Why “Women Have it Worse in Other Countries” Is Not A Good Reason to Dismiss the Problems in Our Countries


I’m sure many of you have heard about Maisie Williams recent statements about HeforShe. If you haven’t, here is a link to what she said: http://time.com/3633638/game-of-thrones-maisie-williams-feminism-emma-watson/.
Williams made a very common error in her statement: she assumed that because things are worse in other places nothing needs to be done here. First, let’s look at the issue of calling HeforShe “First-world feminism.” It’s a trend right now to say “first-world problems” as if people in the “first-world” don’t have real problems. Here’s an article on the problem with saying “first-world problems”: http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/roger-covin/first-world-problems_b_4569467.html. William’s comment says the same thing. It says that women in the “first-world” don’t have real problems. Because domestic violence and rape don’t matter unless women are also denied education, right? The issues faced by women here aren’t any less of a problem because they could be worse. There are still issues and they still need to be addressed. Domestic violence still needs to be dealt with. Rape still needs to be dealt with. And we can’t get rid of them until we deal with the problem of sexism in general. Because so long as women are treated as second class citizens, both of those major issues will be considered acceptable.
Williams went on to say that the problems Watson mentioned don’t bother her. So apparently because Williams isn’t bothered nobody should be. I’m sorry, but it doesn’t work that way. You don’t get to tell people if their problems are problems. Their problems don’t disappear because they don’t bother you. If a person tells you that they have a problem, you should take that problem seriously. A lot of things that bother other people don’t bother me, and there are things that bother me that don’t bother other people, but that says nothing about the validity of our concerns. If Williams isn’t bothered, that’s fine, but that doesn’t mean that Watson is wrong to call those things problems.
We still have problems that need to be dealt with, and we should deal with them. Yes, there are countries with bigger problems. And yes, those problems need to be dealt with. But our “first-world problems” don’t get to be ignored because other countries have bigger problems. A problem is a problem no matter where it is.

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12 responses to “Why “Women Have it Worse in Other Countries” Is Not A Good Reason to Dismiss the Problems in Our Countries

  • friendlyskeptic

    It’s always really bugged me when people have dismissed any problems of mine by telling me there’s someone that always has it worse than me, like I should be grateful for my problems. That being said, the problems of a first-world and developing country are mutually exclusive, and cannot be compared to eachother.

    I also believe that just because things have gotten better, it doesn’t mean that we should settle. Yes, some people may have it worse, but until we fix the problems we have, we’ll have no idea about how to fix it in others, it’ll just become an experiment in “Will doing things this way make X go away?”

    Liked by 1 person

  • Ben Atwell

    I respectfully disagree.I agree sexism exists I’m not saying that I’m just saying domestic violence and rape have roots that go a lot deeper than just sexism. The earth is a violent place and humans are a violent animal in general. Our whole way of life centers around violence. Our technology has advanced through the acts of using it on one another. Every major discovery of science is contorted into a weapon of some sort. Anger, fear, jealousy, greed, lust dominate many people. These are thousands and thousands of years old issues. Sometimes it seems that the only thing that advances is our tools.

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    • hessianwithteeth

      So we should just accept sexist because violence is inevitable? Even if that were true, excusing violence is just a cop out. We can fight sexism. And we can fight violence in general. Look at history: the amount of violence has gone down significantly over time.

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      • Ben Atwell

        No it really hasn’t we’ve just been able to become more efficient at causing harm to others. We can kill a lot faster than we could in 1400. And I didn’t say excuse anything. I said sexism is just an outlet for flawed people. That’s what I was saying. These people could be fundamental fanatics, or serial slashers or hell they could even be cops these days I guess. Sexist violence is like chocolate ice cream, it might be chocolate but it’s still ice cream. Take the chocolate out, you still got ice cream.

