Tuesday, January 8, 2013

The broken window theory of feminism

It actually does matter. All of it.

That might seem a bit boring to some who roll the eyes and say surely not, here we go again, the women are up in arms. Outrage! Why can't they just focus on the important stuff?

The argument that we should stick to the big ticket items - equal pay for equal work, paid parental leave, domestic violence, rape - and forget the rest has some appeal at first glance. Surely we are sapping our energy if we jump on every little incident.

Or are we? The way I see it, it is the pervasive everyday sexism (follow @everydaysexism on twitter if you aren't already) - the stuff that girls and women are subjected to as routine - that informs the cultural landscape and promotes the very perceptions that support and reinforce those 'big ticket items'.

It is not exactly surprising that in a country where a major tabloid newspaper named a horse as Sportswoman of the Year, sportswomen are seen as lesser in a number of important and concrete respects - less coverage, less sponsorship deals, and less pay. And while that is one example of an incident that led to a wave of feminist 'outrage' (they may as well just go the whole hog and call us hysterical) it is part of a bigger picture.

Of course we must pick our battles, because if we were to literally jump up and down about every incident of sexism that occurs in our daily lives as women, we wouldn't have much time to do anything else (although we would be be super fit).

I would never be so presumptuous to tell a person impacted by racism to just turn down their outrage-meter. Does anybody really think that everyday or 'casual' racism is unrelated to statistics on race and poverty, imprisonment rates and unemployment? Or that everyday racism in and of itself is not damaging to the psyches of those who have no choice but to live with it?

The broken window theory of feminism is not my idea. I stole it from twitter (if anybody knows the origins let me know so I can credit) but I think is a great conceptual framework to think about the real impact so-called everyday sexism has on women and girls; and why expressing our outrage and disgust at these everyday incidents is anything but a waste of time and energy. For young women in particular, recognising and protesting these everyday examples may also be an empowering first step towards becoming fully fledged multi-dimensional joint destroyers.


  1. You're so right. Great post.

  2. So true.

    And when attention is brought to the window that is broken and needs fixing, can we stop the "oh, but the whole town hall needs a coat of paint first" argument that jumps up?

    I am involved with a very amazing discussion going on a very varied female base forum at the moment about such things, and the amount of people trying to derail it with the whole "men are victims too" and "I don't support feminism because I got judged on changing my name on marriage" smoke bombs - its about a much bigger picture.

    Thanks for letting your comments box be the recipient of that!

    1. Oh lord. Those smoke bombs! So glad you vented here. Anytime ;-)

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  4. I'm neither a female nor am I up to date on the feminist lingo (broken windows? smoke bombs?), so maybe my two cents are only worth one, but I'll say this: in my opinion, focusing on the "casual" everyday sexism is ABSOLUTELY the way to go. And furthermore, I'd focus on the kids. Teach the boys and young men and the girls and young women that when it come to intellect, drive, creativity, etc. men and women are equals.

    Yes, I know it sounds like I'm saying to keep on waiting, but that's not really the point. My point is that overcoming sexism or racism or any other -ism is a revolution of the mind. And since these ideas don't arise naturally, but are instead taught to us, it's important to educate kids before they get misinformed.

    Growing up, I had the good fortune to be surrounded by a racially diverse community, and while I was aware of racism as a general issue, it had not strongly permeated my life. As I grew older and came into contact with people who had racist tendencies, I became surprised that people actually still thought that way.

    It's that surprise that we should be striving for. Create the new norm in the new generation and they will look at the old ways as foreign and downright odd. It will almost not make sense to them how people once thought that way. That to me is how you make a quantum change.

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