26/03/2010

When I'm mad from tertiary syphilis

When Nietzsche went mad, after kissing too many horses and contracting syphilis, he wrote to his best friend Overbeck to inform him that he was having all anti-semites abolished. Clearly, they'd been getting on his nerves a while and when the chips were down, he no longer saw the point in holding back.

When I go mad from syphilis, I too will want to settle a few scores. There'll be drivers who don't stop at crossings, people who don't give up their seats to pregnant women or to parents with small children, the boy who smokes in the women's toilet at work, students who don't bring their texts to class, people who butcher Bach on the piano while I'm trying to blog, and I could go on a while. But mostly, first to face the shooting squad, will be all those men who somehow think they're better, more entitled than the rest of the world just because they're men.

Note that just as Nietzsche wasn't ever persecuted by the anti-Semites (not being Jewish and all) I have been particularly lucky in escaping the male chauvinist. I am married to a man who is regularly cited by friends as an example of what a husband ought to be – i.e. one who does exactly half of all housework and childcare, even if you count the little things that always get forgotten in the lists and so that women end up doing. I have a great job doing exactly what I like, and I have yet to feel anything like discrimination in my place of work. I live in a country where people are too polite to tell me to my face what they think I should do or shouldn't do because I'm a foreigner. Also, I'm one of three sisters, who never had a brother to compare themselves to, or be compared to.

I'm lucky.

But a lot of women aren't. Most women were born in countries where even if they have equal rights on paper (and a lot don't) in practice they're always working harder for less. And even in places where supposedly feminism has won, most married women have long given up on their husbands doing their fair share at home – it's just not worth the battle. So when I was reading up on difference feminism this afternoon, women who claim that the law should recognise, rather than negate differences between men and women, I wondered. Would women be better off if they bit the bullet and did most of the childcare but at the same time claimed extra benefits and shorter working hours for it? It would certainly make sense for all those women who prefer not to go back to work full time when they've had a child. They would get recognition as mothers, as people who're working extra hard to repopulate the planet. But then I think of myself, and all those other women who don't really want to take that much time off. I think of the men who'd really quite like to stay home with their kids. Why should it just be a woman's thing and not a parent's thing? I think also of the real consequences of women working shorter hours than men: they'd get less done, so not be promoted and the glass ceiling would come down even lower. Things are bad enough as they are. As I said, I've yet to encounter and discrimination at work, but on the other hand, I'm the only woman in the department – aside from the departmental secretary.

It would be easy to see the world as one big phallocentric edifice – really not that hard. But then, it wouldn't be that much more difficult to see the world as an alien farming space, where martians grow humans to produce carbon dioxide, or compost, with the occasional abduction to regulate breeding. I'm not saying that's not happening, but if it is, what are you going to do about it? If the world truly is as phallocentric as some people say, then there's really no way out. On the other hand, if we believe the world isn't so male that we'd quite like to carve a place in it for ourselves, then we need to work on that! I guess that means a lot of arse kicking, and some hard thinking. It also means a lot of courage from men who'd like to stay at home to look after the kids and clean the house while their partner works outside. And a bit more understanding from the rest of the world.

I'm not sure Nietzsche would have approved...

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