Toxic and killing - Carol Gatt
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Toxic and killing - Carol Gatt

Social norms are what we would think are normal, as in, what we accept versus what we refute, how we dress, how we behave, how we interact with the opposite gender, how we go about our day.

Some of these burn us women and yet, we usually are vehemently protective of them, being blind to consequences they bring. You will not find it easy to agree with me on this, exactly because they are norms and as such, are normal. We need to think to see beyond them. 

But the environment in Malta, like in other countries, is toxic and it is killing. If it touches you, you find your life impacted for good. 

In my opinion, you can’t change society from the top down. You need to start with yourself, take the bottom up direction. The idea is that, once you are better, and you behave better, then those around you will be affected and will change, and those around them too. The circle will grow exponentially. One of us cannot change everything, but each of us can start changing to better.

Social norms need rethinking exactly with this aim in mind. They are our tool to change the world around us. We need to change so that our laws, our courts, our politicians change, for the better.

The way we dress, we women, gives a message to society, but we have been desensitised to this. Through marketing, peer pressure and general alienation in life, we forgot that what we dress up like impresses and opens or closes doors to thought in other people. 

Fashion dictates but we decide to follow. No one forces us. So, we need to rethink this is what we wear giving a message to men and to society that actually devalues us women? 

Malta is one big close-minded jail of thought. Men are treated one way while women drown behind them. We all, women included, treat our male members of society as if they can’t be given fair treatment. They must be entitled to our best, VIP, most sexist treatment. 

In any coffee, restaurant or store, the waitress or cashier will only smile at your husband, never at you, and the secretary will only go the extra mile if her manager or the one demanding service is male. 

God forbid a woman is a boss here on the rock, she is immediately given the label ‘bossy’, and other labels to demean her. 

We women, before the men even, need to take a good look in the mirror and reassess our value system surrounding men. Men need to feel less entitled not more, and we parents and especially us women, need to see that our kids, our men, get re-educated. And I call on the women because we are the ones who really care the most on this issue.

We Maltese are not innocent of backbiting, even challenging without proof and second thought, the honour of others. And we love putting down women, whether we are men or women, we do this wholeheartedly. This action of the tongue demeans women the most because the way we apply it reflects our social imbalances and lack of judgement. 

For men going on to catcall in the street “Aw sexy!”, for example, we smile because he is entitled, right? For women looking in a way that we feel challenged, we talk her honour to hell and back. A man changing his girl is a man all the more, a stud, in many of our minds, whereas a woman leaving her boyfriend, even if he was the one to dump her, is a loose woman, a loser and whatever else we know about her that portrays her as a slut.

Obviously not all of us will be with these attitudes, but many of us are and the rest of us are not challenging them enough. We need to make a change and this entails work, not lying back and letting it pass us by. 

Familiarity with the opposite gender, with no limits in manners and no physical barriers, breeds perceptions in men that are oppressive to women

In case you are reading this and thinking: “It doesn’t apply to me, because I would never!”, you could be one of the onlookers while this is going on and maybe, you could change the course of it by trying to stop it.

Nudity is another social norm that discriminates women badly. Anywhere we go, women make themselves nuder than men, be it in street, beach, home and beyond. Men, on the other hand, are presented in sharp suits mostly, power oozing through pages, billboards and other media. 

Why do we need to sell a car tyre using a half-naked woman? Why do we need to sell a news mag through using a heavily made-up, heavily photochopped... er... shopped, woman in scanty bikinis on the front cover? This is happening in our face and in our kids’ faces all the time, and even more seriously, why does the government not ban pornography in all its forms, and make laws harsher on those who partake of it? 

Why don’t we want a more decent environment even when we see that this toxic environment we are in is hurting some of us women?

Nudity should be strictly controlled. Decency is a good, moral value and without it. Some of our men are feeling that a woman is less human than themselves. 

One factor driving all these men is their lack of empathy. They perceive their victim as less worth than them, a woman as less worth than a man and their imposing on the woman as their right in life. Nudity only helps them assert these monstrous attitudes, because they, themselves, would never be caught dead, marketing a car tyre in thongs. Nor would they be socially forced into near starvation to fit an idea…

Women need to be equal, albeit different, partners of men. I hail from a different cultural norm than most of us Maltese. Born Maltese and Christian, I read and am now a Muslim and married to a foreigner; I get to experience other cultures that we Maltese usually look down on Arab, Muslim, specifically. 

Many Maltese think these are the absolute max-masters of women oppressors. We fail to realise we have damning similarities to them just as we have lessons to learn from their successes.

 For all that, I too left on my journey in life with this prejudice, that Arab Muslims are oppressing women into submission. I had to rethink and reform my attitudes decency is a good norm and my mini-skirts, my tight jeans are not my assistants in life, I realised. 

Familiarity with the opposite gender, with no limits in manners and no physical barriers, breeds perceptions in men that are oppressive to women and set them at a very real disadvantage. Keeping barriers up in social interaction, including through clothing, and manners, actually breeds respect for women, not the other way. 

Having been regularly visiting these perceived ‘oppressive’ countries, has helped me see and compare cultural norms. I hope some of us can rethink too, before we women end up slaves of our own ‘liberties’.

We Maltese need re-education, just like many countries do, including Arab Muslim countries, but look at ourselves we must to be better not worse. 

It is not forthcoming from our schools so don’t look that way. It actually starts at school, all this mess. If you attend Junior College, you know what I refer to. 

It must start from us individuals, we who care enough what world our kids live in. We, women and men, must think, teach, change our ways. Our kids, today’s kids, will be filling these same posts. If we fail, they fail. 

We can’t change everything, but each of us can change something, and it will add up.

Carol Gatt is a Maltese Muslim committed to truth before nationalism. 

This is a Times of Malta print opinion piece

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