Gender Equality – When Will He and She Become We?

Written by Maxwell

Distinctions may effortlessly be made between the sexes based only upon personal experience, even without the influence from the societies and cultures in which personal values are bred. My personal involvement in such a phenomenon speaks clearly towards this aspect. Being raised by a mother who, without fail, took on the duty of a stereotypical housewife, has taught me of the magnitude of which gender in society has proved to reproduce itself and its norms throughout the years. The entirety of the housework, the family dinners and the cooking behind them, and the grocery shopping, among other household duties were performed almost exclusively by my mother. The roles that gender play in a family seem natural to society, seeing as historically, this has predominately been how families have functioned. Despite these stereotypical images that remain implanted in the minds of households across America, women do not possess quite as much freedom and equality as people believe that they do. Although American families and societies fail to acknowledge images of a gender gap and the inequality of women, reform has not managed to eliminate these phenomena quite yet, and they still remain a prominent concern in many parts of the world.

The occupations of women indicate their positions in the pyramid of social status. Due to ease of production in addition to improved profits, many of the factory jobs focused on low-level production in the United States have been shifted over to countries such as Malaysia and the Philippines—and the people that are recruited to perform these jobs are primarily women. In the article Life on the Global Assembly Line, Barbara Ehrenreich and Annette Fuentes argue that women are forced into poor living conditions and put through harsh, hazardous, work environments. The authors further state that, “Until now, ‘development’ under the aegis of foreign corporations has usually meant more jobs for men and—compared to traditional agricultural society—a diminished economic status for women” (160). This demonstrates a process of assigning less value to women. Ehrenreich and Fuentes feel that women are being demeaned by this low-level, undesirable work.

Women, despite their perceived inequality in society, are slowly altering—and almost abolishing—the inhibitions in the social activities of their lives. The idea of arranged marriages has existed for centuries, and acts as a key part of many cultures outside of the United States. Still, Lizette Alvarez, in her article Arranged Marriages Get a Little Reshuffling, notes that, “While couples were once introduced exclusively by relatives and friends…[they] are now being slowly nudged out by a boom in Asian marriage Web sites, chat rooms and personal advertisements” (129). What was once a strict process, in which no exceptions could be made, is now being reformed in light of new, modernistic ideals—ideals that are based on western society.

Contrary to popular belief, the emergence of women as increasingly influential characters in global economics signifies a positive aspect of forward progress. Women across the globe are gaining access to education and employment opportunities in staggering numbers. In Hear Her Roar, Rana Foroohar shows that, “Around the world, nations are changing laws to give women more equal standing in areas like property, inheritance, and divorce rights” (155). Nonetheless, there still exists a sizeable gap between both the earnings and the status of men and women. Foroohar believes that this gap, despite previous conceptions, continues to lessen in magnitude, as has been observed over the years. Societies worldwide are learning to accept women as more equal than they once were.

Change should be noted in the rights of women over the past four decades. This change has been gradual, and certainly not complete. The idea of women as housewives has become a minority opinion in recent years, partly due to reform in modern societal imagery. However, the movement for feminist reform has come to a standstill, as noted by Stephanie Coontz, in Why Gender Equality Stalled.  Coontz demonstrates that “during the second half of the 1990s and first few years of the 2000s, the equality revolution seemed to stall. Between 1994 and 2004, the percentage of Americans preferring the male breadwinner/female homemaker family model actually rose to 40 percent from 34 percent.” Not only are feminism and gender equality ceasing forward progress, it appears as though reverse progress is actually occurring. Coontz feels as if men and women alike are reverting back, if only slightly so, toward traditional gender roles.

Gender equality has not gone without opposition. There exist international human rights laws that attempt to combat differences between the rights of men and women. Nonetheless, without specific regulations, gender inequality remains a persistent phenomenon in almost every country across the world.  The article In Women’s Rights and Gender Equality, Stereotyping is the Worst Thing claims that, “While equality is a core component of international fundamental rights protection, gender inequalities persist in today’s EU” (Koch-Mehrin). It should be further noted that the chief cause of this dichotomy between men and women, in the eyes of Koch-Mehrin, is the underlying stereotypes that exist toward gender roles. These stereotypes continue to be upheld, and without reform in social norms, the gender gap will undoubtedly continue to reproduce itself.

Another social right that is hindered amongst women in the Middle East, specifically Saudi Arabia, is the right to a driver’s license. Historically, according to Ruth Pollard, women have never been allowed to operate a motor vehicle, or even a bicycle, due to “conservative clerics, who have predicted all kinds of doom should women be allowed to get behind the wheel.” This law is currently undergoing extensive protest and actually receiving a surprising amount of support from the local government. Women’s rights in Saudi Arabia lag far behind those among western countries, and the fight to achieve reform proves to be incredibly difficult in such an oppressive society. Not only will the protest by a difficult one, “but on the eve of Saturday’s protest, there were ominous signs that the government’s indulgence might end” (Pollard). These women are experiencing a true reluctance by the government to alter an age-long tradition.

