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From the Everyday Life of a Student of Gender Studies - Based on Actual Conversations

Many people say: “I don’t see the problem. I’ve never felt discriminated against.”

White, heterosexual, male, mid-twenties, no physical or mental disability, Christian, European.

Alternatively: female, early twenties, student in engineering, does not feel constrained in her decisions as a woman and thinks discussions about women’s rights are ridiculous.

I reply: “Just because you are in the absolute position of power in our society you don’t consider it worthwhile to stand up for those who face discrimination every day?”

I have heard the following phrase too many times in the past few weeks: why do we still need Gender Studies?

They say: “I can’t consider every single person who is part of a minority, can I? Just because some people are blind or disabled, we are not obliged to make everything accessible to them. It’s far too expensive and when it comes to profit,big companies are not willing to make concessions. Vegetarians and vegans just want to make other people feel guilty about themselves.

Do you hate men?

I say: “It’s great that you have never felt discriminated against as a [add relevant attributes] man in Europe. Also, it’s wonderful that as a future female engineer you are going to earn almost as much as your male colleagues – this is how it should be in all careers.

But have you ever been denied access due to external factors or because of your own identity?

Now you are scaring me.

He says: “Well, I once had my leg in a cast. But that had been my own fault, so I just stayed home when I couldn’t go to a certain place.

She says: “No, I don’t have to feel discriminated against just because someone says Engineering and women don’t go together.”

We have much bigger problems than mentioning women in the Austrian national anthem.

I say to him: “Have you ever considered that for some people, this is a permanent circumstance?”

I say to her: “You have been really lucky so far and you had a great starting position for your life and career. Are you okay with leaving it at this and continue our conversation in 15 years? – “Yes!”

[I’m thinking: “You are not there yet. But it’s okay. There was a first thought-provoking impulse and I shouldn’t invest any more energy in our discussion. At one point in your life, you are surely going to think differently: perhaps when you have children and your pension benefits go down considerably, or when others implicitly ask you to set your career aside, even though you are a qualified university graduate.

Of course, I don’t wish for this to happen to you. But if it does, I hope that you will then remember this conversation and understand what it means to be privileged or disadvantaged in one or another way, or to be subjected to an established hierarchy.

So you really think you can change something in this world? How naive!

He asks: “Hm... Have you ever felt discriminated against?“

Don’t you want to make your life easier by starting a “normal” degree with good job prospects?

I say: “Yes, as a woman!”

I don’t make much of this „gender“ thing. As a woman I am strong enough without it.

He says: “Just because someone tells you that you can’t do it because you are a girl? You can also do anything you want! You live in Austria, you have the right to choose. I just don’t get your problem. Please explain why all women I have talked to so far don’t care about gender issues, even make fun of it. Not to mention my male friends. In the real world it is completely irrelevant what some people come up with in the ivory tower of Gender Studies.

Are you honestly trying to tell me that we still face discrimination as women in Germany and Austria?

I say: “No one has ever explicitly said to me that I couldn’t do something because I was a girl. It’s more the hidden messages and values that are conveyed to girls from an early age on. A lot of it just sticks with you and you are not able to name it as an adult: seemingly harmless jokes that are half serious, small denigrating remarks... Yes, in this way I have been “discriminated against”! To be honest I don’t know the women in your life well enough to make an informed judgment. I can just assume that they have never been actively confronted with this issue, or they have never thought about it.

It has always been this way and it is not supposed to change.

He says: That’s what you assume? So are you saying that they are stupid because they are not able to reflect on themselves as well as you? Can’t you just take things as they are and stop complaining? I have also been told: You can’t cook – ha ha, you are a guy after all!

[I think: Oh my, why do I keep letting myself get involved in this kind of conversation? It’s just so exhausting at 2 am. I want to go home and stop talking about my studies. There are a lot more interesting aspects to my personality than just my inner feminist. How come others always pick on this one fact like vultures?

Don’t you think you will be frustrated during your whole career? Constantly confronted with negativity?

I say: “I did not at all imply that. As I said, it’s just an assumption because I don’t know them well enough. And have these comments restricted you in the main areas of your life?

Be careful! If you take a stance on an issue, you are an easy target for personal attacks.

