This post follows up on the previous one, and contains my full response to questions on sexism in Bermuda, as regards a follow-up question the journalist asked me from my previous post/writing. In particular I was asked if I could add a bit more to my brief comments on sexism from the earlier post and also if structural sexism, which I alluded to, is a problem and, if so, can we change it? The resulting writing should be seen in that context.
I should also add that tomorrow morning, 0400hrs Bermuda time, I’ll be having surgery to repair a hernia (I got a bit carried away in the gym), so, should there be any comments, I apologise if they’re held up until I’m able to get back online.
Sex & Food Price Controls
Okay, so, based solely on the known results of that survey, finding that a majority of women support price controls for food, if one accepts the premise that this substantial difference between men and women on opinions regarding food price controls is based due to familiarity with shopping for food, in that the family member who shops for food most frequently has a better sense of the proportion of the household income being spent on food, and thus are the most sensitive to perceived increases in the cost of food, so those most directly involved in the food shopping are then more likely to be supportive of anything which reduces that expenditure (thus support for food price controls), then we can explain the significant discrepancy by arguing that this indicates women are, by far, the principal food shopper.
If we accept that women are the principal food shopper (and if we take the results literally, then we say that 70& of all family food purchasers are women), then we have to ask why that is the case? Why isn’t it an equal split between men and women? If household labour was fairly distributed within the family (and yes, I’m assuming a conventional family structure here, but I think that the argument still stands and there’s no need here to get too convoluted) one would expect this to be equally shared, and so there should be no significant differences between the sexes on this issue (provided we accept the aforementioned premise; it should be noted that one could protest this premise, but I think it an acceptably valid one to put forth).
I would also wager that there is a good chance that if the woman is the principal shopper for the family food, the woman is likely also to be the principal preparer of the food also. Whether this means that other household labour is disproportionately done by women too is likely also, but this will need further study. I think though, based solely on non-scientific observations, the likelihood is that women remain the principal labourer within the context of the household (in terms of food acquisition, food preparation and, likely child-rearing too, but also cleaning activities).
Structural Sexism Questions
So, if, and to be frank we cannot prove it based solely on this survey, it is just an indication from which I’m building certain premises, but IF household labour is disproportionately done by women, if it is not equally shared between the sexes, you ask two questions:
1) Is this a problem?
2) How can we change it?
In dealing with (1), yes, I think that this sexist structure of daily life, of disproportionate burdening of women with household labour, is indeed a problem. I think it’s fair to say that this unequal division leads to a number of economic and social or psychological consequences for women, such as the constraints of household work and/or child-rearing may influence the jobs women are able to obtain, or the hours they’re able to work, the wages they receive as a result, and, especially for working women, they suffer a double burden, in that they expend labour power at work, and then continue to expend labour power at home, and so have increased rates of stress, and they have less time available to them to ‘recover’ from the mental and physical costs of work on the worker, with particularly troubling consequences, in my opinion, on their psychological well-being. And that of course has a number of further complications that may arise (in terms of stress, perceptions of self-worth/self-confidence, and this can then cascade into the economic front as well in terms of seeking improved conditions of employment, etc.).
And this also carries a cost on men too. Sure, men get away from doing a lot of the household labour in this model, and, on the surface, they come across as the winners. But ultimately they are also victims, in that they are only ‘half a person’, they do not become fully-rounded individuals in terms of their development, they become, in a way, oversized infants and dependent. There is more to it than that, but I don’t think it’s necessary here to really expand on how patriachy (the sexist system of male dominance) renders victims to both males and females, just as racism makes victims out of both the dominated and the dominateer – the focus should, I think be mostly focused on the cost to the dominated more.
And, in as much as this inequitable division of the household labour can be seen as just a symptom of the ongoing sexism in our society, it is indicative of a wider sexism, which can manifest itself in any number of ways, chiefly body-image issues, domestic violence, rape and murder – and this is not limited solely to violence towards woman, it can be expanded to the gang violence too, as a manifestation of a damaged masculinity seeking to overemphasise itself through violence – as well as social acceptance and unquestioning of gender roles and social possibilities.
True, we’re quite advances on some aspects of the sexism question, having a history of strong female personalities, at least politically in the form of Loise Browne-Evans, Pamela Gordon, Jennifer Smith and Paula Cox, and in a way you could argue our family structures are quite matriachal with single-mother households being prevalent in some social classes, but I don’t think one should see those aspects and conclude we don’t have a structurally sexist society overall.
As for (2) – how can we change it? – Well, I don’t claim to be a great feminist theorist by any means, and I don’t really know how we can change it. I believe we can change it, and think we all need to question the sexism inherent within our society as a first step to doing so. As I outlined very briefly above, the issue of sexism has a wider-ranging number of consequences for both the individual male and female in society, and also throughout society on a social scale too (one could even scale this up to the international level, on issues of resource exploitation, informal colonialism and war).
I don’t think we can afford to ignore it, and I think we need t critically review all aspects of daily life on this issue. So, that’s one issue, a complementary ‘Big Conversations’ to the race one, which itself is multi-dimensional in its manifestation and consequences (and an argument could be made, and I think a valid one at that, that sexism, racism, any form of domination and exploitation, is really just one manifestation of the same thing, and this can include the concept of leaders and led, or boss-worker).
So, I think a sustained and relentless critique of everyday life from an anti-sexist perspective needs to be done as a mandatory step to countering sexism in our society. And we need to envision what a non-sexist society, in all it’s manifestations, from the interpersonal relations, to the household unit, to the neighbourhood, to the workplace, to institutions and society as a whole, would be, and then try to work backwards from that.
I don’t think there’s going to be any one magical blueprint that we can download or pull of a shelf somewhere; the way from a sexist society to a non-sexist society is something we’re going to have to map out ourselves as we go, through critique, discussion and activism. It does need some ‘champions’ to highlight the issue, to raise consciousness of it, and there is even a role at an institutional level in terms of policy creation and social analysis, to clarify and account or mitigate sexism, but ultimately the creation of a non-sexist society needs all of us to critically examine ourselves and everyday life and work towards building the non-sexist society collectively.
I don’t think we can afford to ignore it, and we do so at our peril.
So, sure, whether I’m reading too much into that one poll, I don’t know. But I think it leads to a useful discussion in and of itself.