Science tells us it's simple. ♂ or ♀. X + X or X + Y. Venus or Mars. Pink or Blue. It appears to be a mere difference in molecular makeup, one that decides our skeletal structure, the shape of our pelvic bone, whether we’ll have to go through monthly menstrual cycles or not. But the true differences, the ones which have made being the one far superior to the other all throughout history, those truly define themselves on the social level.
As early as Classical Greece, records have shown womanhood to be a state closer to slavery than citizenship. Aristotle himself famously said, ‘’the female is as it were a deformed male’’, referring to a woman’s inability to produce the semen which contains a full human being, when, during intercourse, it is the male who supplies the soul and form, while the female serves only as a vessel and a source of nourishment, rendering her ‘defective by nature’. This, in Aristotle’s view, compels the man to rightly take charge over the woman, drawing a comparison between the former’s superior intelligence both to the latter, and to tame animals, ‘’It is best for all tame animals to be ruled by human beings. For this is how they’re kept alive. In the same way, the relationship between the male and the female is by nature such that the male is higher, the female is lower, than the male rules, and the female is ruled’’.
It would be convenient to dismiss such views as attributes of the past, but present-day events act as constant reminders of the contemporary nature of gender inequality. All one needs to do is tune into the innumerable reports of sexual harassment, by ordinary citizens and high-profile individuals alike. Cosby, Affleck (x2!), Allen, Weinstein (x2!), Spacey. The fact that these are household names, and thus the allegations might come as a surprise to many, does not take away from the routine nature of sexual harassment against women. Neither does it excuse the continuously willing ignorance and inertia of the industry’s constituents prevalent prior to last year.
It is estimated that over 35% of women worldwide have been victims of such violence in their lifetimes. They are additionally more than twice as likely to have an abortion or to experience states of depression, and in less economically developed countries, 1.5 times more likely to contract HIV. Approximately 120 million girls have experienced forced sexual acts at any point in their lives, with the most common perpetrators by far being past or current husbands, partners and boyfriends. Further statistics suggest that women belonging to marginalized groups, such as those being discriminated against based on sexual orientation, ethnicity or disability, as well as those living in areas of crisis and conflict, are considerably more vulnerable.
While these figures are rarely talked about, all it takes is for a selected group of predominantly white Hollywood actresses to speak out in testimony of Harvey Weinstein’s harassment allegations for the world to start listening. Although the #MeToo campaign has these public disclosures to thank for its growth in recognition, the foundation and incentive behind it undoubtedly makes it clear that the problem extends far beyond the confines of the entertainment industry. It may be that posting #MeToo on various social media accounts enables a kind of catharsis in victims seeking solace/justice in light of new accusations being made toward powerful perpetrators on the daily, it ultimately fails to impact the kind of male behavior that gives ample cause for such accusations in the first place. There is an inherent reason for why women have been afraid to speak out about having experienced sexual assault until now. Men have too often proven to be dismissive of any such claims made by victims, creating the ideal for discussions of sexual harassment being a “women’s issue”. In light of these new allegations, it is yet again women who initiate conversations and media campaigns, while men sit idly by and endorse the kind of environment in which sexual assault can still occur unpunished. It is not enough that millions of women are violated on a daily basis throughout their entire lives, but they are to be responsible for explaining to men what the problem is with such behavior.
This, of course, is in no way to say that all men are inherently oblivious to women’s issues. That couldn’t be further from the truth. But the fact remains, no campaign will make even a dent in the patriarchy without men acknowledging the misogyny of some of their actions, and committing themselves to start making changes. Perhaps with the help of those celebrities who retain influence over extensive amounts of people, especially those women who themselves are victims, the conversation about sexual harassment and the kind of culture which enables it can be amplified to larger audiences. The #MeToo campaign has served to bring attention to the movement and broadened its platform by highlighting the issue of the perpetrator. What it needs to do now is focus on supporting the survivors and stimulating change in the other industries to ensure the dismantlement of any environment which encourages the acceptable and unquestioned practice of sexual harassment. Already within the first days of 2018, signs of hope are appearing thanks to the emergence of the new ‘Time’s Up’ movement, and it is only the beginning.
After all, it is a prevailing view that what happens at a smaller scale is often repeated at a larger one, and thus a heuristic approach might be optimal one when it comes to tackling such an issue. It is unreasonable to presume the world at large is capable of eliminating the sexual harassment of women just yet, or inequality as a whole. But perhaps through giving these women a voice and a platform through which to speak out, the topic will be unapproachable no longer. Science, and Aristotle, may tell us that there is an inherent difference in the status of the sexes. That there is a perceived ‘activeness’ to men and a ‘passiveness’ to women, justified through the shared contrast between the sperm, which swims through the cervix, uterus and fallopian tube to get to the stationary egg, one that is waiting to be used as a host. But this is a inadequate representation of anything distinctly male or female, considering that the human being, naturally, is comprised of both an egg and a sperm cell. Without one the other cannot thrive, which should be reason enough for respect and opportunities to be given interchangeably.