He says: “ You are always so defensive! Are you actually listening to what I am saying? First you tell me I am in a position of power and as soon as I give two examples from the real world of women you say just the opposite? It’s not that I am against equality. I just don’t get all the fuss. It has always worked this way. Just because some sensitive women complain about it there is no need to change it all. And I do know that if I wanted to cook and actually tried it, I could do it!”

But you can’t deny that men somehow are the stronger sex, right? I mean, speaking about physical strenght and so on. Plus, there are studies that show that brains and women and hormones and nature and blah, blah, blah...

[I take a deep breath and think to myself: It’s not a personal attack. People are always afraid of change. But I sense his interest in the topic. His views are conservative, but the way he talks isn’t intentionally hurtful. He seems really preoccupied with the issue. He doesn’t understand. How could he? I am going to start another attempt. Trying more carefully.... relating to his life and reality.

I say: “Is anyone ever going to tell you that they cannot give you a promotion and imply that you are in your mid-twenties and therefore might get pregnant and endanger their company?”

Ah, so you are a FEMINIST? [Connotation type: I hope you’re not going to cut off my penis? I like it the way it is! – No, don’t worry. I like penises, too. They are really one of Mother and Father Nature’s fine inventions.]

He says: “Yeah, but if I were the boss, I would do the same thing. I would like my company to survive.”

I can’t stand this craze about Gender any longer.

I say: “Wouldn’t it be great if you, as the boss, started to change things?”

Haven’t we already achieved enough equality?

He says: „For a small company that would be my downfall. It’s all about profit.”

What else do you want?

I say: “I know that it’s always about profit. But it shouldn’t be that way and I don’t want to accept it. If we don’t start putting society before economy soon, there is going to be a much bigger crash one day. 2008 was only the beginning. And this movement has to come to life in many different areas.

So what? As a man I feel descriminated against when women get free entry to clubs.

He says: “But I, as a single person, I can’t change anything. Neither can you, no way!”

Let’s discuss all this when you finally start doing military service.

I say: “That’s nonsense. If everyone were to think that way, it’s true that nothing would ever change. But we can’t wait for the system to change – we are the creators of this system. It’s us holding the reins.”

Is it really that bad or are you just exaggerating a bit?

He says: “But then the big companies would have to start.”

Stop telling me about the lack of equality. That’s just a myth nowadays.

I say: “But they all prefer clinging to their piles of money instead of changing something and maybe having to give away some of it.

Shouldn’t we take care of more important issues first?

He says: “Would you want to give something to others if you were in a position of power? It’s never going to change, is it?”

Don’t always speak up for women in that way. Strong women don’t need to fight for equality.

I say: “ I have firmly resolved that my moral values are always going to be stronger than my greed. I hope I can keep this promise to myself.

I have hope for generation in which more and more graduates are coming from working class families and know what it’s like on the other side. A generation of young adults with no need to be afraid to participate, to be taken seriously. Young adults who don’t have to wait for the elite’s permission, who have the time and space to find themselves before they do what they love; just write, blog, publish–without budget or political support.”

Find yourself a rich husband and be a mother. Just kidding! But honestly, you are going to earn very little with your Masters in Gender Studies compared to women working in business or compared to men in general. Does it really pay off, financially speaking?

He says: “How are you going to change the way students of medicine, law or engineering think?”

Isn’t it easier to follow the flow and not worry that much? Hiding behind your ideas of social values and hoping that a lucky coincidence, meaning the probability of being born in a certain place, with a certain sexual orientation, religion, etc. (which you cannot influence even a tiny bit!), will make you immune to the problems of minorities.

I say: “It would be a great start to introduce a mandatory course on diversity, gender etc. at universities. Or even earlier, in schools... And no, that’s not brainwashing, it’s called education!”

I think it’s great that you are a feminist.

He says: “So why am I studying a course that I am interested in if I have to take classes that are useless to me?”

Exchanging thoughts with you gives me courage.

I say: “Maybe it’s time you start seeing beyond the tip of your nose. As an engineer you can still think about problems in our society. It’s people like you who are needed to at least give the first impulse. Nobody ever said that we want to change it all within one generation. But we can’t take the first step when it’s too late. I have a responsibility towards humanity and towards our planet. Our ship is already sinking; I don’t want to start piercing holes in the few rescue boats.”

