So if how women are treated depends on how they are perceived and how they are perceived depends on how they are represented, one part of the solution essentially has to start with better and more realistic representation of women. However there are more moving parts to this problem which will also need to be tackled alongside.
However I want to take one final detour before we consider candidate solutions to the gender oppression problem. I want to look at how feminists have been going about trying to solve the problem of gender oppression and how most of them get gist of the argument wrong.
Traditionally, if you look at the feminist argument, it is framed around the oppression matrix of women and how men mistreat women now as also how women have been traditionally oppressed. Most of the feminine vim and simmering outrage gets spent on making the victimization argument. It is presented everywhere in all its statistical and anecdotal detail, with each new episode of gender oppression serving as a corroborative proof of the ongoing suppression. It is the classical offtake on Victim-Villain narrative.
Now there are two main problems with making victimization argument as the lynchpin of gender equality campaign strategy:
It does represent facts however the objectivity of facts is lost because they are rounded up to serve a narrative and hence people who disagree with that narrative also discount these facts. So it does raise awareness about the women issues however also encounters maximum cognitive blockades. So instead of rallying up empathy, these facts elicit resistance from public at large and menfolk in general.
It is a negative argument since in here one party is in wrong and the other needs redemption. Now the problem of negative argument is that if you keep harping on negatives in a situation you end of having more of them. The psychological fact is that whatever you affirm repeatedly, more you attract of that to yourself as you train your mind to that mode of perception. So more feminists talk about gender oppression with men as inflictors, more is the likelihood that it will happen in the society around them.
So are there better ways of making the gender equality argument. Yes there are and in fact I believe there are three strategies that can be pursued and that they should be pursued as a combination. Each of them works at a different strategic level where the first is at individualistic, second at environmental and third impacts at ecological level. Taken together they have the capacity to bleed the societal mindset which creates the problem of women stereotyping and gender inequality with a thousand cuts. The three action levels are as under:
- Create awareness around the plight of women,
- Represent social types instead of stereotypes,
- Undo Patriarchy as a Cultural type.
- Creating Awareness at Individual Level: Inspite of being in rhetorical orbit for decades not many men and even women, are aware of the true extent of the gender problem. All the facts are out there in public space however they are not being meaningfully consumed by any society. Part of it is due to “emotional loading of facts” as I pointed out earlier by traditional feminists and part is due to lack of credible voices of public life, repeatedly articulating these facts. So inspite of awareness campaigns being active at individual as well as organizational level, their impact is limited as persistent cases of gender oppression will testify.
Here is how a typical campaign against gender oppression looks:
Inspite of its emotional tug, this campaign highlights what is typically wrong with such campaigns.
To raise awareness around lack of opportunities, glass ceilings and outright atrocities against women, we need to run a sustained awareness campaigns. This campaign can alternate between presenting facts and recounting stories of gender situations objectively. Bereft of any blame or accusations, the campaign/s should present oppression facts, as they are. The facts in themselves are dramatic enough and additionally can be presented viscerally to make their recall immediate. This will ensure the message virality and outreach.
However the campaign also has to have a narrative twist to make an impact. The twist in this case is that most of the voices in this campaign should be recognized male voices. In other words credible men should be recruited to articulate the awareness campaign. As any novice marketer will tell you that we are persuaded by people who are like us so the message of gender oppression coming from men will find traction with maximum number of men. The facts will not be discounted as some feminist yada yada and will have a chance to make an impact on psyche of people listening in.
So if the campaign as above had a male narrator saying boys don’t make girls cry, the impact would have been far deeper on the intended audience. Hence the awareness campaign will need hard facts, narrative heft and male brand ambassadors to have a sizeable impact. Here’s Jackson Katz sending a message to men on violence against women. We need more of such voices to come forward and address men and make them aware of this huge problem that pervades our environment.
Also heres a role flip interview done by Mark Ruffalo to highlight the sexist bias. While promoting Avengers 2, he answers flippant questions around dresses and occasions that are typically addressed to female protagonists while Scarlet Johansson answers all the serious question around role and its preparation that typically gets routed to male leads.
A good campaign should transcend from being instructional to being transformative and this is an example of how a good gender awareness campaign should run.