Looking at the recent “sexistic HEMA banner debate” I really feel a concern about how quickly these women and men who object have been disregarded as rabid feminists by some. For some reason that happens quite often with feminism. Feminists are regarded as overly angry women that need to calm down and are treated as somewhat ignorant and single-minded, like children, instead of people who strive to create equality for more than half of our population and for that reason deserve our respect.
No, there wasn’t any ill-will, intentional sexism etc on the behalf on any of the involved. However that is irrelevant to the larger debate. But, the fact that a woman made the banner doesn’t automatically clear it from sexism. Lots of women do sexist things, even to their own gender and themselves, and often even worse so than men do, and without even thinking about it, sometimes even as a protest. Just like racism exists in all ethnic groups, sexism among minorities of different sexual orientation etc, etc. Again, this does not make the banner harmless and the gender of the creator is completely irrelevant to the debate.
And no, the banner wasn’t end-of-the-world bad and there have been many much worse examples, but the same significant mechanisms are involved and it has caused quite a serious debate because of it. However, here I more discuss the attached debate than the actual banner.
I find it interesting how people sometimes try to separate politics from other things they do, wishing for a “neutral zone”, and this is seemingly particularly common when it comes to feminism. It is seen as improper, impolite, unfitting and rude to bring such things up. However, such separation is just not possible, as politics is the same thing as life and how we wish to live it. It is as closely tied to HEMA as is economics; another part of life that we just can’t ignore.
Consequently, HEMA is always in part closely tied to politics and policies. This is why most clubs have regulations regarding how decisions are made and active policies against racism, sexism, homophobia, nazism etc, and other darker aspects of human behaviour.
Furthermore it is really not a question of bringing feminism into HEMA, but about whether we should accept bringing some pretty negative issues about sexuality from our larger society into it. For many women it seems as if HEMA is part of a wish for just that; a neutral zone, a place where we can all fight without anyone really caring for their genders. This in a society where a lot of sports have become very sexualised in the last few decades and where sexualised sports have become more common and popular in media, as it brings more profit.
It is interesting to note that very few women have expressed that the issue is unimportant and nothing to concern ourselves with. That opinion is voiced almost solely by men. That should give us men pause for thought. And however much we men think we support women and believe ourselves to be against sexism, it is near impossible for us to truly understand what it is like being a woman in today’s society, be it taliban or western, a society where women are always, always objectified and treated differently.
And for us men, being attracted by women, and with most of us consciously or unconsciously evaluating the opposite sex in terms of looks, and even having our own libidos manipulated – a deceptively lustful and “positive” experience – things don’t get any easier. For this reason, we really should listen carefully to what those who object have to say. We are just not equipped to judge the issue properly, only to listen and try to respect those who object, just as we respect our wives, girlfriends, sisters, mothers and daughters. Yes, we have come a long way as a society, but in some areas things are worse than ever. To think that HEMA is a neutral arena outside of all this I think is very naive.
Now, there is nothing wrong with pictures of pretty women, or looking at them. But, working as a graphic designer it is striking how filled the image banks are with pretty women of young age and almost no old or “ugly”, while men are depicted in all stages of life and with little regards for looks. Youth and beauty are the two most important qualities for a woman and without them she is of considerably less value, and as she grows older she becomes less and less visible as a woman to a great part of our society. Disregarding this injustice or even worse; propagating it, is a great disservice to our whole society.
Furthermore, some suggest we have much more important matters to concern ourselves with, but while it is true that we have other very important matters to deal with, we don’t have to choose only one or two issues to work with. We can work on it all, especially given how we are quite a few people who can share the workload. And especially since it only takes for us to treat each other with respect and fairness, regardless of gender, ethnicity or sexual orientation etc.
With all this said, there is also a fine line between feminism and neo-moralism. Moralism has both positive and negative aspects attached to it that need to be considered. On top of that we have biology and human desire for procreation and the mechanisms of attraction and sexuality associated with that.
However, the fear of a genderless society where a man who expresses his feelings of attraction to a woman is automatically judged as sexist is greatly exaggerated. It is just a question of how, where and when such feelings are expressed. If you wish to court someone, just do it with a bit of class and sensitivity instead of shouting at teenage girls in the street.
EDIT: Here are a couple of very strong documentaries on the topic of racism, sexism etc and why you can’t understand the other sides’ views until you experience it yourself. Well worth looking through.