International Women’s Day must be an all-inclusive event

Today 8th March 2020 is International Women’s Day and the whole of March is Women’s History Month but to be honest if you weren’t aware I’m not surprised, especially in the UK. The motto of this year’s International Women’s Day is “I am the equality of generations”.

The problem with this is that there are many who are trying to divide and create a society that pits women against men. When I changed gender almost 20 years ago, I fell into this trap. I identified as female, demanded that I am now a woman, and became an active feminist, fighting male dominance and patriarchy while angering people, making the transition process more difficult than it should have been.

I encountered resistance. When I started reading for my MSc in Gender Studies, I first encountered significant opposition from some radical feminists and political activists who believed that in order to be a woman, you had to be born a woman. But their arguments went beyond denying that anyone could change gender. They told me that women’s identity is an exclusive, biologically determined club that I could never join. I was male and therefore one of “you”.

What I’ve learned since then is at the heart of social identity theory. These women don’t want equality; they don’t want equality; They are angry at men for their power and dominance and want to take that away from them. Your goal seems to be to destroy the patriarchy and I assume to replace it with a new matriarchy.

I can understand the anger towards men. I have identified as a woman for almost 20 years and during that time I have experienced all forms of discrimination, harassment and victimization. More importantly, I see the level of discrimination and harassment women face; I see the power of women destroyed from childhood; I see women growing up in fear because of the behavior of many men.

But I also see their resistance growing as all men are attacked. I found this quote from Amy Chua in the Guardian very helpful in understanding this issue.

When groups feel threatened, they retreat into tribalism. When groups feel mistreated and disrespected, they close ranks and become more isolated, defensive, punitive, us-versus-them. Amy Chua

And we have seen this so well illustrated in the Brexit debate. I have a hard time imagining how long it will be before we repair the damage caused by Brexit and allow the country to heal.

One of the first things I did after transitioning was to get actively involved in the first Hull Pride event. This was 2002 and the focus was on demonstrations against Section 28 of the Local Government Act. This was the law that prevented all councils, and therefore schools, from treating homosexuality as normal. Schools and councils were simply not even allowed to talk about LGBTQ issues.

Most of the legislative changes to support LGBTQ inclusion took place over the next few years, and we wondered what to do with the Pride event. Since the first event on Christopher Street in New York in 1970, Pride marches have been protest marches demanding equality – but the laws had been changed, so there was nothing to protest. We realized we needed to shift the entire focus from protest to engagement. Changing laws may have been difficult, but changing attitudes was a much more challenging goal.

So we rented lots of bouncy castles, inflatable slides and bucking wild horses to attract kids and teenagers. We found more money to hire better bands and turned Pride into a family-friendly event that draws straight people to connect with the LGBTQ community. In 2019, Hull Pride attracted 50,000 people and is one of the most important events in Hull’s social calendar – and Hull is probably one of the most gay-friendly cities in the UK.

International Women’s Day is a day to raise awareness of women’s achievements and how women still face discrimination, harassment and victimization despite all the laws that are now in place to protect them. This year is the 50th anniversary of the Equal Pay Act 1970, but we still don’t have equal pay.

But attacking men and blaming them for a grossly biased patriarchal system is not the answer. Unconscious bias tests show that women are often just as biased towards women as men. It is ingrained in societies around the world. Unfortunately, negative stereotyping of women is only reinforced when either side of the binary social identity is threatened.

I’m reading Invisible Women: Exposing Data Bias in a World Designed for Men by Caroline Criado Perez, which examines how society is biased in favor of men and against women, which I highly recommend to anyone who wants to understand why gender equality Gender is so difficult to achieve. We are all unconsciously biased; it’s human nature to be like that. In our highly consumerist Western society, the primary goal of all marketing and politics is to promote bias.

The only way to change prejudice is to first recognize that we are all biased. I’ve taken several Harvard Implicit Association tests that test a variety of biases. Two surprised me. First, the gender test showed that I was unconsciously inclined to associate men with careers and women with families. The second showed that I was unknowingly biased in favor of members of the LGBTQ community.

Knowing I was biased meant I could correct it, whenever I’m in a situation where that unconscious bias could lead to an unfair decision or behavior, I can now check myself by making a make conscious decisions free of bias.

After 50 years of trying to make gender equality a reality, we know it won’t happen simply by changing the law. We need to change our attitudes, which is very difficult, partly because most men believe that gender inequality does not exist, and partly because many men think that we can only achieve gender equality if men lose.

The only way to achieve gender equality is Working Together, which is the title of a workshop I am giving on the subject. Men and women seem to work differently, but not all men are the same and not all women are the same. Creating stereotypes about men and women leads to prejudice and prejudice.

I experienced a lot of discrimination when I switched genders, but it took me a while to realize that much of that discrimination wasn’t because I was transgender, but because I now identify as a woman. I used to enjoy male privilege, although I didn’t believe it until I lost it. So I know that as a trans woman I will always be discriminated against when there is no equality for women.

But this also applies to men, men who are more feminine in behavior or looks, men who have camps, men who are gay, men who work in jobs that some consider women’s jobs, men who are “househusbands”, etc.

Rather than trying to exclude anyone, we need to include everyone. Only when everyone is encouraged to recognize the existing prejudices and recruit them into the campaign to change this will there be hope for gender equality.

Imagine the change we could make if every woman marching for gender equality on International Women’s Day brought a man committed to the same goals.