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        • hessianwithteeth

          Your argument doesn’t make any sense. Of course if you remove sexism we’re still human, but that doesn’t mean anything. Have you ever eaten ice cream with no flavor? It’s quite gross. Humans without sexism is still an improvement. A better analogy to what your saying would be Vanilla ice cream with dirt in it. Remove the dirt and your still have ice cream, but this ice cream is an improvement.
          You should read more history. Yes, people still kill people, and our weapons are better at killing than they used to be. But it wasn’t that long ago when humans killed other humans simply because they weren’t of the same tribe. Hell, that’s the whole reasoning behind most of the killing in the Bible. Then it became kingdoms killing off people to possess more land. We go to war a lot less often now than we ever did in the past, and a lot less people die in war. We don’t have murder rates from hundreds of years ago, but we do have murder rates going back a hundred years. Do you know what we’ve found? Murder rates are dropping. As are the rates of violent crimes. So no, humans aren’t destined to be forever violent, and “it’s just how we are” is not an excuse. Things have been changing, and they will continue to change. But if we want those changes to be for the better we have to work for them.

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  • equippedcat

    Not to mention that it is up to us to fix our problems. How much we should be involved in “fixing” other countries problems is debatable, particularly when we HAVEN’T worked on our own problems enough yet, and appear not to have a clear idea how to..

    Liked by 1 person

    • hessianwithteeth

      I don’t think many people have head about the “white mans burden” and then realized is a bad thing. Now to be fair the developed world is no long just white, but the idea that we ought to help the world and make them like us, and it’s our responsibility to help these helpless savages is a real undercurrent in how our cultures often talk about foreign aid. The damage we due out of our arrogance has been enormous.

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  • Ros

    I fully agree that “Women have it worse in other countries” is not a good reason to dismiss the problems in our own countries. However, I do wonder if you are being a little hard on Maisie?

    Firstly, the press is notorious for distorting what people say. Even when this isn’t intentional, the journalist will still pick out what s/he thinks the salient points are, with the result that the intended meaning may be lost.

    Secondly, the original Guardian article (as opposed to the ‘summary’ you linked to) was about Maisie’s participation in a TV drama about cyber bullying. That was its focus. Maisie’s comments about Emma Watson’s UN speech were mentioned very much as an aside. This is how the journalist reported it (just one paragraph in a 20 paragraph article):

    ‘Williams is a feminist, though it’s not an issue high on her agenda. “There are creepy things that people say online that I shouldn’t have to read,” she explains, “but there are bigger things going on in other countries.” We talk about actor Emma Watson’s recent UN speech, in which she talked about her reasons for becoming a feminist, and the need for men to be onside; Williams says she is impatient with this kind of “first-world feminism”. “A lot of what Emma Watson spoke about, I just think, ‘that doesn’t bother me’. I know things aren’t perfect for women in the UK and in America, but there are women in the rest of the world who have it far worse.”’

    http://www.theguardian.com/tv-and-radio/2014/dec/12/maisie-williams-game-of-thrones-star-targeted-by-cyberbullies

    So what is it that Maisie is ‘impatient’ about? Well, in her speech, Emma says that she started questioning gender based assumptions when she was 8 and was told she was bossy and the boys weren’t… and when she was 14 and felt she was sexualised by certain sections of the media… and when she was 15 and her female friends dropped out of their beloved sports teams… and when she was 18 and her male friends were unable to express their feelings. Emma mentions nothing about rape, abuse or domestic violence. Yet, in your post, you seem to be accusing Maisie of dismissing these as unimportant. I’m not sure that’s entirely fair.

    I do accept that the kind of issues that Emma describes point to some much deeper assumptions within society that can and do sometimes lead to domestic violence and rape. I also accept that it can be helpful to point out this connection because not everyone ‘gets’ it. Minimising the little things is a mistake if they are part of something much bigger. However, it’s precisely for this reason that I think you may have been a little harsh in your judgment of Maisie. She is seventeen. She’s an actress. She is not yet an adult. She may not yet have felt the impact of gender discrimination in the way that you have and she hasn’t studied at university. So it may be that she doesn’t understand all the ins and outs of feminism in the way that you do. Or it may be that she does and the newspaper got her wrong.

    Whatever, for her, right now, cyber bullying is the issue of the moment. It’s something she does know something about and it’s also something that she feels she can raise awareness of through her acting. So that’s what she’s doing. The journalist reports: ‘Williams plays Casey, a teenage girl who is held prisoner in her bedroom by a computer hacker who, over the course of an hour, taunts and manipulates her, threatening to leak compromising photographs unless she does exactly what he says…’ That doesn’t sound to me like someone who is seeking to minimise what’s going on in the first world. Neither does this: ‘She is dismissive of those who don’t take cyberbullying as seriously as other forms of bullying. “I think it hurts even more,” she says. “Kids are killing themselves. It’s very serious.”’

