Today is the International Women’s Day.
This day, women celebrate how much society in most countries had changed to give women equal rights with men.
If it were not those before us who tried to correct the inequalities between male and female roles then we could still be facing these as our realities:
Women’s sole place is the home
In the 1800, women are seldom seen outside their homes. They usually stayed inside their houses cleaning, cooking, sewing and taking care of their children.
Little has changed since then, in 1962, US President John F. Kennedy discussed with Roosevelt saying that “We want to be sure women are used as effectively as they can to provide a better life for our people, in addition to meeting their primary responsibility, which is the home.”
Gender stereotype was so ingrained in the consciousness of everyone before that even a well-loved president thinks that house keeping was a woman’s primary responsibility and that women should be “effectively used.” The message told women that time that they can “Go! Learn! Flourish! Do!” which gives quite a lot of freedom compared to the 1800s but at the same time it reminds women that they also have to have babies and serve their husbands.
Access to education
It was common for girls not to attend school in the 1800 because they do not see the need for it when their only occupation is at home?
Slowly, society realized the need to educate the girls as well although there are women who still feel that their college education is not so important since they are already engaged by this time. In 1921 women’s average marrying age was 21 years old and they give birth to their first child by 22.
Those who do have higher goals for themselves academically limit themselves to colleges and universities that accept female students. The only Ivy League school who ever accepted a female student in 1870 was Cornell University. Princeton and Yale University only opened its doors for women in 1969.
Two centuries ago, women were compared to slaves. They were property of the men in their lives – their fathers, brothers and other male relatives and their husbands. Their sole purpose is to find someone to marry and have children with. If they can’t do this, they will be ridiculed and considered deficient.
Women should be able to give as many children as their husband’s dream to have. The idea of birth control was unheard of. The pill was introduced in 1957 for those with “severe menstrual distress.” It was made available legally only for married women for purposes of family planning but it was no usually available in most pharmacies.
Aside from keeping a vow of serving the husband for the rest of her life, women do not have the right to own property. Everything she owns then were inherited from her father and is automatically transferred to the husband upon marriage.
Aside from material property, the husband also owns the wife. Marital rape was not a concept then as it was generally accepted that the husband owns his wife’s body.
Women who were abused at home or who were unhappy have no choice but stay with their abusers as divorce was not possible or easily available then. Divorce law eased in the US in 1969 while marital rape was criminalized only in 1993.
Women in the workforce
Women in the 1800s were divided into three classes, the upper-working class, the lower-working class and the underclass women.
However divided the classes are, the kinds of occupations women can enter into are limited to jobs that society thinks are more feminine like prostitution (for the underclass), domestic service, agricultural labourers, seamstress, clothes washer (for lower-working class) and governess or a lady’s companion (for upper-working class). Women worked in these fields are also “dressed accordingly.”
Women slowly got jobs outside their houses during World War II as most men are out of the country engaged at war. In the 1950s the men came back and along with the end of war came the end of most careers of the women at that time. Women became wives and mothers of the soldiers heading back home.
The female workforce are usually engaged in clerical position, assembly lines and service. Professional women worked as teachers and nurses.
In modern times, women are found in more “feminine fields” like education, nursing, sales clerk, bank teller, household worker, cashier, and office secretary. Seldom are women holding top positions until now.
Also, credit cards were not available for women until 1974.
Sexual harassment in the workplace was only recognized in the US courts in 1977 and was “officially defined” in 1980.
Furthermore, women in the US could be fired from work for being pregnant. Pregnancy Discrimination Act was only made legal in 1978.
Social and legal rights
Centuries ago, it was uncommon for women to share their opinions in public. Sexism and gender inequality in society made women taken less seriously even in the field of literature. But women proved their talent and creativity can push boundaries not just to reform literature but also challenge social norms.
Author Louisa May Alcott, like most other female writers then, needed to hide her identity for several books she had written under the name A.M. Barnard. Alcott is the author of “Little Women” a book that showed us a glimpse of how women were during that time.
Other female authors with male pen names are George Eliot (Mary Ann Evans), James Tiptree (Alice Bradley Sheldon), Currer Bell (Charlotte Bronte), Ellis Bell (Emily Bronte), Isak Dinesen (Karen Blixen), George San (Amantine Lucile Aurore Dupin), and androgynous name Nelle Harper Lee.
After years of activism, women were finally able to vote in the US in 1920. Women were seen as “too delicate” to serve in politics.
Women who wished to serve in the military then can only do so as nurses, or those in charge of administration and transportation. Women were documented to disguise as men during several wars throughout history. Now, the military are opening several other positions for female personnel.
Still, there are several issues that need to be addressed to be able to fully say that there are no more inequality.
Equal pay and recognition
Female Hollywood celebrities are making noise for not being able to bag as much money as their male counterparts. This scenario does not only happen in Hollywood but everywhere else. Women are usually paid less – around a third – of what is being paid to men in the same occupation and capacity.
Gender Equality is not only a girl thing
If you think fighting for gender equality are for feminist only, think again.
All of us have a mother, a sister and a daughter. In one way or another, our lives are influenced directly by a woman. Not giving them the same opportunity creates vulnerability for everyone including the men because women are still in charge of child rearing. As a mother and a teacher, it is important that women are highly educated. Whatever knowledge and wisdom they have will be passed on to the next generation.
In addition, as society increases pressure for women to be productive in the workforce as well, women need to be encouraged and allowed to pursue studies and careers that are traditionally male dominated.
Recently, different governments and private companies are trying to engage more girls to study and be involved in areas of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) and are enticed to learn how to code as these types of jobs will be offered more in the future. Studies show that women will be at a disadvantage if they do not participate in these areas.
Further, if this is the case, then men should be more ready to take part in housekeeping and child rearing as more women enter the workforce and work in more demanding jobs. Without doing so might cripple the family and hurt the whole community in the process.
The words men and women are just labels. It should not define who we are and what we can do. As humans we should stand together and push stereotypes away.
We should make sure that our own daughters and granddaughters will have equal rights in society – to be able to choose, to have opportunities open for them and to feel safe to walk around and socialize without fear of being sexualized.
We should fight for our sons and grandsons to behave without pressure of being “manly,” to be able to choose freely and act with others on an equal footing.
Our own stereotypes stands in the way of our success and our child’s future. The fight for gender equality started generations before us but there is still a lot to do.
Let us start within ourselves. What gender stereotype do you need to fight today?