Equality for women is a conceptual idea that has not and perhaps never will be achieved. On a national level we have made progress towards equality between men and women but in a two-steps-forward-one-step-back sort of fashion.
My mom was and still is a very traditional lady. She was happy to marry and have children, although perhaps she overdid it a bit when she had eight. She grew up in a time when the husband had a job and supported the family and the wife kept house, made meals, raised the children, and did laundry, lots of laundry.
My mom did not have a job outside the home. She tried to “work out” as she called it a few times and Dad never objected but she claimed she was too nervous (and with eight children who wouldn’t be). When she would quit a job Dad did not complain. To help with finances she watched extra children for women who did have full time jobs. Mom never learned to drive a car and still moans about it to this day, but she was not forbidden to learn. Dad offered to teach her several times but she lacked the confidence to try.
All around her, though, life was changing for most women, both in America and in Europe. You may think there was more equality in places where agriculture was still king but even in agrarian cultures women, who often worked hard, still had not done heavy work like building or tilling land. After World War II some women who had worked in factories during the war did not give up their jobs. The economy was strong enough that both men and women found plenty of employment.
I had no intention of repeating my mom’s life. Although she did not long for a different life, I did. I didn’t want to end up barefoot, pregnant and in the kitchen. I didn’t long to follow my father into a factory job either. I wanted to go to college. We were poor but with scholarships and loans I did get a degree. If I had been born even ten years earlier this may not have been possible.
Did I, with my four year degree, achieve an equal place in society to men with four year degrees? Well, not really. I did learn to drive. Someone concocted the birth control pill so I did not have to have eight children. Using the pill did not 100% guarantee that you would not get pregnant and abortion was still illegal so one or two forgotten pills could put you right back in that pregnant kitchen. Finding a way to equality has always been made more difficult by the fact that women, when pregnant, carry a child for about nine months and, once that child is born, have to nurture that child into adulthood, which in America is considered to be necessary until s/he is at least 18 years of age. We still find pregnancy and childbirth being used as excuses to perpetuate inequalities between men and women. And, of course, men do not carry babies.
I had wanted to be an architect but I was counseled away from this. This would not be as likely to happen now. It was always true that my verbal skills were better developed than my quantitative skills. These inequalities still exist with a mad scramble in schools to get girls involved in STEM programs much earlier and much more often. Hopefully future generations of women will have skills in mathematics and science and technology as strong as their verbal skills and will qualify for jobs that pay better than the social service jobs women have gravitated towards since they found part time release from their kitchens and laundry rooms. I became an assistant professor at a university but my pay never equaled that of men in the same positions within the university.
Although there are men whose egos are not bothered by sharing household duties, it is more likely that even women who work full time are still expected to “keep house”. Appliances and take out have cut down on home duties, we don’t iron much anymore, but floors still don’t clean themselves, nor does the laundry do itself. Few households can afford to hire “housekeepers” and there are fewer applicants for these kinds of jobs. Women still, in most cases, make less money than their male counterparts and, if you include their household duties, they make a lot less than men.
Men experience more security and safety as they travel out and about in America and, I’m guessing, around the globe. Women are still likely to attract the attention of men who prey on women either physically or sexually or both, especially if a woman travels alone. We may never have a way to deal with these safety issues unless we teach all women really effective self-defense techniques or find a way to “tweak” the brains of male predators (a technique that could easily be abused).
Will we resolve our issues of women as child bearers, women as qualitative people and therefore of lesser value, and women as victims of the, perhaps, more atavistic traits in some men? If human society lasts a few more centuries then perhaps, but that is just in America and other western nations.
Men around the globe see no reason for women to have equality. In some cases their religious beliefs, if followed devoutly, make equality impossible. Women are “protected” from the baser motives of men. Protections range from covering women’s hair and necks with scarves, to covering their entire bodies with a sort of floating tent (burqa) from head to toe; from prohibitions against education for girls to child marriages to the destruction of the clitoris in women so they will not have any pleasure from the act of procreation. Single women and widows must follow rules enforced by entire communities. In some countries we know women are not allowed to drive. Since many of these strictures are religious, asking that they be changed amounts to heresy. How will that knot ever be untangled?
The part of women that is not satisfied by inequality is the brain. Once you get to use your intelligence to accomplish something, that becomes a right you never want to lose. In addition, being “submissive” is sometimes seen as permission to abuse women. If women were meant to be submissive then why are they so “brainy”?
People who work in Global Initiative organizations and who help women around the globe achieve some autonomy and who help these women satisfy familial and personal goals by helping them become entrepreneurs seem so filled with joy by the work they do that we have to believe the transformations that are achieved are noticeable and lasting and overwhelmingly positive. So while we don’t want to step on people’s beliefs, it seems valuable to make sure that resources are available to women when they are ready to make use of them. Listening to the stories of women who are newly empowered empowers us all.
We have a lot of International Women’s Days left to celebrate and a long way to go before women are treated equally with men, even in America.
By Nancy Brisson
<a href=https://plus.google.com/10640005355488737390?=author>Nancy Brisson</a>