A short statement with two words only. Respect. Women.
It’s not argumentative. It should not pose a problem. In fact, in a different world it would be an unnecessary statement because what it seeks to establish would already exist. But the world is what it is -sexist and patriarchal- where respect for women is not a thing; and where people are not respected just because they are women.
When I first put the picture above on my WhatsApp status, I did not expect any one to argue. I naïvely thought it was a statement everyone would agree with; imagine that. I forgot that there are patriarchs everywhere. I also forgot that there exists another group of people; the one with ‘good’ intentions, whose job is to correct the plethora of wrong in feminist ideas and principles. I forgot all these because if I hadn’t, I may have included an explanatory caption along with the statement; something to ‘satisfy’ these two groups of people. Perhaps. Anyhow, I merely wanted to remind people that history has taught us not to view women as worthy of respect; and that even now, we accord respect to people based on gender. So, respect women.
It wasn’t too long before I got a DM. A senior said it presupposes that men are not supposed to be respected, because the statement expressly mentions women and leaves out men. I was flabbergasted. That’s the word. I would have thought it was clear to everyone that the statement addresses a gender (inequality) issue. Never has it been heard that a person was not respected because he was a man, because he was a man and for no other reason. Where did that ever happen?? Yes, people would disrespect some men for various reasons- because they’re insolent, rude or in my country, poor, but never because they are men. Never. In fact, respect is assumed/presumed for men until their actions make you take it back. But the reverse is the case for women. Firstly, the world doesn’t even view them as equal to men, not to talk of according them the same level of respect.
I honestly found this implicit with biases. Because if you are interested in ending gender inequality, you would know the background of that statement. You would know its profound relevance in today’s struggle for women’s emancipation. And you would have no problems with it.
So, I have a question flowing from this line of argument. If I said ‘don’t beat women’ or ‘don’t rape women’ or ‘let women inherit land’, do this automatically translate to ‘beat men’, ‘rape men’ and ‘don’t let men inherit land’???
Another person merely commented ‘respect people’. I just ignored this one because this person also falls into the class of men with ‘good’ intentions. The ones who never address/speak up for/support a gender equality issue unless they feel we’re ‘leaving men behind’. They are the first to comment “what about false accusations???!” when I put up a post on rape; they are the ones who really want to criminalise false accusations and throw false accusers in prison but proffer no solutions as well to the incidence of rape; and so on. Don’t @ me, these are real, feminist issues as well, but they are not the only ones; neither do they trump other issues. This class of good-intending men never listen when feminists talk, they only seek loopholes. And the end of every argument they go, ‘You know how I feel about gender equality. I’m for it. I respect women.’ Heavy sigh.
You know why I didn’t say ‘Respect people’? Because that statement does not sufficiently address my point. I want you, and everyone else, to know that the lack of respect for women is a huge issue worldwide. I want you to understand that I’m not talking about greeting someone first, which is what most Africans think when we talk of respect, but I’m calling everyone out on the gender bias we’ve grown up with. Why do we have women’s rights? The broader spectrum of rights is human rights and this applies to men, women and children. But to sufficiently address the specific problems of a marginalised group, it becomes necessary to specifically name the issue and appropriately address it. A friend has cited the example of the Black Lives Matter movement. Of course, its leaders – and black people all over- know that all lives matter; and BLM does not in any way mean that All Lives do not matter, or Asian lives don’t matter, or Native American lives don’t matter. But it is Black people who are being harassed, shot and killed by police officers in the USA. They form the group directly and negatively affected by the power structures in this manner hence, Black Lives Matter.
In the same way, women are the marginalised group most affected by the unequal system of patriarchy. In this specific case, women are the class of persons disrespected or not respected because of their gender hence, respect women. In no way does this seek to claim that men don’t deserve respect or shouldn’t be respected. The power structures promote respect for men, because they are men. If anything, the statement calls on you to take note not to allow ingrained gender biases prevent you from respecting a person because she is a woman. It tells you that society will be better for it.
When you respect women, you listen to their voices. You take women’s rights issues seriously. You create opportunities equally for men and women. You don’t automatically assign women only to the welfare position in your social groups because they shouldn’t handle real issues. You create opportunities for women’s true political participation at all levels.
When you respect women, you listen to her No and understand consent. You don’t hit her.
When you respect women, you actually respect your female bosses. You don’t call their authority to question. You don’t second-guess their expertise. You don’t condemn them for being assertive and courageous.
When you respect women, you don’t need to say it; you just act it.
Respect women. It’s simple.