A ‘battle of the Sexes’ or is it really?

As I don’t mind the challenge of diving into a controversial topic once in a while, please note that this blog post has been written as an opinion piece, solely from the point of view of the writer (and some of the writer’s friends 😉  I wanted to discuss the so-called ‘battle of the sexes’ and how I’m starting to feel that the true battles women (and men) deal with on a daily basis are increasingly being dominated and (falsely) linked with an ever growing hype of over-sensitivity and Femi-Nazism (a term used to describe ‘radical feminists’).

I feel the word ‘feminism’ has been tainted. What started as a movement for gender equality seems to be overshadowed by the ‘extreme feminist’ who views anyone who thinks differently as the enemy. It’s a darn shame, because true feminism does not condemn men for being the cause of everything bad in the world nor does it encourage us to storm the streets in our bras because ‘no man will ever tell me what to wear!’ They are the reason why a lot of us are shying away from modern feminism and referring to ourselves more as “equalists” rather than “feminists”.

I don’t believe one sex is superior to the other. We all excel in different areas of life and other than some biological perks (like carrying a child, the ability to have multiple orgasms or peeing standing up) I don’t think our gender is the main contributor to our strengths nor our weaknesses.

An Example: The recent (increased) awareness of sexual harassment

After the recent Weinstein scandal, an increased awareness of sexual harassment and abuse spread on social media like wildfire, with women worldwide sharing their stories. This triggered a huge rethink of attitudes towards sexual harassment in and outside the workplace. Here in France, gender equality Minister Schiappa kicked off nationwide consultations over a law due to be completed early next year that will include steps to fight sexual harassment on the streets as well (Reuters, Oct 2017).

I see this law as an excellent step forward to ‘outing’ this kind of behavior and creating a zero tolerance to any kind of violence and harassment. However, as I mentioned earlier, our often hyper-sensitive society (who just loooves to get so easily offended these days) seems to be creating a blurred image of what exactly the term ‘harassment ‘stands for, consequently obstructing (rather than helping) the essential goal of such a law.

When interviewing people to get some background for this blog post, I was met with a range of opinions to try and get a holistic view on the topic. The one opinion that seemed to repeat itself continuously, however, was the fact that some radicals had jumped on the hype wagon and had derailed this whole ‘harassment thing’ off its original course, turning it into a witch hunt at work and on the street, taking away from those who truly had had a genuine, traumatic experience.

Some had the concern that their own harassment/assault claims would no longer be taken seriously, because of the “hype” (really?? All this work and bravery from people sharing their stories, only for it to be seen as ‘hype’?) Others stated they are now reluctant to even joke around in the workplace out of fear it would be interpreted as harassment.  This is the exact opposite of what was intended, and I blame the radical side, as well as and the rest who are being swept up in the hype along with them.

It’s important to differentiate between what is ‘annoying’ and what is ‘harassment’.  Harassment is generally identified as a course of conduct which annoys, threatens, intimidates, alarms or puts a person in fear of their safety.  Whereas annoying someone, albeit a pain in the ass, is not intended to hurt or scare anyone; it may actually be unintentional.

This is where people are getting concerned that ‘radical feminists’ might blur the two together and anything now is open for interpretation. A man whistling at a woman on the street (or vice versa, because that happens too) is not the same thing as a man physically grabbing a woman on the street or hindering her way to intimidate her. Asking someone out at a bar (or if you’re brave enough, at work) should not be immediately seen as harassment (if the answer is no and the person persists, then we’re getting into that grey area) but don’t persecute someone for having a fair go at first. And last but not least, if someone’s behavior is in a grey area and you’re not sure if they intended to make you feel uncomfortable, there is nothing wrong with telling the person directly how you feel. Easier said than done I know, but don’t send poor Joe to Human Resources straight away if you didn’t like his borderline sexist joke …

Being annoying is well…. annoying… but it is not a crime. People need to remember when you accuse someone of sexual assault, it’s a big deal!

Gender Stereotypes have changed

I am lucky to have been raised by a set of parents who took on the task of raising a family and living life as a team. Never was the sentence “that’s a woman/man’s job” uttered in our household, nor were we ever actively raised that all things should be equal… things just were. I’m aware that that may not have been the case for everyone, but I’d like to think that my generation (the microgeneration between Gen Y and X) has already seen a huge shift in gender stereotypes while growing up.

