Tuesday, 8 March 2011

International Women's Day

Today is International Women's Day, and across the world people are celebrating the economic, political and social achievements of women in the present day and throughout history. Be it the suffragettes of the late 19th and early 20th century who fought for women's votes, the feminist movement of the 60s and beyond which demanded gender equality or inspirational female figures - all are being championed. And it's not just these landmark campaigns and people, but the everyday women of the modern world.

Today is also a day to reflect on a plain, undeniable fact: women and men are still not equals. Despite centuries of toil, there is still economic and social disparity, and still a culture of misogyny and sexism.

Women are, on average, paid less than men, often for doing the same job. They face a much greater challenge than men if they wish to have a successful working and family life. Women the world over are the victims of domestic and sexual abuse and harassment, from men they know and men they do not. They are told by a corporate media that the key to happiness is fitting into a size zero dress and having a handsome, preferably wealthy husband. They are judged and deemed immoral by many for embracing their sexuality, and are called murderers if they try to take control of their own bodies. Things are stacked against them when it comes to breaking into the male dominated worlds of work, such as business and politics, to name but two. To some, women are not people. They are objects.

Why is it, after everything women have done and are still doing, after all the progress throughout the years, after they have proved categorically that sexist stereotypes are just that, why are women still not regarded and treated as equals in this world?

There is no single, simple answer to that question, but I believe it has a lot to do with the people's mindset. We may now pride ourselves on being progressive, as being as a society where women are not just expected to stay at home, cooking, cleaning and looking after husband and children. But make no mistake, those sentiments are persistent. Just consider the casual misogyny of pluralist, modern Britain. It is an outrage, and one that shocks me on a daily basis, that sexism is not considered to be as serious and repugnant a form of discrimination as racism.

Indeed, sexist gags are the all the rage up and down the land, and the chauvinistic slurs of media personalities when they think their microphones have been turned off, are simply indications of a much wider epidemic. Ah, but it's 'banter', I am told. It's 'just a joke'. Just a joke? Is it just a joke when women are afraid to walk the streets alone at night? Is it just a joke when women are killed and raped by men everyday? Is it just a joke when a woman is physically attacked by her partner? Hilarious stuff, eh?

It is an unspeakably infuriating truth that we live in a world void of gender equality. Great progress has been made and so much achieved by so many, but we haven't won yet. Feminism's work is not done. One day, maybe, we will be able to say that women - economically, politically socially - are equals to men. But until that day, until sexism becomes an embarrasing relic of a bygone age, until women the world over are free from oppression, until we can write the words 'Here lies patriarchy' on a headstone and be done with it, until then, we must strive on. So whatever you do today, take a moment to remember the immense achievements of women, and the immense challenges they face. And don't despair, there is hope yet for a better world.

An Extract from "A Doll's House", a play by the 19th Century playwright, Henrik Ibsen: 

Nora: What do you consider my most sacred duties? 

Torvald: Do I need to tell you that? Are they not your duties to me your husband and your children?

Nora: I believe I have other duties. 

Torvald: That you have not. What duties could those be? 

Nora: Duties to myself. 

Torvald: Before all else you are a wife and mother. 

Nora: I don't believe that any longer. I believe that before all else I am a human being. 


smilersophie said...

Thanks for writing this! It's important people know that we aren't still treated fairly and there's still along way to go before we come close to that happening!

BECKY said...

Sam, you are such an amazing guy! I know I've told you that many times before...but you just keep giving me reasons to keep saying it! Thank you for being YOU; a young man with such wisdom, it seems as if you surely lived another life..somewhere long, long ago! Thanks and hugs!

linsey said...

your insight never ceases to amaze me, you are truly a talented young man but be mindful never to lose the caring nature you have.

Anonymous said...

Women have come a long way in regards to equality. The fact is that not everyone can be totally equal to another, like in that story we all read in high school -> http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harrison_Bergeron
Yes, there are barriers for women in regards to some things, but as far as equality goes I think there are equal barriers for men in other ways. Paternity leave, for instance.
And I was watching Take Me Out (not my choice... blame not taken here) and the couple went on a date where they had to go out in a pedalo, and the girl said, on television, "I wasn't putting in any effort, he's the man that's his job." If that's not sexism, then they should re-hire that football pundit!
As I walk through everyday life I see a lot of discrimination, but it seems to be spread out over just about everyone, as if we're all walking around thinly coated with shit but not one of us has noticed.
What annoys me much more than that is the fact that despite all the equality women have, so many of them are throwing it away. They drop out of school young, have enough babies to never need to work and claim benefits for the rest of their lives. Most women I spoke to in work about voting don't find politics interesting enough to bother going out the house for. Men and Women seem very equal when it comes to lack of ambition.
The way I see it is that equality has come as far as it can with different groups vying for individual equalities. The corruption and discrimination in all our societies runs a lot deeper. What good is having rights if nobody can be bothered to learn about them or use them?
True equality, I believe, will come as a product of significant social change for everyone, no matter who they are, and the next couple of years are looking to be pretty significant, so we can only hope.