‘Woman-as-child’ may be the most simple, and most intelligent, equality concept that anyone has ever created—and it is the brainchild of first-wave feminism. If you’re not a fan of the feminist movement, try and give the concept a chance anyway, you may be surprised. I personally am GEA (Gender Equality Agnostic) which means I hold the middle ground between feminism and the Men’s Rights Movement, but I admire and sincerely believe that the evolution of woman-as-child, combined with the continued enforcement of male gender role, is the reason we still have so much confusion on what gender equality actually looks like.
Woman-as-child is the idea that women are societally treated like children. Before you draw assumptions on what that means, I’m going to paint a picture that hopefully allows you to see both the male and female perspective of this concept. If you’re a parent the following metaphors will be very easy to relate to, if you’re not, try and think back to your own childhood as a benchmark.
Picture yourself as a single parent of children around ten years of age.
In your home as a parent, though you love your children, how much input do they have in the management of household affairs? How much say do they have as to what the house rules are? How much choice and control do they have over their own lives?
Odds are, the answer to all of those questions is ‘very little’.
You may seek input and opinion on things that directly affect them (eg what flavor ice-cream would you like?), but otherwise they are removed from decision making powers, even those decisions that have a direct impact on their lives. You as a parent hold the only position of ‘Authority’ under the assumption that your children do not have the intelligence or experience necessary to significantly contribute to household matters of real importance; in most households children have no opportunity to directly make any impact on household ‘rulings’.
Regardless of this lack of power do your children still have expectations placed on them, obligations of contribution? Do you still have an expectation that they love and respect you? How would your children feel after millions of years of exclusion from authority, power, or real control over their own lives?
This was the position presented by the voices that started the women’s liberation movement and it’s an easy one to relate to because we’ve all been kids at one point in time in our lives. When you think of society from this perspective it is very easy to support what feminism has been trying to achieve and to understand why women were (or still are) so frustrated. As a father I strongly connected with the concept and at the very least it gave me a reason to look long and hard at how I treat my kids.
The problem is, most people stop there and don’t follow the concept of woman-as-child through to its conclusion, so let’s take another look at that same picture from a different perspective.
Picture yourself as a parent once more.
Do you think that even if you hold the only position of authority, that your children have no influence over you, your household, or how things are done? The difference between authority and influence is the power to have the final say in a decision, influence however is considered to be the only true form of power as it has wide reach over and above authority – eg The French Revolution could be considered a grass roots movement against authority and is a fairly obvious example of how influence can trump authority (we’ll cover ‘power theory: authority vs influence’ in future articles).
Do you think that you’re choosing to not seek out your children’s input on decisions on how to pay the mortgage, what job you should take, how to put food on the table etc… do you think this completely deliberate removal of power comes from a desire to oppressyour children? Are your actions malicious or hateful? Unless you had a seriously dysfunctional childhood I think it will also be very easy for to you understand why even though your actions are intentionally disempowering, they are not done so with malevolence.
Choosing to treat someone as a child is rarely born of hate, it does however speak of a basic disrespect that means you do not view a person as an equal.
Continue that thought process.
How much do you love your children? What would you be willing to sacrifice to provide for and protect your children? Would you engage in years of study and or work long hours in employment that you personally loathe, but considered necessary to provide for your family? Even after you had done these things – would you have any expectation that your children would do the same for you?
Would you fight for your children?
Would you die for your children?
I don’t know a parent that would ever say no to those questions and anyone who has ever cracked a history book knows that its pages are written in the blood of countless men who died to make a literal reality of the phrase, ‘save the women and children first’.
Stay with that image of you as a parent a moment longer. Those obligations placed upon your children to ‘contribute’ to the household, how would you view those obligations when compared to your obligation to protect and provide? Would you credit them as a burden (even though clearly, they are)?
If you were in this relationship with your children for a million years and you each looked back and wrote your version of that history, how different do you think your version of events would be from your children’s? Do you think you would be presented as a loving parent who sacrificed to protect and provide for those you love…
Or do you think you would be seen as the face of an oppressive patriarchy—a classist societal institution bent on keeping your children crushed underfoot?
When you read your children’s version of your shared history, a version that discounted all your good, and only focused on the failings that were the outcome of your familial arrangement (aka societal gender role), failings that were then placed solely at your feet… how would you feel?
When the ‘children’ of this metaphor hear about women-as-child, they tend to choose the gender equality ideology of feminism.
When the ‘parents’ of this metaphor hear about women-as-child, they tend to choose the gender equality ideology of the Men’s Rights Movement (MRM).
Experience has shown me that everything in life sounds one-sided if you only explore one side. There are two sides to every story and in the case of gender history, both are valid, which is why I became Equality Agnostic.
Which gender equality ideology will you choose?
Next week a look at the societal shift away from woman-as-child towards woman-as-teenager.