CSW 57: Rock the boat and enact justice

CSW 57: Rock the boat and enact justice

Date: March 11, 2013
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New York en route to South Africa, 11 March: I really have to keep reminding myself never to eat prior to or while watching movies, TV, or consuming any form of media for that matter. The saturation of gendered stereotypes, the trivialising and eroticisation of rape and violence against women, induces waves of nausea that trigger my already sensitive gag reflex. What sickens me more is that women actually choose to perform and enact those roles. These ideologies and in turn representations of women are normalised, rendered invisible yet blindingly obvious.

I picked The Boat that Rocked, as my movie of choice to pass time while I ate my  food on the flight back from New York. I could not believe the candid misogyny promoted throughout the film; from the typical stereotyping to the predictable heteronormative sexualising and objectification, to the eroticising of different forms of violence and rape of women. For me all the film is about is an illegal radio station that broadcasts from a boat at sea. On weekends, hoards of female fans are invited on board to have sex with the DJs. In one scene, a DJ swaps places with another DJ to have sex with a woman without her knowing. Almost every scene involving a man and woman is sexualised.

Furthermore with most movies of that calibre there is an on-going attempt to ‘include’ alternative sexualities, or rather the token lesbian represented as the exoticised and oversexed other, wanting to sleep with every women in sight or just waiting for the right man to thrust her in the right direction.

Women’s UN Report Network (WURN) held a panel on Women’s day on 8 March as part of a CSW 57 parallel event. They discussed the ways gendered stereotypes negatively socialise society and how they intersect with other forms of discrimination associated with disability and age. Together these multiple layers of discrimination incite and justify violence against women.

Stereotypes create a vicious cycle of perpetuation as both women and men continually internalise and perform these roles without question. Rebecca J. Cook and Simone Cusack, who were unable to make the discussion, left a statement for the panel to read, “Stereotypes about men and women in fact are mutually reinforcing and end up as self-fulfilling prophecies. The solution to ridding society, media, law, and culture of stereotyping, is by a process of Identification, Naming, Elimination and Remedy”.

In their book Gender stereotyping: Transnational Legal Perspectives, they identify stereotyping as the underlying cause the discrimination that occurs against women throughout the world. The book discusses the duty of state and non-state actors to dismantle gender stereotypes and diminish their effect.

Rashida Manjoo UN Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women from South Africa, lamented how her generation is still fighting the same battles and how the feminist and political dimensions of the struggle for women’s equality has been lost. “Gender mainstreaming has led to gender neutrality leaving gender specificity is now hidden. Policy blinds and blurs gender specific issues and we can’t attack the problems. We need to be more specific. Let’s name it for what it is; ‘men’s violence against women’ …”We need to talk less about women empowerment and more about liberation”, said Manjoo.

Stephanie Ortoleva the Founder and Executive of Women Enabled spoke about the double bind of disability and gender and how women with disabilities are not only excluded from policy and decision-making as well as other spheres of society, but are victims of unique and unseen forms of violence. These women are often dependent on violent and abusive partners, family members, helpers and medical personnel. They are not afforded rights to justice or education, nor can they exercise their economic, political and cultural rights. Women with disabilities are completely under-represented and misrepresented in the media. “The stereotyping of gender and disability reinforces patriarchal notions of power and control. Deprives women with disabilities of human rights, explained Ortoleva

Similarly, Bridget Sleap from Help Age International addressed sexism and ageism. With limited capacity, participation and autonomy, older women feel the impacts both mentally and physically especially after a lifetime of gender discrimination and other intersecting prejudices. Aged women are often viewed as a burden and waste of economic resources, leaving them disempowered and poor. “In the 21st century with longer living, there are increased chances of ageist discrimination and this aspect of gender violence is left virtually excluded”. Sleap further explained that women over 49 are generally excluded from data and analysis leaving their experiences of violence concealed.

Women are not only victims of violence, sexism, commodification and objectification, but also subject to widespread gentrification of the female body based on the construction of beauty as pretty white and skinny. This leaves many women with a fractured self-image and esteem as well as a self-destructive all for the sake of desirability in the eyes of men.

Although the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRDP) have articles and recommendations that address stereotyping and violence and recognise women with disabilities, these are all underutilised. Furthermore, CEDAW apparently does not have the force of law behind it. If governments are found to be in contravention of these articles they will be issued reports and recommendations, but there appears to be little force to follow CEDAW’s instructions.

What needs to be done to curb the perpetuation of violent stereotypes so the next generation will not be fighting the same battles?

A crucial sphere of transformation is education and there needs to be sustained efforts in and out of formal education. Parents need to socialise their children with an ethical stance without of gendered stereotypes and other forms of discrimination.

Gender must always be considered with all the multiple intersections of discrimination including women of all ages, abilities, races and sexualities. Government must be held responsible and accountable, but it is everyone’s’ responsibility to break the perpetuation of stereotypes that encourage and excuse violence against women.

The panel ended with a jovial “Happy women’s Day”. I felt anything but happy about the ‘status of women’, truly disappointed by how superficial women’s achievements are and realising how much work needs to be done before women are emancipated. However we have to the keep fighting.

It is our responsibility to ‘rock the boat’ and enact justice by subverting the oppressive status quos of day-to-day life; being critical, being challenging and changing the mind-sets of those around us. Judith Butler lends a sense of hope by saying, ” If the ground of gender identity is the stylized repetition of acts through time…then the possibilities of gender transformation are to be found in the arbitrary relation between such acts, in the possibility of a different sort of repeating, in the breaking or subversive repetition of that style.”

Katherine Robinson is the communications manager for Gender Links. This article is part of GL’s special coverage of CSW 57.


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