Both Koch-Mehrin and Coontz argue for the idea that progress is in fact being made. Still, they agree that this progress fails to continue in the appropriate direction to better the society in which women live—feminism appears to be at a standstill in their minds. However, Koch-Mehrin supports the idea that stereotyping of gender roles in a society dominated by tradition is the chief cause of this dead end in progress. Coontz on the other hand argues that the dominating factor in the inability to further the benefits of feminism originates from the limited desire of men to alter what they feel to be a natural social stratification. It falls on the natural instinct of men to be the dominant force in the society.

Koch-Mehrin and Coontz represent a limited idea of progress, but nonetheless indicate a slightly positive tone towards feminism. Ehrenreich along with her partner Fuentes, demonstrate a polar opposite viewpoint regarding feminism. They show the injustices that women suffer in Malaysia and the Philippines, and how the situation is worsening. Such a pessimistic viewpoint towards the inequality of women goes against the commonly held belief that the gender gap is narrowing. In Ehrenreich and Fuentes’ minds, progress towards equality is worsening drastically, and the freedom that women are thought by many to have in their choices is in fact an illusion that the corporations behind the factories in these areas have meticulously crafted.

In stark contrast to Ehrenreich and Fuentes’ dark outlook, Foroohar inclines toward a much more positive view on the achievement of women. She demonstrates the methods by which nations across the globe manage to eradicate many of the injustices in their legal systems. She, in the same style as Coontz, acknowledges the struggle of jumping the barrier towards success in feminism, yet believes that this hurdle is an insignificant one. Foroohar strongly suggests that gender equality has never been as close to the world as it currently is.

Alvarez, like Foroohar, asserts that gender equality is becoming a stronger force in the world than it ever was before. At the same time however, Alvarez disagrees with Foroohar in that the feminism that countries such as India and Pakistan experience is not due to their own social reform, but merely to a mirroring of ideals in western culture. The fact that these ideals are originating from the west actually indicates that, due to the remaining prevalence of a gender gap in western society, the new reforms are not in effect able to eliminate all gender inequality.

Pollard shares a few similar viewpoints with Alvarez as well. Women, facing immense difficulty in protesting their driving rights in Saudi Arabia, face intense opposition towards their feministic beliefs. However, seeing as the Saudi Arabian government is gradually appearing to accept some of the feminist culture’s viewpoints, it may be noted that the government has shifted towards multiple ideals of the western hemisphere. Nonetheless, the barrier still exists—and is as mighty as it has ever been. This hinderance relates more towards the ideas of Koch-Mehrin and Coontz, who in addition to Pollard, share the acceptance of a standstill among feminism.

Gender has, for as long as humankind has existed, acted as a dividing line between two entirely unique subsets of social stratification. While the male subset has historically been perceived as a dominant breed of the human race, the female subset has been regarded as a lesser type, and the inequality originating from this dichotomy persists in societies across the globe. While many believe that the gender gap between men and women narrows with time, this fails to be the case. In fact, the progression of feminism has observably halted. This is not to say that gender equality remains a distant dream of human rights activists—for in reality, a global perspective reveals that women have substantially more power than they have had in past decades. One merely needs to realize the quantity of work that remains to be performed in order to award women the same status as men. Progress both has been made, and has yet to be made—only when realization strikes that the final conclusion to inequality is still a long way away, will the newly secured rights of women act as a landmark achievement, dignifying the nobility of humankind.

 

Bibliography

Coontz, Stephanie. “Why Gender Equality Stalled.” New York Times Feb 17 2013. ProQuest. Web. 13 Nov. 2013 .

Ehrenreich, Barbara, Annette Fuentes. “Life on the Global Assembly Line.” The New World Reader. Ed. Gilbert H. Muller. Boston: Wadsworth, 2014. Print.

“In women’s rights and gender equality, stereotyping is the worst thing.” Baltic Times 30 May 2013: 14+. Newspaper Source Plus. Web. 13 Nov. 2013.

Lizette Alvarez. “Arranged Marriages Get a Little Reshuffling.” The New World Reader. Ed. Gilbert H. Muller. Boston: Wadsworth, 2014. Print.

Rana Foroohar. “Hear Her Roar.” The New World Reader. Ed. Gilbert H. Muller. Boston: Wadsworth, 2014. Print.

Ruth, Pollard. “Taking the wheel in drive for rights.” Sydney Morning Herald, The 26 Oct. 2013: 3. Newspaper Source Plus. Web. 13 Nov. 2013.