Josep Maria Esquirol, the philosopher who has managed to address the questions that thousands of readers have asked themselves about their own existence, quipped in a recent conversation that “living is very hard to do!” We face many challenges on our journey through life and finding our identity is not exactly plain sailing.
This week gender identity raised its head in the public debate with great effervescence, and not only in Catalonia. A fresh discussion arose a few months ago about the role of women, which reveals the need to establish a new contract between the sexes so that a better life balance can be achieved. This is not just about the role and identity of females and other genders, but about the male role and male identity. Many civilised men who have broken away from stereotypes are aware that gender relations need an urgent update, one that brings respectful treatment to the workplace as well as to the most intimate of settings.
The debate on inequality and abuse is raging in Spain following the shocking ruling in the so-called Manada (“Wolfpack”) case (1), where a court of law has disturbingly ruled that non-consensual intercourse is not necessarily an act of violence. Furthermore, Justice Ricardo González —a rather peculiar judge— cast a dissenting vote characterising the incident as “good fun and banter” rather than a sordid gang rape. This view can only be held from an unashamedly primitive mentality that is still pervasive. The Manada case has brought many other inequalities that affect women into the spotlight. For instance, even though twenty people sit on Spain’s Criminal Code Sub-Committee, not one of them is a woman. This is the committee which the Spanish Justice Minister has tasked with reviewing sexual offences in Spain’s Criminal Code. This (naturally male) gerontocracy will determine what constitutes a sexual crime, even though the victims of such crimes tend to be women. When you do the math, including the rest of the sub-committees, it turns our that only 13 per cent of a total 120 members are women. And that is in law, a profession where most practitioners in court and law school are women.
The Manada case has, once again, shown that there is a connection between violence and sexuality which lies at the heart of many male behaviours. Experts explain how sex learning is increasingly determined by a male imaginary that stems from pornography, which is being readily consumed online at an ever earlier age. In today’s ARA dossier you can read about how young people watch porn in a matter-of-fact manner and they create for themselves an idea of sexuality which their reality disproves and frustrates. Pornography is effectively responsible for sex education.
The stories by Lara Bonilla and Laia Vicens provide data such as this: 30 per cent of young men are aroused by the idea of raping a woman and 15 per cent would actually do it, if they knew they would get away with it. Young men believe they have sexual privileges over women and the idea of domination prompts them to perform unusual acts and engage in extreme practices which they regard as normal.
On an international level, sex —or, rather, repression and violence— is also a basic factor in the massive van attack carried out in Toronto by Alek Minassian where ten people were killed this same week. Minassian was a member of a group called Incel (short for “involuntary celibate”) that brings together misogynists who blame women for their own inability to have sexual relations and thus remain unwillingly celibate. While most such characters channel their frustration by debasing women, others make a case for rape and violence as a response to society, which they claim is feminist and oppressive. What is changing is women’s collective attitude. The response to violence or scorn is no longer solitary. The wave that demands a new agreement between the genders is also reaching many other western countries where power abuse is no longer being hushed up. Women, whether directly concerned or not, are taking a collective stand in every field. It is hardly surprising that the Swedish Academy is currently experiencing its worst crisis since its inception in 1786 after 18 women have reported cases of sexual harassment. Resignations over the institution’s inaction have led to the cancellation of the literature prize amidst a strained, stuffy atmosphere
The times, they are a-changin’ and institutions will have to evolve in lockstep with society or else society will change the institutions.
(1) A group of young men who called themselves la Manada (“the Wolfpack”) have been recently found guilty of sexually abusing a young woman, but rape charges were dismissed by the court, which has outraged many in Spain. One of the three judges failed to see any sexual misconduct at all in the group’s actions.