As a young woman I most likely won’t have as many opportunities as a man of the same intelligence, the same education and the same experiences will have in his life. I want to to challenge your beliefs about feminism and the role that gender plays in the western world specifically. What has sparked this? Nothing less than the recent US presidential election in which a highly qualified and experienced woman –with her flaws, of course– lost to a racist, misogynistic, radical right-wing business tycoon. Sexism does still exist and supporting the feminist cause is the best way to deal with it.
Don’t just take my word for it though, I’m going to tell you in what ways gender inequality exists. In one of the most socially advanced nations at the moment –the United States– there is a gender pay gap of approximately 78 cents for women to every man’s dollar. Too many times I have heard people –predominantly males– say that the pay gap is solely because women choose the ‘easy jobs’. Have you ever wondered why women tend to go for jobs that require less maths and science? Not because they can’t, but because society has always told them that they are less intelligent. There have been numerous studies depicting the confidence gap between genders and how this is a major factor contributing to the choice of career path and subsequently the pay gap. As Simone de Beauvoir wrote: “her wings are cut and then she is blamed for not knowing how to fly”. On the other hand, that’s not the only cause for the pay gap. To understand that it really is also about how much a woman is paid in comparison to a man, I implore you to have a chat with a successful woman in the workplace. You’ll witness the frustration when she tells you about how she receives a significantly lower wage than a man would in the same position.
Admittedly, there are cases in which women have managed to succeed in male domains, but for a woman to reach the same level as an average man she needs to be exceptional in some way or other. It can be because of inheritance (Indira Gandhi, daughter of Jawaharlal Nehru) or it can be because she is very talented such as Margaret Thatcher, who nonetheless had ‘male’ qualities (nicknamed ‘the iron lady’). A term which has emerged recently and I believe perfectly conveys the discrepancy that women face today is ‘mansplaining’ (a man explaining something to a woman in an overly condescending manner). There are situations in which for example, an unqualified man explains to a woman about a field that the woman is one of the most experienced in. Although they may not have identified it as such, most women have experienced mansplaining at some point in their lifetimes. For those lucky enough to have not, I’ll tell you that it makes you feel awfully stupid. Women are still regarded as less intelligent and less knowledgeable by many and men (often subconsciously) see themselves as superior.
The phenomenon of mansplaining is undeniably sexist and it is caused by the fact that women are still seen as the domestic figure. The next time you’re watching the television, keep an eye out for advertisements for cleaning products and you’ll notice that many, if not all, feature women. Hillary Clinton was often criticised for not ‘looking presidential’ enough, when in fact that’s probably because there has never been a female president. How is this democratic and fair? In theory, since women can both work and vote they are equal to men, but in practice these small differences in the perception of women are significant, not only because they spur more annoying patronising statements, but also because they lower women’s self-esteem, perpetuating the vicious cycle of male dominance.
The other reason behind modern sexism is the objectification of women in the media. Since the 1920s with individuals such as Josephine Baker and Clara Bow, the sexualisation of women has been a prominent feature in the press and pop culture (this is not to say that sexualisation is exclusively a phenomenon involving women; the difference is that the aforementioned behaviour affects men to a much lesser extent). Today we have female celebrities whose bodies are used for publicity, eternalising ingrained stereotypes and phrases such as the ‘leggy blonde’ or the ‘curvy brunette’.
All things considered, very often efforts made by women to improve our role in society are contested with the phrase ‘she’s just over-exaggerating’. I happened to experience this first-hand during a class discussion about whether the fact that women have periods and are ‘hormonal’ affects their performance. The class was divided into: (a) all the girls -including the teacher- calling it out as false, (b) some of the boys who, rolling their eyeballs supported that women are indeed less capable and shouldn’t hold positions of authority, and (c) the rest of the boys simply watching idly. The response that shocked me the deepest wasn’t the sexism; having grown up in Greece I have often come across sexists and I am no longer surprised. What bothered me the most were the boys that didn’t react at all. I do not accept that every single male student in my class believes that women shouldn’t have power- in fact I know they don’t. But why then were the girls the only ones disputing the claim? I had been suspecting that men are afraid to appear like they’re siding with the ‘crazy feminists’, and this had just been reinforced. Feminism has negative connotations, would you believe that?!
The mere fact that women are perceived as overreacting when they talk about the problems that puzzle them (in this case sexism), shows that they are not taken seriously. To solve what is clearly a problem, every single one of you reading must adopt a feminist attitude; whether you are a woman or not. What the world needs now are good role models who act when they witness inequality and discrimination. Don’t give into society’s dated stereotypes about women’s capabilities. Be a feminist.