The gender issue is as old as the human race. The gap between men’s and women’s equality may have been narrowed down, but the fact that we still find ourselves talking about it implies that the segregation still exists.
Aren’t women more active in diverse socioeconomic, cultural or political structures of societies? No doubt! But have their modified roles elevated them to a point that gender differentiation ceases to exist? Absolutely not! Women are still considered subordinate to men and their efforts to change their gendered roles have brought even more problems for them, we dare to say. Societies and cultural mechanisms prove that aspect and, even worst, they reinforce gender boundaries.
We must never underestimate the significant role of the institutional and legislative structures, which secure and support equal rights in societies. Yet, we should never consider them the mere factors that could sustain a social equilibrium; the oppression of gender segregation could only be achieved by daily struggles. The United Nations never stopped defending the women’s issues of subordination; the European Union and the Constitutions of more than 190 countries in the world, various organizations, women’s movements, educational and cultural associations, they have all contributed (issued studies, passed laws or conducted surveys) to the establishment of equal rights for both sexes.
Undoubtedly, their endeavors did not go in vain. Women have come a long way since the days they were obliged to obey men, support their households and raise children. Women’s movements have managed to weaken the social or religious beliefs that women were inclined to be subordinated due to their natural traits, which determine their role in societies. The proportion of women participated in the labor force in the USA increased when the elite colleges and universities opened their doors to women students in the 1960s, and this was a direct result of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Some of them – basically the most privileged ones, in terms of education, race and nationality – may have even accomplished better working positions and better salaries than their male colleagues. (Epstein, Cynthia F.2007. “Great Divides: The Cultural, Cognitive, and Social Bases of the Global Subordination of Women.” American Sociological Review 72(1). Retrieved June 20, 2012, (www.asanet.org/images/journals/docs/pdf/asr/Feb07ASRFeature.pdf).
Gender inequalities in labor: still here?
Still, women and men do not have equal working opportunities, and these structural inequalities in the labor market prolong the inequalities of economic independence for the two sexes (Commission of the European Communities.2006. “A roadmap for equality between women and men.” Europa.eu. Retrieved June 20, 2012 (http://eur-lex.europa.eu/LexUriServ/LexUriServ.do?uri=COM:2006:0092:FIN:EN:PDF), which in turn increase the unemployment rates between women and hence reduce their pensions, while they have inadequate benefits.
It is evident that additional discriminating factors (race, nationality, age, religion etc.), may multiply prejudice against women. Women of color, for example, have managed to acquire an adequate proportion in the labor market. Still, not adequate enough! Most of them are clustered in lower occupational categories and often harassed because of their gender or the color of their skin.
A study showed “…that women of color are underrepresented in the number of full time faculty in the USA. They usually have the heavier teaching loads; they experience sexism by their colleagues; and they are not equally respected by white male students. The latter ones challenge their authority, question their teaching competency and disrespect their scholarly expertise” (Pittman, Chavella T. 2010. “Race and Gender Oppression in the Classroom: The Experience of Women Faculty of Color with White Male Students”, Teaching Sociology 38(3) Retrieved June 19, 2012 (http://www.asanet.org/images/journals/docs/pdf/ts/Jul10TSFeature.pdf).
In modern societies, where women stand the chance of more equal opportunities, new problems arise. Women are often faced with the dilemma: career or family. In contrast to men, who feel they are the bread winners and thus, not only they are not confronted with such dilemmas of choosing, but they are encouraged by the forces of societies to pursue both. Isn’t true that women could sacrifice their careers in order to have a family?
Though, most women today (especially in western societies) follow their careers and choose to start a family later (no wonder why women give birth in a more mature age). But does this take off the burden of home labor or upbringing children? Usually it doesn’t. Keeping the balance between their personal and professional lives is a battle at all costs. Women have to take care of the house, raise the kids and be at the office.
At the same time their career advancement and salary stay constant comparing to their fellow childless women colleagues’ or men’s (childless or not) ones. It does not come as a surprise that employers are skeptical about hiring women. They fear that women would probably give priority to their children or that they could quit their jobs when child care demands intensify. Suddenly, they find themselves with more problems on their shoulders. Undoubtedly, highly paid women usually afford to take in-house help while at work. But isn’t that a disguised dilemma of career or family?
Are we still talking about a man’s world?
