“Do what you can” “Choose your battles”
I have heard that too much lately, and usually as advice to women to leave certain contentious issues alone. It’s not working. What it’s doing (oooh call Prevent!) is pushing large numbers of women to the margins of culture and society. No, I am not exaggerating.
Anorexia and bulimia
You don’t hear much about them lately but when I was younger, eating disorders were a huge cause of suffering and illness to girls. Anorexia caught the girls who wanted to win, and bulimia caught the girls who needed comfort. Both tended to come with other ‘unhappiness’ issues, and/or drug or alcohol abuse. Both caused parents – mothers in particular, vast amounts of heart-ache. Both were tricky in that telling girls directly that they were harming themselves just did not help.
At least schools, doctors and social services understood that they were problem issues, and that we needed to try and rescue our girls from them.
This is an issue that is very much with us today and is often used by girls as a distractor or tension release, so like eating disorders, it would appear to be a symptom of some other horrible problem and, like eating disorders, there’s nothing to be gained by telling girls they shouldn’t do it.
But at least schools, doctors and what’s left of social services understand that it’s a problem issue, and that we need to try and rescue girls from it.
At least the BBC don’t keep going on about how fashionable and wonderful those behaviours are. At least public websites and social media pages extolling such behaviour would soon be challenged by an outraged society.
But what if those terrible things had been encouraged by the media? What if well-funded, respectable organisations peddled eating disorders as virtuous, liberating actions, or presented self-harm as self-medication, like medieval blood-letting or something? What if newspapers fashionably pornified them, what if schools not only let the girls get on with it but facilitated it, and censured parents who weren’t happy about it?
What would you do if I told you slick, well funded organisations were going into schools and teaching behaviours which justified and led to self-harms like that? What if I told you teachers were under incredible pressure to approve of and facilitate those behaviours? What if those worried parents were being led to believe they had to support their children’s actions, that they were duty bound to approve, to protect their children?
Yes, you know where this is going, don’t you?
Even gender-identity proselytes will agree that breast binding and requiring male pronouns are a sign a girl is unhappy with herself as she is. Do they also blithely accept that such behaviours lead to twilight enquiries after puberty blockers, hormones and mastectomies? Should we blithely accept that?
Can you see how those behaviours, like eating disorders and self-harm, are the presenting factor of a deeper issue that needs attention? Have you been there, and seen all the pain and conflict this is causing? Perhaps if you imagine yourself telling a worried parent that there’s nothing we can do about anorexia or self-harming right now, that they should choose their battles, and that you don’t want to get involved? Or imagine yourself advising carers to wink at FGM because it’s cultural? Do you see what’s wrong with this situation?
Sure, where’s the harm in them identifying as boys for a bit? I’ll tell you where it is.
- You are re-enforcing the idea that only boys can behave how they want to behave.
- Girls love to – need to – look the part – and that means breast binding, which limits breathing and movement, and so damages their health.
- Breast-binding weakens breast tissue, and makes their breasts look odd, and girls hate looking odd, so then they think mastectomy is the only solution.
- And to make sense of it all after that, they need puberty blockers, hormones, drugs you can’t get legitimately if you’re under 16 so…
If you have a position in council, in a political party or in a union, you CAN do something about this. If you have a role in culture, arts, media or education, you can do something. Wherever you are in life, if a woman tells you something terrible is happening to our girls, something that will lead them to serious harm, you can, and should, do something – even if it is only to tell that woman you appreciate how serious it is, and resolve to stop avoiding the topic for fear of offending someone or looking uncool.
Maybe if you were to find out a bit more about what’s happening…
I’m not asking everyone to be a hero. What we do need is for absolutely everyone to fight the deeply embedded idea that girls should look/talk/behave in a certain way. What I would like to hear, everywhere I go, is people saying that youngsters who don’t conform to gender are just fine as they are, and should not be harassed, teased, judged, pornified at every turn.
What we most urgently need to hear is people loudly and persistently defending the women who criticise gender expectations and gender-based theories.
Shut down the bullies and the liars. That is always everyone’s duty.