Short and sweet: why we need feminism

There is a little ‘anecdote’ I first came across in the 1980’s which is very interesting. I’ve found a version online:

A young man and his father are involved in a terrible car accident. Tragically, the father dies soon after.

When the young man arrives at the emergency ward, the surgeon says: “I cannot operate on this young man … he is my son!”

How can this be so?

Note: the man who died really was the young man’s father!

I am not sure now, in 2015, how powerful this is. But it really was in the 1980s and revealed to everyone to whom this was, carefully and innocently, asked how much internalised sexism they held, myself included.

Now … a couple of years back at dinner my smooch and I ran this past her intelligent and precocious 12 year old, raised I should add, with a goodly amount of feminism herself. I wish I had recorded her answers. She pondered and paused and worked it out. She contemplated solutions involving adoption, gay marriage and transgendered folk. But she did not, as all of us in the 1980s did not, come to the clear and obvious solution – the surgeon is a woman.

This moment was an epiphany for me, and though only anecdotal, spoke volumes of how, even though the causes of gay and transgender awareness and rights have progressed, the invisible and structural discrimination against women remains. And there are of course oodles of statistics to prove this.

I always try to look to the future, which is why I am interested in the ideas of our youth and which is why this occasion floored me more than a little. And recently, I have seen a group of (mostly cisgender and heterosexual) youth come to this conclusion about the most important ‘asset’ girls and boys have in being attractive: girls – their body, and boys – fashion. This deserves a mega frowny face for sure.

And so, yes, for these and many, many other reasons we need feminism.

Thanks 🙂

One comment

  1. dirkt · February 5, 2015

    Peregrin, this is quite interesting, though I’d like to tackle this from another direction.

    I read through the stated conundrum several times, and wasn’t abel to make heads and tails of it at first. I really had to google it (before allowing myself tofinish reading the rest of your article), to come up with the very simple solution, that the surgeon was female (i.e. his mother).

    Now, I’m not a native English speaker, as my first language is German. In German however, the conundrum isn’t quite so powerful or may not even work at all, as we use gender specific articles and nouns.
    Where you have just „the“ as an article, we have „der -indicating male“, „die -indicating female“ and „das- indicating neuter“. Furthermore the noun endings can change accordingly (usually adding an „-in“) and also nouns in themselves have already an inherent gender attributed to them (which causes other problems, as not only individuals, but also animals and even objects are considered to be inherently male or female when speaking generally. So roads, cats and street lights are all considered to be inherently female, using the female article „die”, while dogs, trash cans and chairs are all considered to be male, using the male article „der”. To make it even more confusing, objects like radios, cars and boats are considered to be neuter, using the neutral article „das”)

    So yes, when speaking more generally and having no specific gender indication, we would say „der Chirurg“ (the surgeon -male-), as the noun „Chirurg“ (surgeon) is considered inherently to be male, but the moment we know the gender of the surgeon, we usually say „die Chirurgin“ (indicating a female surgeon, by changing the article and the noun ending). The same is true for other occupational titles. Most of them are considered to be male when speaking generally (resulting from the simple fact, that historically it was mostly the men, having an occupation) but when speaking specifically, we always indicate the gender of the individual doing the job: Die Lehrerin (female teacher), die Trainerin (female coach), die Ärztin (female doctor/physician). So in German and given the fact, that we would already know the gender of the surgeon in question here, we would usually say „die Chirurgin“ and the conundrum vanishes into thin air.

    However, the most interesting thing is what happened to me, when reading the conundrum in English here. Naturally, when using English (my second language), my whole inner dialog and thinking also switches to English and lo and behold, all of a sudden I also find myself restricted by the idiosyncrasies of the English language in my thinking. I was as unable to solve the conundrum, as most native English speakers apparently were/are.
    Had I instead simply translated the text from English into German, the problem would have solved itself at once, as I would naturally have asked myself, if a male or female surgeon is meant by „the surgeon“, when translating that word. A problem, that always arises when doing translations from the English and why we have to look closely at the context (i.e. looking for a “her/his” or “she/he or a name, that could give us a clue, if the surgeon was male or female here), such a word is used in.

    So.. how much of the problem is indeed structual discrimination, and how much is just due to the fact, that English has no gender specific articles and noun endings? To indicate that an individual/occupational title is female, you’ve only the context to judge from or have to add in the word “female” all the time. Quite a hurdle, if you ask me.

    So… nice example for how the peculiarities of Language shape our perception of reality and thinking, which is a fundamental part of my ideas about what magic is and how it works.

    Thank you for this 🙂

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