It is a man’s world! Still! Social infrastructures hold the key which locks the doors of gender segregation. Female subordination is the cornerstone of male dominance and of course varies in different cultures. Needless to say that social structure has brought us to believe that some jobs belong exclusively to men. It is not strange to think that women may undergo a brain wash as they grow up. They learn that some jobs are masculine (engineer, plumber, mathematician etc.) and consequently may feel incompetent in pursuing them. Have you ever thought how often do women engage in decision-making positions?
Actually, women are underrepresented in civic society, politics and senior management in public administration (Commission of the European Communities.2006). In fact, isn’t peculiar that the USA, the most powerful country in the world, which glorifies freedom and equal rights, has not yet elected a female president? In fact, Christine Lagarde is the first female head of the International Monetary Fund since the institution’s inception in 1944 (Blackden, Richard 2011 “Christine Lagarde named first-ever female chief of IMF.” The Telegraph June 29. Retrieved June 20, 2012 (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/dominique-strauss-kahn/8604390/Christine-Lagarde-named-first-ever-female-chief-of-IMF.html).
The reproduction of gender stereotypes reinforces discrimination and basically cancels out any efforts made to eliminate it. We don’t have to go far; gender stratification starts within families, they develop within social institutional structures and are enhanced by the media. Does this legalize the segregation between sexes? May be not but it doesn’t put an end in the roots of the problem. To make matters worse, the differentiation between sexes often leads to violence, both in domestic and/or public domain.
One thing leads to another …
In some countries, women have to hide behind their veils; some undergo mass rapes in ethnic conflicts; some live under awful conditions without medical care. Let alone the female abortions in China and India; child brides who live as servants; millions of young girls who are forced into sex work. “…Unseen too are the countless beatings, slights and defamations women and girls endure from men, including intimates, every day all over the world” (Epstein, 2007, p.7). The global economic recession hasn’t been friendly towards gender segregation either. Extreme phenomena like white slaves-traffic, sexual harassment, brutal attacks and violations of the employment rights have certainly increased. During difficult times the dominant groups of people don’t miss their chance to exploit the most vulnerable ones. It is the perfect time for sexism (or other forms of discrimination) to flourish!
Theoretically people all over the world support the idea of gender equality. Though, “a poll conducted (in 22 nations) by the Pew Research Center’s Global Attitudes Project in association with the International Herald Tribune, shows that in both developing countries and wealthy ones, there is a pronounced gap between a belief in the equality of the sexes and how that translates into reality “(Shannon, Victoria 2010. “Equal Rights for Women? Survey Says: Yes, but…” The New York Times, July 1. Retrieved June 20, 2012 (http://www.nytimes.com/2010/07/01/world/01iht-poll.html?_r=1&pagewanted=all).
Our attention is drawn to the extreme samples of the survey. Let’s take France, for example, which is one of the most advanced countries in the world. The survey showed that “100% of French women and 99% of French men backed the idea of equal rights. Yet 75% also said that men there had a better life, by far the highest percentage in any of the countries in which polling took place… “because they are, at least in terms of economic participation, very few women running large organizations, and business culture remains resolutely a boys’ club” as Prof. Herminia Ibarra, co-author of the 2010 Corporate Gender Gap Report of the World Economic Forum, stated” (Ibid). On the other hand, Nigeria was the only surveyed country where more than half (54%) said women should not have equal rights…In addition, only in Pakistan, Egypt and Jordan did fewer than 80 percent of the respondents say that women should be able to work outside the home. Even in those three countries, a majority said they supported women’s right to work” (Ibid).
Regardless of women’s efforts, the grounds of gender segregation hides within the social structures, that is a perpetual conception that women are subordinated to men. Sexism, violence and exclusions are just derivatives, which are strengthened when supported by authorities (family, religion, law etc.). In order for societies to abort or at least diminish any form of discrimination, they should reform the education system, while families should first set the grounds of righteous human behavior. We must always keep in mind that the greater battles are given in day-to-day basis.
Honore de Balzac said: “Equality may perhaps be a right, but no power on earth can ever turn it into a fact”. In other words, it is an ant’s job; building new societies free of any discriminating perceptions, in which the acceptance of human diversities would function not as disadvantage but as a main element of the human intellectuality, takes time.
Till then, we should ask ourselves, why our daughter’s first toy is a doll while our son’s is a plastic pistol…