By Europe and Me‘s Nicoletta Enria and Friederike Sandow
Nicoletta and Friederike are back with all their female rage, stirred up by the circumstances COVID-19 has put us (back) in.
Covid-19 has, as Nicoletta has pointed out in this article, not only an impact on everything that happens emotionally, physically and in plain sight, but also severe consequences for societal blind spots. Consequences we already witness unfolding, and ones that are more sublime.
Covid-19 is all-encompassing. Rightfully so, people’s lives are on the line, the global economy is crashing, our democracies (ciao, Hungary) are staring into the abyss of totalitarian takeover under the veil of “emergency decrees” to manage the masses – and thus, nothing else in the last decades has left us with this kind of impending doom.
Covid-19 shall not mean that we can allow the fires that are coming at us from different angles to grow. Climate change is still happening, the inhumane treatment of refugees is still ongoing, the liability of the world leaders (look at Netanyahu in Israel or the spiralling of the democratic primaries in the US) is diminishing and gender equality is still a dream.
“The problems that we are facing on a global scale are being made more visible by Covid-19, whilst at the same time being overshadowed by it: catch-22.”
If anything, Covid-19 is urging us to act on these issues with more force, as it is drastically exposing the flaws that politics and societies have nurtured in plain sight. And we are given the answers, aren’t we? Look at Venice and its turquoise waters, look at Bernie Sanders and his Medicare for all plea, look at the sheer incapability to care for people in the refugee camps within the so-called peace project European Union – and look at the sex of the personnel that is suddenly considered ‘essential’. The problems that we are facing on a global scale are being made more visible by Covid-19, whilst at the same time being overshadowed by it: catch-22.
The Gender Pay Gap
In Germany, the equal pay day this year fell on 17 March. The pay gap has not moved an inch from 2019 to 2020. Women in Germany, yet again, had to work 77 days more than men to catch up on their yearly salary, meaning that on average women earn 21% less than men. On the forefront of reasoning with the anger expressed at this, all too often the argument that “womxn simply choose jobs that are paid less” is being thrown around. And while this is, technically, correct, it’s everything that is wrong with patriarchal structures.
Because the majority of people in jobs that are suddenly (!!) considered essential, are womxn. Because hospital nurses and elderly care nurses, supermarket workers and kindergarten and school teachers (some of whom still have to work), as well as the ‘non-paid’ care for relatives and offspring (who “already do three-times as much unpaid care work than men”) are female, by a vast majority.
Let me spell it out for you: In this time of crisis, womxn are the fucking backbone of what we call BEING ALIVE.
Gender bias in medical research and science
For decades, the gender bias in medical and scientific research has been reported on, but not acted upon. We already know that womxn seeking treatment and immediate care for heart failures are more likely to die than men, because “unconscious biases are limiting the survival chances of women” and because “we live in a society where female pain is often misdiagnosed.”
And with Covid-19, statistics suggest that men are more at risk to die from Covid-19 than women – and apparently not only because usually men tend to be the chain-smokers. Why? The LA Times reports that the answer might be estrogen. Just imagine for a second here – if we had done research that equally represents men and women, we might already know what exactly estrogen does or does not at this point. Just imagine that we would have figured out years ago what some of the things are, that medical (or any other) science can learn from different bodies and apply the findings towards a solution for everyone.
The deadliest place for women is their home
Reports about soaring numbers of domestic violence abuses around the globe are being released on a daily, if not hourly, basis. Governments and NGOs are grappling to double their efforts and provide safe communication outlets for womxn who are literally trapped with their abuser. A trap that is not only psychological, emotional and financial, but now literally territorial: “women will die if they are imprisoned in their homes.” Canadian newspaper The Globe and Mail reports that “China’s experience suggests those worries are well-founded. In southern Hubei province Jianli County, police reported triple the number of incidents of domestic violence in February, compared to last year. The Beijing-based Yuanzhong Family and Community Development and Service Centre, which operates a national telephone hotline, has seen a roughly 50 per cent increase in the reports of domestic abuse.”
“We never had more reasons to rage.”
The patriarchal structure that fed financial inequality, the gender time gap (due to child care and restricted possibilities to re-enter the job market after giving birth), and not believing womxn when they summon the courage to speak up about the abuses they suffer from will also add on to the death toll and suffering from Covid-19. And blood will not only be on the imaginary hands of a deadly virus, it will be on the very real hands of our political leaders, it will be on the hands of the patriarchy. And it is important that we know that. That we do not make excuses for them in these trying and hard times. It is important that we hold them accountable. We never had more reasons to rage.
Whilst Friederike brilliantly laid out how the COVID-19 crisis has exacerbated and deepened deep-rooted patriarchal divisions, I’ll be shedding some light on the regressions in terms of patriarchal rhetoric and distribution of roles and the disproportionate impact on the LGBTQ+ community. Indeed, COVID-19 alongside being a health crisis is prompting a mental health crisis, and how much womxn are expected to deal with this and how disproportionately this will impact the LGBTQ+ community are my reasons to rage this issue.
