Questions of violence against women lead us back to everyday injustice in our homes, offices, and even in our language. Gender issues have a tendency to become overwhelming and gender bias can seem inescapable.
A tool that can help us think through gender justice is the concept of the gender footprint. We all carry some gender bias, which may affect ourselves and others in large and small ways. We can recognize the impact our gender bias has upon our society as adding to the size of our “gender footprint.” Efforts to challenge bias would reduce our footprint.
Imagine that there is a certain degree of gender bias which is appropriate – maybe due to natural gender difference or voluntary acceptance of stereotypical gender roles.
[True both of these are up for debate – and it is very important to question and debate what is natural and what is voluntary. Still assuming that they are nonzero, let us say that each one contributes to a certain degree of gender bias and that we accept this degree of gender bias.]
Now let us call this amount of gender bias our share of gender bias. This is the amount of gender bias we need to get by.
Can we consider the amount of gender bias we actually carry with us, in relation to this fair share? Can we think of this as something like a “gender footprint” which we strive to bring into proportion to our fair share?
For example right now, perhaps I am practicing 10 times as much gender bias as is warranted. This means that if I list out all the gender biased things I do daily, I will have a large number of things that I do not because I prefer it that way nor because it is natural, but because of other reasons. Some of these reasons I might want to fight, may be trying to fight, some of these I might be accepting because it is / seems to be easier than fighting, or because I get some other advantage by accepting.
For example, I know I should not preferentially ask women do help with certain kinds of work which are typically women’s work, etc but in the interests of time I might do so. There I am practicing a gender bias which I actually oppose to get some other short-term advantage. I am sure people can think of similar examples.
In this case my gender footprint would grow, because I am “stepping on” the rights of women, and of men as well, to a just and equal society. I am also setting a bad example for the next generation which is influenced by what we do certainly more than what we say. So just as with ecological footprint, our actions impact the rest of the world and the future generations.
For example: When a survivor of sexual assault remains silent for fear and shame, she increases her gender footprint. When she does speak up, those who make her feel more afraid and ashamed increase their own footprint. When people suggest that such things don’t happen to good girls, they increase their footprint. And most of all those who commit sexual assault increase their own footprint – but would they dare to assault if they thought that women would speak up? To look at it another way, when a woman speaks up, she decreases her footprint. When others listen and support her struggle for healing and for justice, they decrease their footprint as well. When together they challenge the guarantee of silence which emboldens those who practice bias, harassment, and violence, they may actually prevent this crime.
Ecologically, we recognize the impact of our every action – from one less light to one less car – on our footprint, and strive to reduce it. Similarly we can recognize the links between bias, stereotype, harassment, assault, trafficking, rape & murder of women, and strive in large and small ways to fight injustice. Gender footprint is a framework for understanding how all these connect.