The Gender Discussion

Call It Sexism, Misogyny, or Patriarchy. Whatever the Word, It’s Tiresome.

“The patriarchy is a funny thing.”

I was telling Toku about this blog post by my friend, Sam Hunter. Sam, who makes her living creating quilt designs and phenomenal quilts, shares her thoughts about “The Gender Discussion” where it concerns the quilting industry. Toku was surprised to learn that there are male quilters (yes, they exist). But he was even more surprised to learn that they get extra attention for being men.

For years, women struggled to gain traction in male dominated fields, because men helped other men. No surprise there. But here is one of the few fields that has been dominated by women, and men get attention, because they’re a novelty.

I hadn’t even noticed it until he pointed it out. Yeah, it’s kind of a paradox.

Some of what Sam brings up happens within the confines of quilting, but some of it is all too familiar.

The issue that women have to be “nice” and are afraid of being “bitchy”, where a man’s aggressiveness is honored. That women get paid less than men. That women aren’t taken as seriously, aren’t considered “artists”. That women sometimes face unspeakable harassment when they speak out online about inequality. The frustration women feel when men hijack the Gender Conversation.

I’m not going to rehash or respond to anything that’s already been said. I only want to point out that while these conversations may seem like isolated incidents in separate fields, they’re actually part of a much bigger conversation.

If you zoom your lens out, you may notice that this conversation goes on in writing, gaming, and film. In fiction writing in particular, it’s not only a gender discussion but a diversity discussion. And its a conversation that affects us all. It’s a conversation that determines whether your voice will be heard.

A couple months ago I wrote about seeing Ursula K Le Guin at a Powell’s reading. Because Le Guin was a trailblazer for women in science fiction, the Gender Discussion was very present at the reading. What I didn’t write about was something I observed while standing in line to get a book signed. A young man in front of me asked Le Guin whether there was still a place for male writers. Le Guin answered that there was but that it has been out of balance for a long time.

I had two reactions to this. One was anger with this question. Women are marginalized on a regular basis, and we get accused of over-reacting or being feminazis. A man feels marginalized one time and he wants to be gently cooed and reassured that he still matters.

Get over it. Welcome to the Land Being Diminished Because of Your Chromosomes! If you want to have sex while preventing pregnancy, you’ll have to testify before a Congressional Committee of crotchety old men, who are convinced you are a syphlitic hoebag. Oh you want to be recognized for your art? How cute! Here’s 7/10’s of a dollar. Don’t spend it all in one place!

I also felt empathy. I had a glimpse of what this guy was afraid of. He was afraid that having women at the table meant there was no place for him at the table. And I know what that feels like.

I sensed some fear there – and I could be reading way too much into this – that felt that if women’s voices gained significance, then there wouldn’t be space for men.

Is that what men think this is? A zero-sum game, an all or nothing fight where the winner takes the spoils? Is that why there’s so much resistance to gender equality?

When it comes to art, my vision isn’t for one voice to sit at the table. Art is at its best when all voices are represented and all stories are told. As Le Guin’s response indicated, it’s been out of balance for a long time, heavily favoring one, single perspective. And of course its hard to notice when you’re across the ocean from the Land of Marginalization and in the Land of Excessive Importance, where yours is the only story being told.

I can’t speak for what all women want. I can only speak for what I want, which is for all groups and all voices and all experiences to sit at the table.

I don’t like the same books that some men – and even some women – like, and that’s okay! Different strokes for different folks! That’s the great thing about art: lots of artists means lots of different voices.

When there are more voices at the table – especially different ethnicities, cultures, sexual and gender orientations, and religions – then audiences have a better chance of finding a voice that resonates with them, a better chance of finding a much longed for connection. Better yet, something that satiates their curiosity by showing a new worldview. All are served when there are more voices at the table.

More importantly, I can’t deny somebody the opportunity to create. Some of the male quilters Sam responded to talked about the queer comments they get from people who are stunned to meet a male quilter. If you want to quilt, then quilt your heart out! I won’t deny anyone the opportunity to create, because the Land of No Creation is a far more desolate place than even the Land of Marginalization.

The diminishing of voices is subtle. The times I’ve observed sexism, I honestly believe the men did not understand the impact of their words and actions. I don’t think they ever intended to be harmful, but they were.

But also saying “I have a wife/sister/daughter/female best friend” or #NotAllMen doesn’t win me over. Just because you have women in your life doesn’t mean you’re not a ginormous asshole towards them.

Instead, ask yourself, what is your vision for the role they play and for the places they have at the table? Do they get they the same autonomy and respect as your best buddy, your son, or your male colleague? And what are you willing to do to give that to them?


One Comment Add yours

  1. The role of women in the quilt world is significant, and I love it. Off the charts compared to most any other industry. We have such amazing female leaders and role models. If I ever get a paycheck, a woman signs it, and she does not pay me more than anyone else for the same work. The thing I see most in this discussion is the desire to maintain the balance we’ve got, and I’m right there with you on that.

    Regarding privilege, I’ll share something I shared in the comments on other blogs. I asked a Buddhist friend, who said,

    “There are many forms of privilege, present in the broad spectrum of individuals. We only see it in others, never ourselves. If we have time to sew, we have time to sew.”

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