In general, men today, are not who they were two generations ago. They do not expect their meals to be on the table, they actively contribute in parenting duties (including poopy diapers), and although some might dabble and joke around, none of them truly expect to be living out an episode of ‘Mad Men’.

Just like that, nobody gasps in shock either when a woman dives under the car and changes a tire, decided to choose a career over family or is the main breadwinner at home.

We’re all living together as a team, making up for each other’s strengths and weaknesses. Sure, we don’t always see eye to eye, but we’re making it work.

I’m not denying that there are still parts of the world where this is just not the case, nor am I saying that there are no ongoing issues when it comes to gender equality… far from it! But things, really for the first world, are not that bad and we should not take it for granted.

Double Standards

Although things are going fine in the scheme of things, I believe double standards are still present where it can be desirable for one group and deplorable for another. It’s these double standards that are typically used by the radical sides as they pick and choose what suits their arguments best.

A man can’t slap a woman (but when she does it I’m sure she had a good reason). Just like discrimination against women is wrong (but discrimination against men is called equal opportunity). Women should not be objectified in magazines; it’s degrading (as we reach for our yearly Hot Firemen Calendar… well done boys, rrrrrrr!)

The coin flips both ways as women are ball busters for asking what time he’ll be home after drinks with the guys (meanwhile, she has 4 missed calls thirty minutes into girls night). Marriage is a way to trap men (and women supposedly ‘won’ the lottery there). That guy slept around and tells dirty jokes… what a legend (same for her… that’s a bit vulgar don’t you think, you dirty slut? 😉

It’s important that we don’t fall into the traps of such double standards as I think the majority of us get along just fine with the opposite sex; and any conflicts are often just as a result of someone’s behavior (i.e. are they being an ass or not) rather than whether they have an extra X or Y chromosome.

So in conclusion to what has been by longest rant yet, men are from Mars, women are from Venus; and there’s nothing wrong with that. We should embrace our differences and focus on equality where it matters. People should be evaluated on their behavior and attitude towards others, not on their gender (nor race/religion/sexual preference … but that’s a whole new topic).

In my books, it doesn’t matter what is between your legs… if you’re nice to me then I’ll be nice to you.

If you continuously harass people in any way or form it’s not because you’re a man or a woman, it’s simply because you’re being an asshole… and both genders have those!

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The Bystander Effect: Why we don’t always act and what we can do about it

(published in Bonjour France, 19 March 2017)

TheSans titre other day, like many days in this beautiful city, I found myself stuck in the chaos that is the RER A with trains delayed for up to 2 hours. People were naturally frustrated, it being rush hour and all, but someone’s frustration got the better of him as he aggressively lashed out at transport personnel and security was eventually called. Nobody reacted (except for a few head nods) and nobody intervened (myself included).

Our increasingly (false) sense of anonymity, especially when living in a large city, can directly defuse our sense of responsibility as social influence leads us to turn the other cheek when witnessing a distressing situation. Be it out of fear of getting hurt ourselves or just not being aware of the danger the situation poses to someone else, we are more likely to intervene and help someone when no one else is around… in a crowd, we’re a bystander.

The “Bystander Effect” is a psychological phenomenon that refers to situations where people do not offer any kind of help to a victim when other people are present. J. Darley and B Latané first popularised the concept showing how the probability of help can be directly related to the number of bystanders present.

On social media our ‘outrage’ is shown by sharing viral videos of bullying, discrimination and often downright illegal acts against others. We share this with the best intentions to raise awareness and stop things like this from happening again, but when push comes to shove, would we act and help when witnessing such a scenario in real-life?

The Bystander Effect can be seen in many situations from bullying at school or the workplace, harassment in public , to dangerous protests that run out of hand. This does not mean people are scum and we enjoy witnessing others getting hurt.  In many cases, people feel that since there are other people around, surely someone else will leap into action.

Let’s take a closer look at some of the reasons why we freeze and refrain from helping others, and what we could do about it?

