Women do not live in the same world as men. Or, rather, women do not live in a world with the same rules and norms as men. Of necessity, women have a heightened awareness of the dangers to them and their loved ones. What most men would not even give a second thought, women may see as threats to their safety, agency, or family. A large portion of these differences stem from women’s insecurity due to systematic inequality. Unfortunately, many men are not even cognizant of the different ways women must interpret their world. This difference in worldview is an example of why it is imperative for all organizations that women be included in their decision making bodies. Policies, procedures, and programs will be inadequately implemented if both women’s and men’s perspectives are not considered.
I would like to relay a simple example of this difference in interpretation between men and women. I am currently enrolled in a graduate level ethics course. As an introductory exercise, my professor posited what he believed to be a straightforward ethical choice with an obviously right and an obviously wrong answer:
You are driving down the road and a man covered in blood stumbles out of the woods in front of your car. He says he cut himself badly while hiking and it is clear that if he doesn’t get to a hospital soon he will bleed out and likely die. However, if you give him a ride the blood will ruin your upholstery and it will cost you a couple hundred dollars to replace it. What should you do?
The men in our class immediately gave the “right” answer saying that you should give the man a ride to the hospital regardless of the cost to replace the upholstery. The women were a little more hesitant to voice their opinions. I raised my hand and suggested to my professor that this could be viewed as a gendered situation. Women, I said, are much more likely to see this man as a threat to her wellbeing or even her life. Once I pointed this out, numerous women in the class started calling out their fears that this may be a trick, that the blood might not be his but rather his victim’s, and that they have no idea what the man will do to them once they let him into the car. Suddenly this once seemingly simple ethical dilemma became a choice between potentially saving someone’s life at the very real risk of losing your own. Not so simple. Had the women in our class not spoken up, this aspect of the scenario would never have been examined.
Many men, including the professor, were willing to look at this situation from a woman’s perspective of vulnerability. Our professor acknowledge that in future it would be better for him to use an injured child in the example to alleviate the perceived threat for women. However, other men in the class refused to open their eyes to the legitimacy of women’s fears. A man sitting next to me incredulously asked, “So all men are dangerous to women, then?” To which I emphatically replied, “Yes!” He scoffed at my assertion dismissively.
I wish we as women could also be so dismissive of the idea that all men we meet are potential threats to our safety. Sadly, we cannot. Ted Bundy, the infamously clean cut and charming serial killer, is a lurid example of why women should be cautious if ever presented with the previous scenario. Ted Bundy would fake an injury, ask a woman for help, abduct her, rape her, and kill her. A tragic repayment for her good deed indeed.
Despite horrific events like those of the Ted Bundy killings, the recent Ariel Castro kidnappings, or the well-known statistics that one in four women in the U.S. are likely to be abused by a romantic partner and that women do two-thirds of the world’s work, earn one-tenth of the world’s income, and own less than one percent of the world’s property (Barber Conable, former President of World Bank), there are still people who believe that women’s equality and security is not a significant world problem. I relay the following story with the permission of a friend:
A graduate level social innovation class was having a discussion on “wicked problems”, or systematic problems that are difficult or even impossible to solve. As a discussion point, my friend brought up the issue of gender inequality. Rather than sparking an interesting conversation on ways to address the systematic disenfranchisement of women in the world, my friend was immediately rebuffed by a male classmate. He refused to even entertain the idea that gender inequality is still a problem. What is even more disheartening is that one or two other men in the class agreed with him.
How can we hope to address the threats to women’s security if a significant portion of the world doesn’t even believe those threats exist? Fortunately, women are slowly gaining male allies in their fight for equality. A somewhat silly but poignant example comes to us from the world of standup comedy. Louis CK, a famous comedian notorious for his racy and blunt delivery, recently came out with a new sketch that raises awareness about the threat men pose to women. Slate magazine reports:
Halfway through the new special, C.K. starts talking about how dating is an act of bravery for all involved. “The male courage, traditionally speaking, is that he decided to ask” a woman out. And if the woman says yes, “that’s her courage.” That kind of courage, he says, is beyond his imagining. “How do women still go out with guys, when you consider that there is no greater threat to women than men? We’re the number one threat to women! Globally and historically, we’re the number one cause of injury and mayhem to women.” A moment later he adds, speaking for all men, “You know what our number one threat is? Heart disease.” If you’re a guy trying to understand the woman’s situation, C.K. says, “try to imagine that you could only date a half-bear, half-lion. ‘Oh, I hope this one’s nice.’”
Eventually, through the efforts of WomanStats and programs like it, more and more people will come to recognize the inequalities that exist between the genders throughout the world and the harm this causes globally. This understanding will inevitably breed real change in the lives of women. I have hope that one day women will enter into the decision making bodies of our societies in a number on parity with men. I have hope that one day men and women will willingly seek each other’s council as fully equal members of the human family. I have hope that one day women will be able to help a man on the side of the road in distress and not have to fear for her own safety. One day.