Return of normalised patriarchal rhetoric and roles
“Newton had no children, and if he had had kids, he sure as hell wouldn’t have been expected to look after them.”
Many people on Twitter have been romanticising how this COVID-19 induced lockdown will give us all the creativity and time to create our greatest work, like Newton who discovered gravity working from home during the Plague. YAWN, another fetishisation of cis-male greatness. But in this case also Newton had no children, and if he had had kids, he sure as hell wouldn’t have been expected to look after them. We seem to have just skidded back a few million years in a heartbeat in terms of patriarchal rhetoric and roles with all the tweets, memes and media coverage in the past few weeks.
This is not only in the way we are just referring to cis-men and cis-women but also in patriarchal roles attributed to men and women. Suddenly, the years of feminist work to chip away at the patriarchy are being eroded: providing childcare and household support were meant to ensure equal opportunities and empower women who would be traditionally expected to renounce opportunities to take on childcare responsibilities; but as a repercussion of necessary lockdown and social distancing procedures, many of these demands are once again placed upon womxn. So many womxn I speak to feel overwhelmed by additional childcare responsibilities, and are either doing all the cooking or cleaning or having to delegate this. Now, whilst I am sure some men are also looking after their kids and working, as we are flung into this new normal some these old patriarchal tropes are returning back stronger than ever. Let alone the added difficulties for single parents and further complexities for parents not conforming to heteronormative norms.
Womxn’s COVID-19 induced emotional burden
This article shows that, in fact, the instability of this COVID-19 suspension of normalcy means we are all en-masse enduring a traumatic episode comparable to grief. And the traditionally patriarchal role for womxn to be ‘emotional’ beings responsible for the pastoral and general care of others means that, at a time when health services are overwhelmed, the mental health crisis will fall on the backs of womxn through their informal networks.
One significant way in which patriarchy negatively impacts men is the way in which it stigmatises men’s emotions, leading men to tend to rely on womxn for this. Pardon the binary lens on this, but most-cis men are approaching this crisis from a perspective of ‘how will this impact me’ whilst womxn are more concerned with the community-aspect, having been socialised over centuries of heteronormative patriarchal capitalism to take on this role (payment free might I add – but this socialist rant will have to be for another article).
“This COVID-19 crisis is going to stretch womxn’s emotional, physical and mental capacity really, really thin.”
This is not to discount the difficulties cis-men are undergoing in this crisis. Nonetheless, the extra emotional burden to do the emotional labour men have never been socialised to do and provide emotional support to their communities is like having another job. Don’t get me wrong, I *LOVE* emotionally supporting the wonderful people (including cis-men) I am lucky enough to be surrounded by. But the extra emotional labour and burden to juggle alongside jobs we will be less focussed on doing and all the additional childcare and housework also traditionally attributed to us – this COVID-19 crisis is going to stretch womxn’s emotional, physical and mental capacity really, really thin (almost as thin as my lockdown induced patience).
Impact on LGBTQ+ community
Here I open up my feminist struggle, as what I find to be another fundamental aspect regarding the feminist and LGBTQ+ fight is the disproportionate impact this community will suffer in this crisis.
One of the many impacts will be the fact that trans men have been advised not to bind their chests because of the adverse impacts this may have on their recovery if they fall ill with COVID-19, which will have severe consequences for the mental health of people who will have reduced access to health services they were already struggling to access due to discrimination and stigma. Additionally, life-saving gender-affirming surgeries are also being cancelled due to struggling health services. Medical providers across the world are extremely overwhelmed and it is understandable that many people’s health will unfortunately be neglected in times of crisis (without a larger discussion on why this has a lot to do with cuts to public health services), mitigation measures must be put in place to ensure trans people get the support they need when the life-saving health provisions they need are unavailable.
With 31 March being Trans Visibility Day, we should not let the COVID-19 crisis cloud or vision and forget that these too are life-saving services. In addition to this already grim picture, members of the LGBTQ+ community are also more likely to fit in the vulnerable category due to higher rates of HIV and cancer. Lest we also forget, young LGBTQ+ kids struggling to figure out their identities in the homophobic heternormative patriarchy we live in today, may be in self-isolation or lockdown with families who will not support their journeys.
“Years of feminist and LGBTQ+ fighting have just flown away in the COVID-19 tornado.”
Years of feminist and LGBTQ+ fighting have just flown away in the COVID-19 tornado. Let’s try to claw back some of this progress before this reintroduction of archaic patriarchal heternormative norms totally steamrolls us. We need to try our best to support each other in these trying times, so that womxn and LGBTQ+ folks do not leave this crisis mentally, physically and emotionally drained and damaged.
This article was originally published in Europe & Me (E&M), with which A Tribe Of Women (ATOW) collaborates.
Female Rage is a feminist series where E&M’s Nicoletta Enria and Friederike Sandow exchange what has made them quite frankly ‘rage’. They believe that in speaking up about feminist issues that womxn experience daily, womxn empower each other: no one is alone. And we all have a lot to learn and to teach about how to become better feminists.
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