CAUSES OF BYSTANDER EFFECTS

Fear and uneasiness 

Sometimes we don’t know the entire backstory of what we are witnessing and doubts lead us to question whether we should intervene or not. We are afraid we might make a fool of ourselves if our intervention is not appreciated and we look to our peers for guidance and asses their reactions to the same situation. If nobody else takes action, perhaps we don’t fully understand what is happening and we best mind our own business, right?

Shock

Often when faced with something out of the ordinary, we don’t immediately recognise what is happening nor how to react to it. Our delayed reaction in helping someone in distress could merely be as a result of our brain still processing what it is witnessing.

“Diffusion of Responsibility” 

Research shows when others are around, our personal sense of responsibility decreases. We believe that someone else would have probably called for help already, or is doing something to help. We are more likely to help others if we are alone, as we feel the responsibility to act relies solely on us.

Minimal knowledge or qualifications 

In some cases (especially medical emergencies) we tend to stand back and wait for someone with the right qualifications or experience. We’re afraid we might hurt the person even more as we wait for a professional to intervene.

Minding our own business 

We’ve all experienced or heard stories where someone has tried to help someone in alleged distress, and their good deed went and bit them right back in the bum as they got involved in a tricky situation and got hurt themselves. To avoid any hassles, we turn the other cheek and mind our own business.

Misinterpretation of a situation 

Adding onto the above point, we often look away because we wrongly assess a situation or are influenced by common misconceptions. You’d be surprised at what is considered ‘okay’ these days as we witness a woman being harassed, even though she was flirty earlier; or we watch a man get into a bar fight with two others, but he’d been drinking so perhaps he started it …

Now that we understand some of the reasons why we don’t always jump to act, we could look at ways to overcome this psychological phenomenon and be more aware ourselves.

I’m not suggesting we all go wear superhero capes and go vigilante on anyone showing inappropriate or dangerous behavior, but rather, how can we start with ourselves in diminishing this diffusion of responsibility and engaging in our own helping behaviors?

HOW TO OVERCOME THE BYSTANDER EFFECT?

Awareness

Recognising the signs can make a big difference. Signs can be noticed, by trusting our intuition or educating ourselves on certain topics.

Example: An air hostess was able to recognise the signs of human trafficking on one of her flights when she saw a well-dressed man accompany a raged and distressed teenager. She approached the girl behind the man’s back and quickly found out the girl was being taken away against her will. She was quick to notify police on the ground, who were waiting to interrogate the man as they landed.

Another example, perhaps more recognisable in our everyday life, was when a young woman was being harassed by a man on the metro. He was not being overly aggressive, however, was subtly whispering threats and harassing her physically amongst busy morning commuters who did not seem to take notice, or thought it was a couple having a small dispute. One woman saw the girl’s irritation/anxiety and pretended to know her to strike up a conversation. The man quickly left the girl alone and excited the train.

Sometimes being aware of a situation and acting, however small this may be, could help someone and change the outcome of a potentially negative or dangerous scenario.

Witness or Role model helpful Behavior 

Sometimes we just need to think what we would want people to do, if we were in the “victim’s” situation. What if that had been my daughter, son, friend, parent, sibling… Sometimes just seeing other people doing something kind or helpful makes us more willing to help others.

If we’re too afraid to get hurt ourselves, or we see that our direct intervention would only escalate the situation, call for help.

If we see that action from a few people could deter the ‘attacker’, make eye contact with others and try to solicit a group intervention.

Sometimes making eye contact with or simply acknowledging the ‘attacker’ and their behaviour can be enough.

Education and Training

Knowing specific ways to help in certain situations can often be enough to give us the confidence to act and help. People who have been trained professionally in assisting in emergency situation, often find it second nature to help others where needed.

We don’t need to go and study for years to get the right qualifications in order to help others. Often we can find community training workshops related to sexual assault, self-defense, bullying, recognizing suspicious behaviors etc. Such programs teach us the best (and safest) way to react in certain situations. When all else fails, we can do some personal e-learning online and read up on topics that may interest us.

For example, since the terror attacks in France, campaigns have increasingly informed people on how to recognize, and report suspicious behaviors, abandoned luggage, signs of radicalization and general safety tips in the event of another attack.

Just remember that it only takes one person to stand up and say ‘this is wrong’ in order for others to see it and act too.

Always try to help somebody in whichever way possible, because you might just be the only one …