I've never seen it this way.

He says: „... In which other situations have you felt discriminated against as a woman?“

I would like to help you and support equality by offering a male voice.

I say: “Every time I walk home by myself: pepper spray in one hand, my key in the other; stories about rape rushing through my mind. When I am told how to act and dress to not attract attention. When I can take a deep breath at my front door, knowing I have made it – until the next time. Every time I flick through a superficial women’s or men’s magazine. When people are trying to make me believe that I am supposed to like sweet fragrances that I need a pink pen because the blue one is reserved for pure masculinity. When I was told in the children’s self defence class: ‘Most cases of rape involve men in your immediate environment. Never show your fathers or uncles what you learn here. They, too, might be perpetrators.‘“

We can only change things if we stick together.

He say: “Rapists are just sick, individual perpetrators.”

You are an inspiration for me.

I say: “Most rape victims know the perpetrators personally. They may be admirers you rejected, ex-boyfriends who express their anger in a fit of rage. Men like you, who let their feelings take over in a weak moment. And of course, sometimes they are women. Only few, though, because we often don’t have the same physical strength – body composition, different physical education. Girls: ballet, graceful, fragile. Boys: Football, sweat, competitive.... “

It’s great how passionate you are about this topic

He says: “Hm...”

Let’s teach classes at schools, talk to relatives and raise awareness where ignorance prevails.

“I say: “Why are girls told to watch out for rapists? Why don’t we tell boys: ‘Don’t rape!’?”

Talking can change more in a person than you would think.

He says: “That won’t make any difference.”

How can I participate?

I say: “No, you are right. They should rather be taught to respect women, to respect a “no”, that a physical advantage doesn’t give you the right to take what you want by force.

I have always had an absolutely different image of feminism. Thank you for opening my eyes.

He says: “I always act like a gentleman and hold the door for them.”

Your enthusiasm is contagious. I hope to find a topic I can be this passionate about.

I say: “It’s not about someone holding the door for me or molesting me. It’s about being respected in every situation of my life. No matter if I have a vagina or a penis. I want the same opportunities for development, the same rights and the same respect.

So far, I have not been able to express it in this way, but I have always thought in a similar way.

He says: “...”

I have advocate gender-sensitive language in our company’s corporate communication – thanks to you.

I say: “You know, it’s not only what you learn from your parents and friends when you’re growing up. Take a look at pop culture, at songs in movies or played in clubs and bars and look at the image of womanhood they create.

I will support you – even if it’s just by doing some networking. You are on the right track.

He says: “Does that mean you want to prohibit all of this?”

I think it’s great what you are doing. People like you can really change things. But take care of yourself and don’t let yourself get thrown off course. There are enough people supporting you. It’s just that the negative voices are sometimes louder.

I say: “No. Comedies use clichés, I am aware of that. Still I like to watch them sometimes. I like to put on nail polish every once in a while, or wear skirts because they are just so comfortable. That, too, might perpetuate stereotypes. I would just like everyone to think about what they consume and which values they take with them.

I wish everyone had such a strong urge to change things and raise awareness.

He says: “I’m a bit of a pessimist when it comes to that. I think it’s never going to change anyway.”

Passion means finding your very own topic or hobby in which you want to put your effort because you couldn’t bear not to do it. With fulfilment so fast that all the negativity and fear of change don’t matter any more.

Conversations like this one are tiresome and don’t always pay off. Consider well whether it’s worth the time and energy. If it isn’t, walk away. Let it go. Don’t get too tense. You can’t change everyone. But maybe you have given a small impulse. And, at least, you have learned a bit more about yourself and your beliefs. All without courses on public speaking or self-representation.

I say: “If that was the case, women wouldn’t be allowed to vote or spend money without their husband’s signature. Homosexuality would be considered a disease; people with mental conditions would be locked away or killed...”

Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.

We need more lights like you! Thank you for showing interest until the end. No matter who you are, how you define yourself and what kind of experience you have had with Gender Equality so far.

He says: “There should be more people like you. People who can change other’s minds – like mine.”

There’s hope, trust me!

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