Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Men and women divided

Tonight, when I was at work, a lady rushed into the store looking flustered and very, very worried. She looked Indian, perhaps Sri Lankan, with a small gold stud in her nose, beautiful eyes filled up with tears.

"A man's been following me," she said.

I looked out the window and couldn't see anybody, but she wasn't lying. She hung around for a bit, called a friend, and eventually ventured home. I hope she made it back safely.

Apparently the man who had been following her had started some time back - about a kilometre or so - and she knew he was following because she had taken back streets to avoid him... Yet he kept reappearing.

It's all very disturbing. There's no point saying that it's symptomatic of a greater problem within society, because as much as the media likes to blow such things out of proportion, an individual is never anything more than just that - an individual situation. It has no greater bearing on anything else in the world than its one instance. Yet such things require a contextual opinion to be formed around them, and that context is becoming increasingly troubling.

Was this lady being targeted because of her vaguely Muslim appearance? I don't know. I do know that three years ago that probably wouldn't have even be a question that I would need to ask myself. Saying things are unsafe, that women or men or children or whoever have to lock themselves inside at night, is pointless and untrue. Presuming that the ills of society are going to come crashing down on each of us individually is going to achieve nothing. Yet it's a scenario that we're being asked to consider more and more.

It doesn't help that despite decades of feminist struggle for equality and respect the gender divide seems to be widening again in many ways. Ariel Levy's new book speaks for that, as do Maureen Dowd's New York Times columns. Even The Age's Opinion Editor, Sushi Das, has been getting into the swing of things, with a slightly misguided essay on the unfortunate reticence of men to enter the debate. (Misguided because she misses the point herself: screaming 'Why won't you talk about it, men!?' isn't the most welcoming invitation to debate). Das also makes the mistake of simplifying the debate: women are now either "look-pretty-for-him" types or "hot-and-raunchy Paris Hilton" whores, whilst the men sit back and drool.

As unfortunate as Das's polarisations seem (and her refusal to acknowledge that there are plenty of men around who still prefer those intellectual women - and just as many women striving to be them), there is a great deal of truth in them. Too many women and young girls (and more disturbingly their celebrity role models) seem content to act as objects of sexual gratification in return for the attention of neanderthal men who are just as much to blame. Whilst the vicious circle continues situations like the one I witnessed tonight will continue to be the norm - and so will the disgusting behaviour witnessed in Cronulla over the weekend.

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