July 4th: When "Gender Neutral" is "Made for Men" in Disguise
The days after July 4th have left me thinking about the arguments against celebrating America's Independence Day. I've also been thinking about the types of people who get the most excited about this occasion.
In my life, the people most passionate about 4th of July are white men. While I recognize that this is not a blanket truth, even in conservative couples, it sometimes seems like sometimes the man is just a little more excited about Independence Day than the woman. More decked out in red white and blue; more likely to spend the morning raising a huge flag in front of the house. There are exceptions to this trend, of course, but I can't help but think the trend means something.
I've recently been reading Invisible Women: Exposing Data Bias in a World Designed for Men, by Caroline Criado-Perez. In this book, Criado-Perez explains how almost every system in our society was designed for men. Through real-world evidence, what at first seems like a broad claim by Criado-Perez begins to seem very real. She explains everything from how bathroom square-footage was standardized based on men's needs and now fails to service women efficiently to society's tendency to devalue women's work: wages in a sector fall after it is dominated by women, not before. The reality is that much of what we consider "gender neutral" is designed for men. Built for 50% of the population, just as senseless as if everything was designed for women alone.
I can't help but think that the same is the case with the 4th of July. On July 4th, 1776, five men signed the Declaration of Independence declaring that "all men are created equal." Today, we claim to see "men" as an all-encompassing term, but, in 1776, they meant it. Women weren't created equal.
I'm afraid that today we are falling into this same trap without knowing it. The reality is that on the 4th of July in 1776 white men of high status were freed in America. Sure, you can claim that this was a first step toward freeing other groups like women, enslaved people, and ethnic minorities. You can say that we should all appreciate our country. But the reality is that to this day we get a day off work to celebrate the Independence Day of white men and not of other groups. Worse, we paint the Independence Day of white men as a gender neutral, race neutral, and all other identity neutral occasion. This silences the importance of all other groups, and makes sure that they keep living in a world that is primarily designed by and for white men.
The celebration of Juneteenth as a federal holiday is a step in the right direction, but we are still not paying due attention to this holiday, nor celebrating any federal holidays for women's independence, ethnic minorities, or LGBTQ+ people. Those who disagree with me might say you can't celebrate every group. But if we celebrate the Independence Day of 50% of the population (and actually less because they were only white, high status men), why can't we celebrate the other 50%? Or 7%? Or 19%? These are the percentages of Americans who are LGBTQ+ and Latinx, respectively. And we have no reason to stop there. While celebration months and days for these groups exist, we don't pretend that they are for everyone or demand that they are identity neutral (in fact, many people protest when marginalized groups spend a month celebrating themselves).
The fact that we don't is blatant proof that "gender neutral" or any kind of "neutral" is a pathetic disguise for the reality that the vast majority of our world is designed for white men and only white men. And they want to keep it that way because the playing field is already "level" - for them.
While I don't argue that Independence Day is a useless day in history (although you can definitely find some articles on that), we need to start recognizing what this day was, and what it was not. We need to start giving equal time in our history books and on our calendars to the groups that are just as significant as the white men who for so long pretended they were the only ones whose freedom was significant.