There is a photograph making the rounds on social media.
I’m not going to post it because a) it’s an artist’s property, and reproducing it without permission is copyright violation; b) I don’t want to; c) I don’t want to name the artist because I think the artist’s work is really quite stunning, and it’s actually the nature of the image that upsets me, and that might have been the client’s choice and not the artist’s choice; and d) I’m pretty good with word-pictures.
The image shows a man standing with a long gun in front of some bales. A young man stands near him holding a sign that says something like “if you want to get at my sister, you have to go through me”. Between the young man and the man with a gun are two (apparently male) children, each with a sign that says “and me!” On the other side of the man with a gun is a smiling girl.
I see the humour in this. I really do. I get it.
But I don’t like it. It makes me angry.
First, because your eye is drawn immediately to the signs, you end up kind of losing the girl. I mean, I’m no photographer, but I almost missed the fact that there actually is a girl in the photo.
Second, because on the social “needia”, as I have coined it, the photograph is accompanied by something like “repost if you have girls”.
You may want to sit down.
Girls and women do not need boys and men to protect them. We really, really don’t. Girls and women are perfectly capable of protecting themselves. We really are. We don’t need male protection any more than men need female protection. Girls and women and boys and men need respect, kindness, education, shelter, sustenance, love, and nurture. Not necessarily in that order. Girls and women and boys and men need safety, security, and equitable treatment.
Girls and women are not vulnerable because they are female. Girls and women are preyed upon because we are TOLD/TAUGHT they are vulnerable because they are weak because they are female. Boys and men are not stronger because they are male. Boys and men are perceived to be stronger because we are TOLD/TAUGHT that they are stronger because they are male. Yes, these are tautological arguments (and therefore are fallacies).
When we perpetuate these crackpot myths (that women need protection and that men are their natural/must be their protectors), we’re playing a part in keeping alive gender-based roles and stereotypes that ultimately do more harm than good.
Let’s break it down for a moment: Do you feel the need to protect your daughters but not your sons? Are you comfortable teaching your daughters about sexual harassment and rape, but don’t feel the need to teach your sons about the same things? Why are you treating your sons and daughters differently?
This photograph represents a systematic cycle of socially-acceptable violence that does no good. It does no good. It is a systematic cycle of gender-based segregation and inequality.
Pretend you are a girl. Pretend you have been told your whole life (or that you have heard your whole life) things like “they’ll have to get through me first.” On the surface, it might seem reassuring. You’re protected. You’re safe. But what does that really say? It says on some level “I don’t think you can handle adversity.” It says, on some level “you cannot fight your own battles”. It says, on some level “I will do this for you.”
Now pretend someone is speaking on your behalf. And pretend that someone is acting on your behalf. You haven’t asked them to. You don’t particularly want them to. They’re doing it because you wear shirts with no buttons, and everyone knows that people who wear shirts with no buttons are not capable of taking care of themselves in their interpersonal relationships. They are weak. Fearful. Timid. Unable. Do you, as a shirts-with-no-buttons person, feel particularly confident? Capable? ABLE? Strong?
I know I’m over-reacting to this image. I know I’m probably over thinking it. And it’s not about chivalry or misandry or telling boys and men they’re wrong. It’s about questioning the roles and stereotypes we place on one another simply because of what we have between our legs. It’s pervasive. It’s ubiquitous. It’s extremely difficult to ignore. And it does no good.