Through counselling I have identified a major flaw in myself. I have always valued myself based on my attraction to men. It's what got me into trouble when I was 17, it was the cause of heartache when my relationships after that faltered because I was too clingy, it was the reason I attached myself to a loser in my first marriage. After I finally grew the intestinal fortitude to walk away from the emotional and financial abuse which cost me so dearly in that relationship, I spent more than a decade not wanting or needing a man to complete me - and I was happy.
Then somewhere along the line my heart once again overruled my head and "love" appeared again on my radar. I met and married my second husband, believing truly that he was my soul mate and we would live happily ever after. I should have known that happy endings really only happen in fairy stories.
I am once again a single white female, on my own in a big scary world. The difference this time is that I can understand my own limitations, and I have support from a wonderful group of women. Some of these I met more than a decade ago, when I was first finding my social feet after years of being a dedicated solo parent. I have never made friends particularly easily so the women I met and befriended back then and who have kept in regular contact are very special to me. No less special are the women I have met since my second marriage breakup and my "coming out" from my deep, dark rape closet.
Laura, who believed in me and encouraged me to move forward. Michelle, who helps me work through the bad stuff in my head. Taylor, who accepts me for me and listens to my problems even though she has some pretty huge ones of her own. The wonderful women I have met through OBR and TVM, and will continue to meet through other women's groups.
So I get really angry when I read daily of a culture which undermines and marginalises women, insinuates that women have less value than men, allows abuse to happen almost unchecked and worse, in so many cases, unpunished. I think of how I would feel if anything like that happened to any of the women I love, and then I think that it makes no difference whether it is someone I love or a woman on the other side of the world that I will never know. This culture is not geo-fenced in India or Muslim countries or Western religious sects or cults. It's a daily part of life in every country in every continent globally. It is insidious and patronising and demeaning.
Most Western countries have anti-discrimination laws and harassment laws which are supposed to "protect" women from gender bias and place us on an equal footing with men, but the very existence of these laws means we haven't yet gotten there. The language of these laws may be gender-neutral, but ask most men, especially in blue collar occupations, what they believe is the purpose of harassment policies and their response may have more to do with the nude calendar they used to have on the smoko room wall than gender equality. Yes, that is a generalisation - but it is based on the language of a male-dominant culture that hasn't changed much in decades.
Take swearing, for instance. In a male dominated industry such as transport, coarse language is a given, yet these men who swear happily amongst themselves will apologise if they happen to swear in front of a woman. They don't see anything wrong with the apology, they believe they are being polite and using their manners - they certainly don't understand that by only apologising to women they are marginalising women and bolstering their own belief that women are "different", not as tough as men. It would never occur to them that they should change their language. To everyone. Full stop.
So now I don't pull them up on their bad language, I pull them up on their apologies.
And so it is with every little thing that is made to stand out as a difference between men and women. Personally, I believe that the only real difference between the sexes is the biological function of procreation. Nothing else matters. Men in general may be stronger of muscle than women, but there are many very strong women. Women in general may be more empathetic than men, but I know some very caring, nurturing men. Generalisations cause so many problems, and lead time and again to the stereotyping of women based on a cultural belief of their "place" within a society.
As wives, mothers, daughters, sisters, aunts, nieces, girlfriends, women are ideally placed to change these beliefs and disable the generalisations. Change will not become immediately evident, because immediate change or contrition must be suspect. Change takes time, but it's worth it in the long term.
Imagine a society where equality is no longer a dream but is an every day reality. Do something every day to change someone elses' gender-based cultural beliefs and eventually that dream can become a reality.
But it's up to all of us.