    So perhaps what Maisie really meant when she said she gets ‘impatient’ with ‘first-world feminism’ is the feeling that too much focus on lesser symptoms can distract people from the larger issue? If you stand up on the world stage with the intent of getting men to take you seriously, then the most serious issues look like a good place to start. Talking about girls being called bossy or men not being able to express feelings probably isn’t going to make much impact on most world leaders. Talking about rape, abuse, poverty, lack of education and unfair wages might.

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    • hessianwithteeth

      I read multiple reports on what Maisie said. The fact remains that she used the argument that things are worse elsewhere so Watson’s complaints aren’t worth bothering with. Williams has not been sexualized in the media to the degree that Watson was. Once the fourth Harry Potter movie came out it seemed like all anybody cared about was her looks. And girls being called bossy is a major issue. It tells girls that they aren’t supposed to be leaders. Watson may not have been talking about domestic violence and rape, but until we fix the problems she did mention rape and domestic violence will not be taken as seriously as it should be because women will continue to be seen as less human then their male counterparts.

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      • Ros

        The multiple reports all got their information from the Guardian, which is why I went back to the original source to see what was said there.

        ‘The fact remains that she used the argument that things are worse elsewhere so Watson’s complaints aren’t worth bothering with.’ What she was reported as saying could certainly be taken that way. However, I don’t think there is enough in the article for us to be able to draw any firm conclusions about what she really thought about Watson’s speech. The article is about cyber bullying not feminism. Maisie’s main concern at the moment is cyber bullying – as is also evident from her Twitter feed. That’s what she wanted to talk about – her agenda, not Watson’s.

        Hence the main thing I got from the relevant paragraph was that feminism isn’t high on her own personal agenda. Whether she meant to criticise Watson’s involvement or whether she was just saying it wasn’t her own personal concern isn’t clear to me. I don’t think a few sentences written by someone else are sufficient to be able to deduce this – or her reasons for any implied criticism. So I’m surprised that you should so readily use them in this way when you are normally so concerned with standards of evidence.

        That said, I think you did right to pick up on what she said and question it. Your concerns about ongoing sexism in the Western world are legitimate. My problem is simply with comments like, ‘So apparently because Williams isn’t bothered nobody should be…’ etc. It seemed to me that, there, you were jumping to conclusions about the motives behind her words and arguing against those, rather than the words themselves. A straw man comes to mind 😉 You might be right about the way she is thinking. There are certainly people who do think that way. But you could also be very, very wrong. A handful of sentences written by someone else in a national newspaper are simply not enough to go on.

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  • D.T. Nova

    “Pretend it’s not a problem here because it’s even worse somewhere else” is a fallacy that has always really, really bugged me no matter what specific problem was being dismissed.

    Liked by 1 person

  • caelesti

    So what is Maisie doing for women in Asia/Africa/South America etc?Because if she was actually doing a economic development project focused on women, or helping Oprah build a school for girls in Africa, or something- I would disagree in setting up one thing as more important than another, but at least she’d be walking her talk. But since it doesn’t sound like she’s actually doing anything (like most critics of feminism!) it comes off as mostly derailing, and “if I haven’t been abused by men, it must not be a problem”. There are some other critiques of HeforShe worth considering by Black feminists like Mia McKenzie. I really think reforms of particular countries/regions/subcultures/religions etc. need to come from within those communities. Plenty of women of color, women from developing countries etc. have expressed their annoyance & frustration with white “first world” feminists swooping down and claiming to “save” them from their “savage” cultures/religions and knuckle-dragging men. I also find the “you need to do X in other countries!” admonitions to be annoyingly elitist.
    But I do think Ms. Watson’s speech is a useful education tool esp. for white male dominated subcultures- I use the example of the Heathen/Asatru community here- http://paganleft.wordpress.com/2014/10/16/gender-equality-why-heathens-can-do-better/ Her campaign could be useful in the atheist/skeptic/humanist community for similar reasons.

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