Equality of the Sexes? Not yet.
Following on from the Bechdell test last week, here’s another guest blog post on the topic of feminism and gender. Lois Cross examines the current state of women’s equality to men, and in particular the pay gap and the culture of maternal career breaks.
I’ve seen a few news articles and suchlike recently that have reminded me that even today women aren’t treated equally. Recently I read a historical article on women’s’ movements that campaigned against giving women the vote. I didn’t even realise that such movements existed, but they did and were quite vocal, arguing that women had no role in government- and this was being said by women. The idea that men alone were responsible for women’s inferior position in society isn’t quite true- one half of the population could never have been kept down for so long if at least some of them hadn’t acquiesced, for whatever reason.
I know people who treat ‘feminism’ as if it was a dirty word, implying people who want more than is reasonably their due. The stereotypical men-hating feminist is often a figure of derision and mockery. People think that because women are (pretty much) equal to men by law now, everything’s alright. But it isn’t. As someone (I can’t remember who) once said, so much of what men have by right women only have by law. It’s not laws that need to be changed but people’s attitudes.
For example, women are still earning less than men. This article says some interesting things about the different expectations and ambitions that women have at work. Some of the stories given in the comments show how far we still are from real equality. But equality doesn’t mean the same as uniformity. I was interested by the idea that women look for other things in a job than purely the money, and I think there’s some truth in it. Job satisfaction, having a good employer and being able to be flexible enough to fit in other activities and responsibilities are all things that I’ve looked at when applying for jobs. If a job has all those things but maybe pays less than a less pleasant job, is that necessarily a bad thing? Perhaps women (and men) who think like this are wiser than those who focus only on earning more and more.
Don’t think for a moment that I’m trying to excuse inequality. I’m just suggesting that there’s more to life than making money, and that perhaps earning less doesn’t always make women unhappier. But that’s a different point from women who are paid less than equivalent male colleagues- that is wrong.
One of the most common reasons given for women earning less, and for why there are fewer women at the top of their various fields is the biological factor. Women have babies, men don’t. It’s much more common for a mother to give up work, at least for a few years, to care for children than for a father to do so. I guess I have an unusual perspective on this, because my father took early retirement and stayed at home to look after me while my mother went back to work. So I wonder quite why it is usually the mother who gives up work. Is it because childcare is still viewed as women’s work (And far more women than men are involved in professional childcare and teaching)? Or does it maybe have something to do with women often being in lower paid jobs to start with?
The problem, so we are told, is that women who take career breaks have less experience and so can’t compete for top jobs against male colleagues. There is some logic in this but to be honest I don’t think that excuses it completely. Is experience all that important? If all employers only took on people with masses of experience, how could anyone get a job for the first time? (Wait, that sounds familiar…) And it doesn’t take into account what the woman may have been doing outside work. Skills gained outside the workplace might mean she is able to look at things in a way others can’t, or see ways to deal with situations that others can’t.
That’s quite enough ranting for one post! I’d be the first to admit women’s position has improved a lot over the last 150 years or so. My point is that there’s still a way to go before women are equal (and that’s just in the secular world. Don’t get me started on women and the church…). But the issue can’t just be addressed by changing laws. People’s opinions and culture need to change- to get away from a situation where so often women in certain types of literature or film, especially adventure stories, are merely there as companions and accomplices to the men, rather than being protagonists in their own right. And to get to a place where a man doesn’t come up to a female sales person in an outdoor equipment shop and think it’s perfectly acceptable to request assistance from a male colleague because she’s a woman, and wouldn’t know about the type of equipment she wants- even when both man and woman had the same training!
P.S. Just seen this: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/business/8033480.stm kind of makes my point.
This post originally appeared here.
T’s and C’s: You send me the post or a link to it, and if I decide to include it, I copy and paste it across to my blog. Please supply a name to be posted under (pseudonyms are fine), or state a desire for anonymity, and tell me whether or not to link back to an original post/your blog. Posts do not have to already have appeared on a blog, or indeed online, must be substantially your own work, and broadly fit the Feminism/Gender theme.