Today a friend of mine asked me why we can’t have one conversation without me bringing up “women’s issues”. I wasn’t sure what that meant, since we talk about a lot of things.
“You know,” he typed slowly from the other side of the ocean. “Rape and abortion and wife beating and stuff like that.”
For context, I was talking about the ambitions I had for this site. And yes, I do like to discuss feminist theories and discourse with people, but we also talk about comics and US crime dramas too. I was still confused by what I was being asked, but not because of what it meant.
“Women’s issues” is the wrong term to use for that kind of discussion.
First of all, that is a severe case of cissexism. Women should not be synonymous with uterus or vagina, as many so-called “women’s issues” are focused on. Things like reproductive rights and sexual health for example. Trans men and those who identify outside of the gender binary can also be affected by them.
It also marginalises the issues of violence. When we are discussing sexual or domestic violence, it is important to remember the culture of victim-blaming that surrounds it. When you say that sexual assault is a women’s issue, it absolve the perpetrator of any fault; it is a woman’s issue, therefore it is the victim’s issue to contend with.
Following that, labelling sexual and domestic violence as a women’s issue further adds to the culture of male silence. Calling it a women’s issue further alienates male victims for the crime, whose voices are often taken away because of the toxic masculinity that surrounds these thoughts. If it is a women’s issue, these men are either not true victims or they are not true men.
It is not just my stateside friend who thinks this way though. My female friends and I were taught how to avoid rape and assault, when the boys in the class were sent elsewhere. One friend’s anecdote was her male classmates were allowed to play football instead. Women’s magazines and newspaper sections may contain stories of rape or domestic abuse, but such stories are never marketed to men. In fact it is only through sensationalised headlines of the most brutal of violence that mainstream media seems interested, bordering on torture porn with the level of details reported, or else it is a celebrity who is the victim and they are shamed, ridiculed and blamed a la Rhianna.
These are not issues of women. These are issues of violence which can affect anyone.
After doing research, I found other issues usually labelled “women’s issues”. The biggest one seems to be childcare. Of course, this makes sense. There are only female parents, and that is why it is a women’s issue. If men were the primary caregivers or had any share of childcare duties, then obviously it would be called a parent issue.
Oh. Wait. Fathers exist, don’t they?
Even this seemingly harmless labelling has a misogynistic undertone to it. It states that women should be the caregivers, and it should be their issue when it comes to children. It once again ignores that men do want to be involved in their children’s lives. It’s the reason why many women’s restrooms come equipped with changing facilities, but men’s restrooms don’t.
These are small matters of semantics, but they make a big difference. Dismissing something as a women’s issue does not solve it. It makes it more difficult for it to be taken seriously.
There are gendered issues, just as there are race-specific or specifically trans issues. But more often than not, calling something a women’s issues is an excuse to pass them on or to mock them. Appropriate language should be used to discuss them–watch out for casual cissexism.
Call them what they are. Childcare issues. Domestic and sexual violence. Reproductive rights. Educate to all and allow people’s voices to be heard. It will help address the destructive cultures of violence and silence which surround them.