Monday, 22 December 2014

Men Must Evolve to Stop Violence Against Women

Violence against women has been in the news a lot lately.  Offensive frosh chants at Canadian universities, assaults on women by famous pro athletes, allegations of sexual assault made against a growing number of celebrities, like Bill Cosby and Canada's Jian Ghomeshi, and most recently the crude and offensive comments posted by male dental students at Dalhousie University in a Facebook group have all made national and international headlines.  The question I ask myself when I hear about all this is, why have us men not yet learned to treat women with respect and as equals in our society?  The best answer I can give myself is that the attitude of men towards women has not yet evolved from what it has been since the beginning of time.  In other words, since time immemorial men have been brought up to view women as inferior at best and property at worst.

Thankfully, there has been a great deal of progress on women's rights up until today, especially in the last hundred years.  Nevertheless, women still face relentless discrimination and oppression in what has often been called "a man's world."  Even in advanced, industrialized countries, like Canada, the U.S. and countries in Europe, women are paid less than men, face sexual violence on a regular basis and are less likely to attain leadership roles, whether in business or politics.  And as most of us know, there are still many countries around the world where women are treated as little more than property.  In fact, in several countries they are still bought and sold as property, or otherwise forced into marriage.  For example, many of us are familiar with the story of Malala Yousafzai, the teenage girl who was nearly killed by Islamic fundamentalists simply for advocating education for girls.  And to this day, young girls who want to go to school and get educated routinely face the threat of death from men who would make them slaves and property to do with as they please.

As a man, I've seen my fair share of sexism.  When I was a teenager, all of us guys made disgustingly sexist comments, using phrases like, "Wam, bam, thank you, ma'am," and telling teenage girls not to open their mouths unless they were giving a man oral sex (actually, this was put more crudely than I would like to say in this post).  I can also still remember the days where I worked on a construction site, which as many people know is a very male-dominated environment.  Workers on site made sexist jokes on a regular basis, talking about ladies with whom they wanted to have sex, bragging about their previous sexual exploits, and repeating the phrase, "hey, look at that piece of a**" every time they saw an attractive woman.  One thing I remember very vividly is going into a room where the electricians stored their equipment and plans to find walls filled with pictures of Sunshine Girls and Playboy Bunnies.  My explanation for this behaviour used to be simply: men are pigs.  But it's a bit more complicated than that.  The problem is that men have spent so much of human history treating women however they wanted, whether good or bad.  From the beginning of time, men have been getting away with a myriad of unjust acts against women.  Forcing women into marriage or into sexual relations, selling them into slavery, beating them, preventing them from pursuing gainful careers and degrading them in a whole bunch of other ways was all fair game and a man would not face any sort of punishment for mistreating a woman.  Only in the last century have women made significant strides towards equality.  Unfortunately, the attitude of many men towards women has not kept pace with the advancements that women have made.  Men are still learning not to treat women as objects or as property, to say nothing of treating them as equals.  I would argue that the reason men are not learning to treat women in a just manner as quickly as they should may be because treating women disrespectfully could very well be in the genes of all males. 

Could it be that men have been mistreating women for so long that they're now born with the instinct to mistreat them?  To all the guys reading this, just think back to when you were a kid, before puberty set in.  Remember how much you hated girls and didn't want to be around them?  Remember that old childhood myth about girls having cooties?  What I'm trying to say is that a male's hostility towards members of the opposite sex may not be an entirely learned behaviour, but can also be pure instinct.  I honestly hope I'm wrong about this because if there is a biological explanation for why men mistreat women, it may take many generations for men to evolve to the point where their biology does not predispose them to being hostile to females.  This is because biology in general usually takes a long time to evolve.  Nevertheless, I do believe it is possible to quicken the process of evolution if fathers would simply teach their sons to treat women with respect and as equals.  Actually, I shouldn't just be talking about fathers and their sons, because all male role models can teach those who look up to them to treat women with dignity by setting good examples.  It certainly doesn't help when some of today's male role models are accused or found to be guilty of committing acts of violence against women, sexual or otherwise, nor does it help when frosh leaders lead new university students in chants that incite rape or promote underage sex.  It's time that us guys set better examples for the next generation so that they can grow up respecting women instead of mistreating them and so that they can pass on their respectful behaviour for generations to come.  Otherwise, men in general will not evolve to accept women as equals and violence against women by men will continue.   

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