On Going on A Micro General Strike

When speaking about feminism and women’s rights, I think I have found myself guilty of going on about laws, international conventions, treaties and regulations, which, while being necessary, somewhat puts the whole issue of sexism at an abstract level made of negotiations, politics, and international and national high level meetings.
While we all have to be aware of what decisions our governments take, it is equally important to talk about daily sexism, the fact that women have to fight sexism and patriarchy every day, the fact that these values and attitudes impact their every days lives.
Whereas hidden in a sarcastic comment or acted upon in a very loud and clear fashion, sexism and patriarchy are still everywhere and have a strong impact on women’s lives.
Still talking in obscure words? Let me just give you a few examples. I
About two weeks ago, I was discussing the awful (at least for me) subject of giving birth with some friends who had already gone through the ordeal ( and please, I don’t want to hear anything about how it was the most beautiful day of anyone’s life. All that blood and pain can’t be good. Giving birth is a necessary step, full stop, don’t try and romanticize it just because your brain wants to forget just how awful it was. There are other women who need the truth here) (ok, it might be the terror talking). Ok, moving on, there we were, sharing horror stories of birth giving and what not, when my friend told me the most awful thing that happened to her on the day of her delivering. Contrary to what I was expecting, it was not the twelve meter long epidural needle, it was not the pain, or the blood, or the fear. It was her husband, actually asking her to iron his white shirt while she was on the phone telling him her water just broke. Let me get this straight, I told her, there you were, paddling in your own water, utterly scared and freaking out, calling your husband so he can help you and drive you to the hospital so you could deliver his child, and he asked you to iron his shirt before going? Yes, she said.
We then looked at each other with eyes like saucers, and I could tell she still couldn’t get her head around it.
What kind of society creates that kind of sense of entitlement so that one of its member can lose all sense of priorities and ask about a FUCKING SHIRT before the health of a woman?
A society riddled with patriarchal values, that’s what.
Social roles women are allocated are very rigid and hard to shake, it takes not only advocacy from social movements for laws to change, but also daily conscious efforts to expose gender discrimination in art, the media, and mainstream discourse.
But let me get back to testimonies: once I knew what I was looking for, stories of women being asked to do things just because they were “the wife” or women kept jumping at me.
Another close friend of mine works full time ( a Lebanese full time, meaning she has two demanding jobs), is always there to support her family and take care of her son. Her husband, even though he works much less, still eats then gets up without even lifting his little finger. When my friend asked him to mind their son so she get in the shower, he told her, brace yourselves again, that he did not have the patience to do it, that he was tired.
Here my brain starts screaming “I’ll give you tired, you useless piece of humanity”. Naturally, this is the all-public, sweetened, version of the much less polite epithets I mentally gave him. The list could honestly go on, as I seem to be a magnet for stories of incapable husbands and boyfriends who always seem too tired to do anything that resembles a house chore.
Challenging these deeply seated beliefs is a fight, there’s no other word for it, but it’s a necessary one. Power is negotiated both in the public and private spheres: deciding who will do the washing up is indeed a power struggle, the one ending up doing nothing actually becoming the winner, not because it’s some kind of game, but because the one cleaning the toilets can’t read Marx and write articles or relax at the same time. Yesterday I was explaining to a friend why I didn’t like the interpretations that put the blame on the women: some people will say it’s the women’s fault for not asserting themselves, something that is in my opinion partly true. To me, women should lead the struggle against patriarchy, but society as a whole should feel concerned, because being asked to do certain things because you’re a woman, or being seen in a certain way because you’re a woman creates a growing sense of resentment from said women, resentment that destroys the love in relationship and creates very unhappy human beings. Truth is, cleaning toilets is no one’s favourite hobby and certainly no woman’s favorite thing to do. There shouldn’t therefore be an expectation on us to do it all the time. Besides, we shouldn’t be too quick to judge other women who might not appear to yell at their partner with blood shot eyes that if said partners didn’t make the bed, he’d die a slow, painful death. Being quiet about it doesn’t mean they don’t realize they’re being expected to do things just because they’re women. I think they’re just uncomplaining because they don’t see how this whole system can be changed because no one challenges it around them. So they resign, and carry on because it’s easier than risking social disapproval and constant fights at home, when it’s not worse like violence. When I arrived to Lebanon and had my first lunch with my aunt and new husband, said husband ate, then got up and cleared the dishes off the table. My aunt seemed to have an aneurysm and screeched at me :”keef 3am betkhalli y9oum! How do you let him get up and clean up???” as if it was my fault he was a perverted soul who helped a bit at home. The fact that she was expecting me to fling myself at my husband, begging him to let me do it so he wouldn’t have to get up was utter madness. Was she out of her mind?
Then I calmly explain to her that he was not a saint really, that he only cleared a table and that was the minimum he could do, that it was completely normal that we would both do stuff at home, and why should I be the one getting up and clearing up? Did I have something in my female DNA that programmed me to do so?
To which my aunt looked at me, then at her husband and said: nyyellik, your uncle eats, then spreads his considerable self on the couch and calls for his tea.
Fighting sexism in our daily lives is the first of all fights, one that, when is won, is won forever.
I’ll leave you with a most inspirational story that my Kenyan supervisor in my previous job shared with me. In order to teach her husband that he should learn how to cook and clean as she was a most busy woman, she just stopped doing anything. “I’m telling you, she would chuckle, I would leave those pans in the sink forever, I would pick up my dinner and eat in my bed while he d be waiting for his, I kept my nerve, and eventually, he started really sharing chores with me”. I called it the micro general strike, and I loved the idea.
Could I do that? If I m honest, No, I’ m way too anal retentive to leave anything in the sink for more than 2 minutes.
No, I can’t do that, but I m still working on becoming the change I want to see, so I keep fighting gender discrimination in my everyday life, starting from home, even if that means the bed won’t be made exactly how I want it to be. At least it ll be made, and by someone who isn’t me.

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