme Crisis of Masculinity telegraph.co.uk› Men › Thinking Man)
5. Brunning H., Khaleelee O. (2015) ‘Danse Macabre: How Eros and Thanatos Rule the World’ in Organisational & Social Dynamics 15(2) 320–339.
Khaleelee O. and Brunning H.