There is just too much at stake for us to continue denying that gender inequality is a problem and ridiculing efforts to draw attention to it. This book has been written as a wake-up call: feminism is one of the most important movements for social justice of our age – and we need it now more than ever.The Equality Illusion: The Truth About Women and Men Today is both an introduction to feminism and a powerful and unapologetic debunking of the myth that the movement’s work is done and we’re all equal now, thank you very much. The book is divided into several different sections, covering topics such as body image, ideals of beauty and eating disorders; sexism in education; sexism in the workplace; domestic violence; the sex industry; and reproductive rights. Each chapter begins with the story of a real girl or woman affected by these issues, which gives the book a more human and immediate feel. Banyard concludes The Equality Illusion with a chapter titled “What To Do”, in which she gives readers several suggestions for involvement and grassroots activism.
I’m not sure if Kat Banyard’s intention was to specifically aim the book at young readers, but The Equality Illusion certainly seems to have a lot of YA appeal (by which I of course don’t mean it’s dumbed down). In any case, I do hope it finds an audience among young people, as this is the kind of book that could have changed my life for the better at the age of fourteen or fifteen, simply by making the several ways in which sexism affects all our lives click together and fall into place. The Equality Illusion is very much a Feminism 101 sort of book, so it’s likely that readers more experienced in gender issues won’t find much that is new here. But nevertheless we need books like this: current, accessible, well-written, passionately argued, solidly researched, and, despite the grimness of the facts described, far from bleak.
“Hands up for a gendered education”, a chapter which covers sexual harassment in schools and the institutional indifference it’s often met with, was one of the most striking, and it provides a good example of how The Equality Illusion could have deeply impacted my younger self’s life. When I was in eight grade my best friend and I wrote a letter of complaint against an education auxiliary who was in the habit of groping female students. This was something pretty much every girl of our acquaintance had experienced and was every bit as tired of as we were, and as such we had no trouble at all getting some thirty or so students to sign the letter along with us. However, the result of handing it in was not quite what we had anticipated. The headmaster’s instant assumption was that we were making it up, and, along with our maths teacher, he endeavoured to give us a Good Talking To. To make matters worse this was done publicly, and as an inevitable result the backlash quickly spread through the school. Faced with this pressure, most others girls withdrew their support and claimed that we had tricked them into signing the letter by pretending it was about something else.
My friend and I were left isolated, and the attitude we met with could be summed up as, “sexual harassment is a compliment, and you’re nowhere near pretty enough to merit it”. In more than one occasion we overheard the guy in question telling a group of male students, “If I was going to grope something I certainly wouldn’t settle for groping that” as we walked past, to loud and general mirth. We faced weeks of mockery, bullying, and open threats of physical violence, until my friend couldn’t handle it anymore and transferred to a private school where I could not afford to follow her. As you can probably imagine, the rest of eight grade wasn’t exactly a lot of fun for me.
What a book like The Equality Illusion could have done was reveal that something like this is in no way an isolated incident – it’s part of a pattern, and it’s far more common than many would care to admit. That knowledge alone can make a world of difference to a struggling and isolated teen. While I would like to think that some progress has been made in this regard since the late 1990’s, I’m not entirely sure whether that is the case. Still, young people in these situations today do have resources at their disposal – the crucial thing is that, unlike me, they be made aware that these exist.
As I said above, The Equality Illusion is an excellent introduction to all sorts of gender issues, complete with references and statistics that make the facts plains to see. However, my one complaint is that Banyard sometimes oversimplifies the research she’s reporting, which makes her arguments far less solid than they could and should be. This is especially the case when it comes to neurological research, and I’m to cheer on Cordelia Fine as she deconstructs oversimplified studies in support of neurosexism, I have to hold research that actually supports feminist arguments to the exact same standards. I’d feel deeply intellectually dishonest if I didn’t. The thing is, I actually agree with Caroline, who made the point that the fact that The Equality Illusion does not read like an academic book is part of its appeal. But accessibility and rigour don’t have to be mutually exclusive, so perhaps there’s a better way of balancing the two.
If I had another issue with the book, it was the fact that it came a little too close to The Patriarchy Made You Do It territory sometimes. Feminism is of course no monolith, so you can easily find diverging opinions on several issues within the movement. One of the most divisive topics of all is perhaps pornography. Banyard takes a firm stance that I generally agree with: the majority of mainstream porn is violent and rabidly misogynistic, and it’s extremely troubling to see it co-opt the language of feminism in the name of supposed “empowerment” and “liberation”, only to perpetuate what are actually millennia-old sexist notions. However, not finding that feminist porn/erotica is necessarily a logical impossibility or a contradiction in terms doesn’t make me brainwashed, and I kind of resent the implication that it does.
But these two points don’t really detract from my overall enthusiasm for The Equality Illusion: this is an honest, accessible, inspiring and hugely important book. I hope it finds a large audience, for the sake of people like the teen I was.
‘Gender’, and all that word implies today, is the net result of the decisions, debates, accidents, and battles played out amongst our 100 billion forbearers. (…) In fact, gender itself pivots on a power relation: the height of masculinity – a ‘real man’ – is when it is furthest away from the ‘depths’ of femininity. While the level and forms vary, women and girls in every society on earth have less access to opportunities, resources, and political power than men and boys – not because of sex, but because of gender – something we create.Other Points of View:
The daily trip to school is uncertain, frightening, and dangerous for millions of girls across the world. Those fortunate enough to make it to the school gates spend their day exposed to a hidden curriculum of gender inequality. Although not written into their timetables, the learning takes place every time they enter the classroom, go out to the playground, or walk on the sports field. The gender trenches of masculinity and femininity produce segregation and violence. Yet the equality illusion persists under the guise that what we are witnessing are natural, biological differences.
Another cause of the pay gap – but one which is rarely discussed – is the fact that workers in female-dominated roles and professions are paid and valued less than workers in male-dominated roles and professions – even when the jobs demand the same level of skill, training, physical and mental effort and decision-making. When this takes place within the same organisation it is deemed illegal in the UK under the Sex Discrimination Act – violating the right to equal pay for equal value – but across the economy as a whole this takes place daily. The five Cs which make up the sticky floor of women’s work – cleaning, caring, clerical work, cashiering and catering – are jobs which generally have traditionally been done by women at home for free, and the skills they require are seen as “natural” for women and thus not deserving of much financial remuneration.
While in the UK government is able to predict that 100,000 women will be raped each year in Britain – equivalent to 2,000 women a week – only 6.5 per cent of those that are reported to the police end in conviction of a perpetrator, and there is little public discussion of the aspects of our culture that encourage so many men to choose to rape women. Rape, as with most violence against women, is widely seen as a causeless problem.
Culture is not a static, ahistorical, inflexible entity. Quite the contrary. It is a series of social practices that not everyone has an equal hand in forming, which can privilege certain groups, and which are constantly being contested. However, there is a problem in recognising these forms of violence as uniquely culture. As I’ll argue later in this chapter, culture plays a crucial role in all forms of violence against women – including Western mainstream culture. Feminist author and activist Rahila Gupta suggests that ‘culture is not a prism through which we view only the actions of minorities In 1994, Roy Greech, a white man, stabbed his wife twenty-three times and left the knife in her throat because she was having an affair. Crime of passion? Jealousy? Honour? Different labels, but they are all about the control of a woman’s body and mind.’ Yet there is often a tendency to notice the role of culture only if it is outside the mainstream/majority or if it is occurring abroad.
Still Life With Books
Beauty is a Sleeping Cat