So much of how we live is designed with ‘male’ in mind. Getting more women and minorities into positions of power could change that, writes Jennie Hill.
I drove to the supermarket last night well after sunset, and saw a man walking along the road verge. It was a semi-rural area, quiet and very dark. And it suddenly struck me how I could not do what he was doing.
Yes, many women walk alone at night, women should be safe anywhere, and women are more at risk from being hurt by men they know than by strangers. Even so, most women rarely walk alone, especially after dark. At least, not without considerable apprehension. We’re driven (pun intended) into our cars and into altering our behaviour to walk in daylight hours or only with a friend or only in certain places.
And it struck me, like a kick in the guts, how the world is made and operated solely for and around men. How they float blissfully through environments designed for their use, and have little idea of how others use the same spaces. And how, when we talk about the #MeToo hashtag phenomenon of the past week, one of the absent issues is how women can’t “fit into” the world properly, no matter how hard they try, because it simply isn’t designed for them.
I’ve got space here for only a few examples, although it could be hundreds, of how everything could be different.
If women designed the world, for instance, they’d not have built the dank, deserted underpass I must walk through to catch a train. I never enter this tunnel without considerable dread, and sometimes I run, looking over my shoulder. I hate this underpass with a passion, yet the train will always and forever be on the other side of it. All over the world, men blithely construct roads and walkways that make walking more unsafe for women, and this is rarely questioned.
If women designed the world, “male” would not be the default construction of clothing. Sure, there’s clothing most recognise as male or female, but there are also clothes meant for both. The sizing is nearly always for men, and while I know some women prefer men’s cuts and sizes, but I don’t. In my work as an advanced driving instructor, for example, I’ve always needed uniforms that roughly reflect a driving/car image. So for many years, I’ve been mostly wearing clothes in small male sizes. They don’t fit properly and are uncomfortable, so they make me look unprofessional. Yet my employers are only rarely able to source women’s sizes.
Why is “male” the default size of a human? How many men have ever been asked to wear clothes in a woman’s cut or size? And when women do find this clothing (whether it’s overalls, steel-capped boots, Yakka-type trousers or anything else that looks professional and doesn’t have baby kittens on) we’re also meant to be grateful it was manufactured.
If women designed the world, those pink *For Her* pens and screwdriver sets would be set on fire and all tools and work items would be in different sizes to suit different-sized people, but without reference to gender. Men can’t understand why women object to specifically-female products. Yet these tools and such are made as if women were “the other”. When I see a cute blue toolset marketed for manly-sized hands I’ll eat my hat, and the *For Him* blue hammer, too.
Men hold the top jobs so they construct the world, and others fit into their vision. I notice repeatedly while working how women will get into a car and drive it without adjusting all controls and mirrors perfectly first. It’s not because women don’t care about driving safely (since every study in the world shows women are overwhelmingly safer drivers). No, it’s because women are so used to adapting to what’s in front of them they get used to changing themselves to suit the equipment, rather than vice versa. Men never do this.
Being female is like moving through the world as an alien. Women don’t talk about this much. There’s no point: there are only so many times we can explain, and only so many times men can roll their eyes and ignore us.
Nor do I forget it’s not only women. People of colour are even more outside the “norm”. For example, if sports strapping and undergarments are made in “skin” colour for athletes, why are they only made in the colour of pale skin? Why is most make-up for white women, and those of other racial backgrounds must search for special (read more expensive) items? Why are clothes for bigger people tucked away in special stores and special sections (and again, more expensive)? And of course, if women and minority groups feel excluded in so many ways (and they do), how on earth do those with disabilities cope?
Being forced to operate in a world made for others is de-humanising, and another reason (as if one were needed) we desperately need more women and minorities holding positions of power in all industries and ventures. Because if men and others in dominant groups won’t consider the humanity of others, they must be replaced with those who will.
Imagine a world where that blue *For Him* toolset really existed. Nah, I can’t, either.
But I continue to live in hope.