Columns

Shin ’17: Women, their rights and nothing less

By
Opinions Columnist
Friday, November 21, 2014

Environment influences one’s thinking and experience. Experiences shape one’s identity. Society dictates certain ideals and expectations for each gender. And expectations and stereotypes confine us to set frames.

Hence the idea of gender roles and “masculinity” are illusions fostered and intensified after birth by society. Men “imprisoned by gender stereotypes” are made “fragile and insecure by a distorted sense of what constitutes male success,” Emma Watson ’14 argued in her striking speech at the United Nations in September. She deplored feminism’s degeneration into such an unpopular and despised concept and invited men to join the cause because they too suffer from gender stereotypes — an advance that much echoes the thoughts of a 19th-century women’s rights suffragist, Susan B. Anthony: “Men, their rights and nothing more; women, their rights and nothing less.”

One thing that really gnawed at me when I heard Watson’s speech was that it indicated that we are still stuck at the stage of “defining” gender equality and feminism. She urged men to participate in the cause. But I will not ask men to become feminists. It is indeed difficult for a man to share the feelings of a woman fully and to profoundly sympathize with a feminist view.

Then what are all the feminists doing out there, selfishly trying to salvage their own kind when, in fact, all are suffering, males and females alike? Doesn’t Watson’s self-contradictory statement nullify the very cause of feminism?
To all those anti-feminist men’s groups out there, the answer is a great big no. I sympathize with many male organizations in their attempts to eradicate prejudices and stereotypes against males, because it is true that we all suffer from prescribed gender roles. When that prejudice is transformed into discrimination and violence, however, it changes what is at stake for women. Gender discrimination and sexual assault are more active and violent forms of rights infringement than just stereotypes. That is why so many feminists — not just women but all those who care about their well-being — are raising their voices.

Sexual harassment, domestic violence, sex trafficking and slavery are not myths or make-believe stories but realities that are crushing the lives of numerous mothers, wives and daughters around the world. It is an undeniable fact that most of the victims are female. I myself come from a country still so tainted by the patriarchal conventions and antiquities of Neo-Confucian society — where sons are preferred and female offspring are not welcomed by their grandparents, where bitter anti-feminist men shout that all women should serve in the army just because it is unfair for them, and where a rapist who inflicted an indelible scar on an eight-year-old girl is released after 12 years, exactly when she turns twenty.

So when I first landed here, I could not witness any tangible signs of the gender inequality that I so often see and feel firsthand back home. But then I was struck by the news about university students sexually assaulted by peers on college campuses. The glass ceiling is much higher here than in Korea, but a university student being sexually harassed by another student is such a rare incident there. The fact that these unthinkable crimes are committed in such prestigious, elitist institutions as Ivy League schools is concerning.

Brown started admitting female students in 1971. Where are we now? Twenty-four years have passed since the controversial and monumental rape-list incident, triggered by several Brown students who survived sexual violence and who wanted to ignite change in the campus rape culture and the University’s sexual assault policies. How much have we improved?

The revelation of drinks spiked with date-rape drugs and an alleged sexual assault case, both of which are under investigation, has sparked heated debates and forums addressing the question, “How should colleges handle sexual assault?” Preventative measures and ex-post-facto treatment are crucial components of creating a safe community, but Brown seems to be facing criticism in both areas. Some students at open forums have raised concerns about the lack of sexual assault prevention programs and bystander training given to first-years and party attendees. More importantly, the University has failed to convince the students that it is putting its utmost effort into protecting and caring for victims while fully investigating alleged perpetrators.

“Universities in the United States rarely expel students for sexual assault,” wrote Toby Simon, a former dean in the Office of Student Life, in a 2011 CNN opinions column. Acknowledging perpetrators’ crimes, punishing them and publicly holding sexual assault awareness programs do not help fundraising efforts. After Lena Sclove ’16 was forced to relive her painful experience last year because the University had not taken appropriate measures to ensure her safety and let her alleged assailant back on campus, students have clearly lost trust in the University’s handling of these matters.

Perhaps most difficult and incomprehensible is the spine-chilling feeling of omnipresent threat and sexual violence that women on campus have to live with. Of course, there are certain aspects of “male” life that women cannot fully sympathize with, such as the social pressure and expectations of “manlihood.” And it is because of this that we are hopeful — because men are similarly suffering from gender stereotypes and distorted images — that they can at least try to understand our vantage point. If you believe in human rights, love your mother and wife, care about your daughter’s safety and wish your son to grow into a responsible individual, rather than a perpetrator that crushes others’ rights, you can easily be the “inadvertent feminist,” as Watson put it.

Julie HyeBin Shin ’17 can be reached at hye_bin_shin@brown.edu.

  • Anon

    As a male, I’m not aware of any mystical gender stereotypes I’m suffering through. There are legal inequalities of course (alimony, cough cough), but in general it’s not like I’m so desperately insecure that my lack of a perfect 6-pack makes me sob at night, or some other silly notion of “manhood,” which is the word you’re looking for. Then again, actually being fit is an excellent pressure to put on people.

    I think all this commotion about “societal gender roles” is nonsense. Be who you want to be. Self confidence is important, and you’ll never develop it if you always blame the world for all your problems.

    As for sexual assault, the university should have no part in resolving anything – that should be the job of the state. How many coverups by universities, churches, and other private institutions does it take for people to see the gargantuan conflict of interest in these kangaroo courts? Go to the police department – that’s why it exists. Going to some internal university authority robs everyone, most importantly the survivor, of justice.

  • Anonymoose

    “If you believe in human rights, love your mother and wife, care about your daughter’s safety and wish your son to grow into a responsible individual, rather than a perpetrator that crushes others’ rights, you can easily be the “inadvertent feminist,” as Watson put it.”

    Why is it that my son is the one who must avoid being a perpetrator that crushes others’ rights? Wouldn’t a movement based on gender equality want everyone to grow up to be a responsible individual? Should I not care about my son’s safety or my daughter’s personal responsibility? I understand that I’m being nit-picky, but you have seemingly phrased gender roles into your concluding sentence.

    • TheRationale

      I don’t think you’re being nit-picky. Actually, you’ve found one of the big reasons why most people take feminism about as seriously as they take PETA. It suffers from glaring hypocrisy that comes as a result of insulating itself from any form of criticism. There’s no real vision or mission – it’s just a catchword you can slap onto whatever anger you feel towards the world so you can pretend your complaints are somehow more important than those of people with real problems. Sexual assault is a real problem, and it’s sad some find it so easy to divide people on an issue which should really be something we find easy to come together on.

  • Ohone

    Watson and feminism for that matter enforce gender roles.

    Men are not allowed to talk about their own issues and the only issue available for men to discuss is to go along with the feminist lies that family violence is gendered.

    Take Watson at her word and go along to the UN women site and what you will find is that you are being asked to sign up for the usual feminist tripe (end violence against women) which means ignoring the fact that most child abuse and half of DV (with women initiating more often) is commit by women.

    Feminism is sick.

  • Masculinity Is Bueno!

    “Hence the idea of gender roles and “masculinity” are illusions fostered and intensified after birth by society.”

    I’d be more convinced if Ms. Shin’s photo showed her with a buzz-cut or a shaved head. A wad of chewing tobacco in her cheek would help too. She looks too heteronormative and gender-role conforming in that photo to take seriously for this article.

  • Whothehell Cares

    Feminism IS Sexism. Be egalitarian, seek justice equity and freedom for all.