Tuesday 25 February 2020

Strong men do not have to put women down to feel powerful

This article first appeared in Sunday’s edition of Malta Today

I listened d to Michelle Obama’s speech in New Hampshire and once again, not for the first time, I was floored by her ability to encapsulate exactly what the most crucial issue is in this bizarre US election campaign.

Without once mentioning Trump’s name she clearly outlined how his recent vulgar remarks about women and his bragging about sexual assault are not only dangerous, but simply unacceptable.

“If we let Hillary’s opponent win this election we are endorsing and condoning that this is the way to treat women”.

She urged her audience to get out the vote by roping in friends and families, “We can’t just sit at home and wring our hands”, pointing out that not voting will simply ensure that Trump will win.

And if you think the American election and all the social connotations and signals being emitted by this grotesque man have nothing to do with us, you’re wrong. Trump’s obvious contempt for women, whom he sees merely as trophies and sex objects to be groped and grabbed because “when you are a star they will let you do anything” is echoed almost all the time in our own country. Of course we already knew that, didn’t we? Machismo and “locker room talk” as Trump tried to dismiss it, has almost been normalized here, because many argue that it’s part and parcel of Mediterranean culture.

But there is a growing anger among women who are not willing to accept this any longer as normal. For, once you normalize it, where do you draw the line of what is OK to say or not?

Just take a look at what one man (a pharmacist, if you please) had to say publicly on a FB post when the MAP issue was being discussed:

Dismantle the medicines authority and all healthcare quite obviously they are not needed btw healthcare professionals are morally and ethically obliged to use their own discretion thats why they have a presidential warrant this absurd just to serve these whores who want to f**k and take no responsibility so pathetic obscene and blasphemous to say the least….

I’m not going to get into the MAP debate again, but the loaded use of the word “whores” for him to make his argument, speaks volumes. He also doesn’t see the irony of using the phrase “obscene and blasphemous” when he has just used a vulgar word himself (I put in the asterisks but he didn’t bother) and basically called any woman who engages in sex as “whores”.

This. This is what is wrong when you allow a culture to treat women in a despicable way either through offensive language or behaviour. If we allow it to continue, if we sanitize it and laugh it off and say “u iva” don’t be so uptight and so feminist (you know ‘coz that’s like a disease or something) , then we are royally screwed.

As Mrs Obama so perfectly said, what kind of role models are we giving our children (both boys and girls) when this misogynistic language is allowed to continue? Words are important, attitudes are important and especially when they are uttered by people in certain positions. Such as a presidential candidate, and in the case I am quoting here, a pharmacist.

When someone who pompously describes himself as a “professional” feels it’s OK to speak so publicly about women who have sex, as “whores” then it makes you wonder how on earth he can practice his profession ethically. What does he do every time a woman comes into his establishment asking for say, normal contraception, does he mentally size her up, categorizing her into tidy, little compartments of whore and not-whore? And, in his narrow, blinkered view of the world, if all these woman who may need emergency contraception are whores who like to f**k around, what does that make the men they are doing the deed with? Are they absolved from his fire and brimstone indignation because, you know, they’re just guys.

This is why, several months ago when I first wrote about the MAP, I said that this goes beyond the emergency contraceptive itself, but is an issue which has at its core, the need and desire to control women. The FB thread where this pharmacist come out with his brilliant observation is replete with comments by other pharmacists and doctors who are pissed off because women want the MAP to be an over the counter medicine which can be dispensed on the advice of a pharmacist. Boy are they angry. But what are they so angry about? Is it the fact that the doctor (the middle man) will be cut out of the picture if there is no need for a prescription (which makes one think that it’s all about the money)? Are they concerned because as professionals, they fear women may be unknowingly harming themselves with this medical product?

Nope, the self-righteous indignation I read was all about the fact that they feel affronted that they are being reduced to “dispensing machines” who will have no say because the patient (a woman) is asking for what is hers by right. Actually no, what women are demanding is that they can walk into a pharmacy, ask for the MAP, and after the pharmacist explains risks, and gives them guidance, the pill is handed over. Simples.

They do not expect to walk into a pharmacy and have a mean-spirited man look her up and down and immediately label her a “whore”.

Meanwhile, alerted by the “whores” comment, many women, including myself, (as well as some men) swooped on the thread and told Mr Professional Pharmacist exactly what they thought of him. Many demanded to know the name of his pharmacy to make sure never to set foot in there, ever. I would think even the Malta Chamber of Pharmacists should have a word with him, and gently explain why he cannot talk about women like that on such a public platform. If he feels so comfortable writing something like that on FB, in my view, it belies a certain hatred and contempt towards women in general.

To quote Michelle Obama once again: “strong men do not have to put women down to feel powerful”.

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