Hooray for landing on a comet… but change your shirt

2014-11-28 07:08

The greatest progression in science in the last decade was overshadowed, not only be Kim Kardashians generous derriere... but a shirt.

source: European Space Agency/PA

If you missed it by any chance, on the 12th of November, the first-ever controlled touchdown on a comet took place. While getting interviewed for his impressive work on the Rosetta project, Mark Taylor chose to wear a shirt that made him the target of criticism. The shirt in question had scantily clad cartoon women scattered across it. It also turned out to be a gift from a female friend. That didn't stop the likes of Mike Plante, and other boisterous feminists to speak out, stating that this is a prime example of how the sciences alienate women. After he had realised the palatial blunder he made, Taylor gave a heartfelt apology.

Some described this incident as one small step for man, three steps back for humankind. I tend to agree with that title, but not for the reasons they have stated. Feminism in my eyes is a movement that brings voice to those that were told to be seen, but never heard. It's intended to encourage gender equality in all spheres of life. It's a very noble venture but can't successfully be undertaken when half the population is excluded from the conversation. Gender inequality affects men as well, and they should be included in order to effect progress. But how can we include men when we attack someone for making a minor misstep in this way? Others more eloquent than me have said it best. (Read more here)

If you want to see how the debate ensued on the web, just follow the hashtag #Shirtstorm. If you don’t want to sieve through the hundreds of thousands of tweets, Know Your Memes gave a decent summary of it all.

I find memes to be a great way of seeing people's position on the issue. Based on this means of expression, feminism has a bad rep. It's seen as oppression of men under the guise of gender equality.

I recently stumbled upon He for She. It is an interesting campaign that shed light on two things, feminism the word is unpopular and misleading in terms of its true ethos, equality. Now the name has taken on a negative connotation of male-bashing. It's a pity, but I have to admit that was my first impression.

During my Honours studies, I decided to take up a few courses on gender studies. I grew up within a Malawian patriarchal family; there were traditional limitations that I was obligated to adhere to due to my gender. They were rules I tended to challenge, only to be told that I have become too westernised, and this was our culture. It should be respected.

When I was first introduced to the word Feminism, I appreciated the thought behind it. However, being bombarded with gender for most of my childhood, the word itself didn't gel with me because it came across obviously gendered. I preferred meritocracy; it was gender neutral. I liked that it was governing system defined by merit. Over the years, I realised that there was one important part where it failed to fulfill. It was in the developing the merit in those that didn't have before, resetting the scales. That's where Feminism seems to take the cake.

If we stick to a purely meritocratic system, then the gender asymmetry remains as the only ones allowed certain opportunities would continue to do so. My primary school will continue to have needlework for girls and woodwork for boys. While I remember thoroughly enjoying knitting and sewing little masterpieces, I was always curious about the other side, and was somewhat aware of this unconscious barrier that hindered me from trying it out.

Emma Watson’s speech at the UN was refreshing. It reminded me of the questions I had during many gender studies seminars. Looking at the group of people present, there was a gender bias that was ironic since the topics covered were related to gender equality. I wondered whether my family of ‘guy's guys' who ascribed to a somewhat ‘macho' masculinity would ever consider taking such a course. I mean the modules on hegemonic masculinity would have been way more enlightening if we had input by those who were most affected. However, perception is the enemy of progress. While some may be interested, the overriding concern would be reluctance to appear soft.

The map of He for She indicates that 1066 men in South Africa have signed up to the cause. I wonder who those men are why they have signed up for it. Would they openly identify themselves as feminists, or does their confidence extend only to filling in boxes under the aegis of online anonymity? I tend to think so after reading articles such as this one by Daily Maverick.

I recently heard a sound bite on the radio that resonated with me. It also succinctly states my position on the feminism debate. It went along these lines:

We must stop talking about the empowerment of women. We should start talking about the empowerment of men - to understand gender equality.

(I’m not sure who the speaker was. If you do, please share that with me.)

Where do you lean on this topic? I would love to know your thoughts. You can find me on Twitter and Google+.

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