UN Women’s new ad campaign came to my attention several days ago. It made me sick to my stomach, disappointed, sad, and angry. Let’s see how it makes you feel.
So, how do you feel?
The autofill content is based on real searches. I pulled up almost the exact same results myself. Google’s autocomplete technology works in several different ways. It takes into account the region and language, the user’s previous searches, popularity, and recent events. Interestingly, Google does try to block hate speech which makes me wonder just how prevalent such searches are. Exactly how many people question women’s abilities, their trustworthiness, their place?
I cannot help but notice the ones referencing church. Almost half of the results I pulled up on my own had to do with religion. Is it really any wonder? Centuries of religious and societal standards have told us that women are less than men. Women are starting to show up in leadership positions, but they still feel the sting of patriarchy.
It may seem like a simple language quirk, but it goes so much deeper than that. Women are defined by their relationships to men. An AP style guide states that a widowed woman should be referred to as a widow, while a widowed man should simply be called ‘her husband’. Couples are announced as Mr. and Mrs. [husband’s name]. It is still common to hear an officiant call a newly wedded couple ‘man and wife’. When a woman is a victim of violent crime, advocates ask for her to be viewed as one’s own sister, wife, or daughter; it isn’t enough that she is a person.
Women are more than mothers, daughters, wives, and sisters. They are individual beings worthy of empathy and respect and should be seen as such. People are all too willing to declare that there is no need to fight for gender equality anymore, that women got what they came for. Not even close. Until we stop wondering whether women should drive or vote, we are no where near equality.
A friend suggested that I turn the search on its head. What do people think about men?
As always, patriarchy harms men too. It is more subtle, but the damage is clear. What men wear is limited by social convention. Their integrity as partners is constantly questioned. Where women are seen as sexual objects, men are told they cannot function without sex. These are harmful stereotypes which need to be amended. Still, none of the results for men suggested that they were undeserving of basic rights or that they shouldn’t be in charge of their own lives.
The ad made me uncomfortable because it reminded me of how far we still have to go. The last few decades have seen significant strides. Seeing girls like Malala Yousafzai proves to me that we can traverse the remaining ground. But only if we admit to ourselves that there are still miles to go. We cannot seek rest stops because the journey has gotten more comfortable. Every sexist comment and search should serve as a road sign, reminding us how far we still have to travel. Our destination is distant, but we won’t be at home until we reach it.
Feel the anger, agitation, grief, and pain. Then do something about it.