Having a voice matters. If you don’t think so, it’s probably because you were always heard.
Since the beginning of the year, when I took four months off from my job as a reporter in Brazil and moved to New York for the Entrepreneurial Journalism program at the Tow-Knight Center at CUNY’s Graduate School of Journalism, I plunged as never before into the world of gender issues.
It was because of Cada Uma (which means Each One in Portuguese), my venture dedicated to telling the stories of the lives of Brazilian women.
I have to confess that, when I started to think about reporting on the stories of women’s struggles and challenges in Brazil, I thought they were kind of clear.
I assumed people would know, for example, that:
- Brazil is a male dominated society
- Women are burdened by the double journey home + work (according to IBGE)
- Brazilian women study more than men, but get paid lower salaries
- Women have little autonomy and freedom in their decisions about their bodies
- They are very exposed to violence (Brazil ranks fifth in feminicide)
- Women are dealing with all this practically alone, with very little or no support at all from society and government.
All you have to do is to read the newspapers to know that, as a society, we need public action in order to tackle such issues. Pretty obvious, right?
Wrong. When the idea of my project was presented and the conversations began to arise spontaneously here in New York, I soon realized that the first challenge was to explain to other people the problem that I saw, so that they could decide whether they were going to care about it.
“But Ligia, feminism sees things in a very negative light, don’t you think? If everyone starts asking only for women things, there will not be public money for everything. Don’t you think that if black people make demands only for them, and women only for women, society will be more divided? And people are fighting more because of it, right?
Not coincidentally, all these quotes there came from people with the same profile: male, white, college graduates. For them, those problems I have listed up here simply did not relate to any pain they have ever experienced in their lives.
Once, in New York, I had the opportunity to debate these issues with a very intelligent and renowned American white, middle-aged and charismatic guy. And his honesty was even more instructive to me:
“Ligia, I try. But the Brazilian women’s problems are so far from me that I can barely understand. Let alone help you with any ideas.
I felt like I was part in a documentary: “Brazilian women: how they live, what do they feed on?” being aired to an audience that was really not that interested. Simply because he has no empathy for the things I’m describing.
It would be much easier for this gentleman, for example, to identify with a project that addresses the social inclusion of veterans of the American War. Or anything that comes from the mouth of another white middle-aged man. Or even social issues that are more universal and easier to understand, like the homeless.
Now, take a good look at the picture above. And then look at that previously mentioned women’s issues list: do you think any of those things are priorities for these gentlemen?
No, they are not. And you see, I’m not even getting into the merits of the quality of the politicians and the new government in Brazil, on which the whole country has a lot of opinion to spare.
But even if they were only suitable, well-meaning, nice, and legitimately elected people; their priorities would still not represent society as a whole.
And if we fill the room with more women, maybe the whole group will fail to notice some issues that are very painful and crucial for black people, historically excluded from opportunities in Brazil. And, in a room filled with black people, still, maybe we forget the gay causes.
‘Damn. Will we want to put everybody in that power room?’
Yes. Everyone. A less unequal society begins by ensuring the greatest possible diversity of segments are represented in those small rooms where the important decisions are made. And the balance between diversity and competence should be achieved from the wisdom and experience of each ruler.
Because if there’s one thing the internet has changed on this planet, it is this: to validate the demands of society is no longer the exclusive prerogative of the white and rich man. Everyone who has historically been muted has now a chance to be represented.
And women, just over a hundred years ago, were one of the segments of society that were invisible and silent, as so beautifully recently said Meryl Streep, who you can see in this video below:
“Women were not always in the world, we used to be hidden, at home, in the harem, or held on a pretty short leash …. For thousands of years, the voices of women did not resound … in the important (places) where the course of history was. Until about 150 years ago — a fraction of a millisecond on the human clock— women’s priorities, and concerns, and achievements were invisible.”
It may be that the world never reaches an absolute consensus anymore. Having many different voices around will lead, hopefully, to a lot of noise and discussion, always.
But it is better to have all this debate than to always agree only because there is one lonely voice in the room, century after century.
Since Michel Temer’s government has announced his very white and male staff, after Dilma Rousseff’s impeachment, I have read several similar kinds of criticism spread through social networks.
“The important thing is whether the new ministers are competent or not! It doesn’t matter if they are black, white, male or female.”
Oh, it matters. And it matters a lot.
If you don’t think so, it is most likely because your voice has always been heard.
This matter was well summed up by Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister of Canada, when asked why he has decided to put 15 men and 15 women in his government.
“Because it’s 2015!”
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Ligia Guimarães is a 2016 fellow at the Tow-Knight Center for Entrepreneurial Journalism at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism and editor and founder of Cada Uma.