The thinkers and philosophers who formulated the concept of equality between men and women believed that it would raise women of misery that she had been living in centuries. Therefore a number of questions need to be asked;
Has the modern woman been lifted out of misery that plagued her for centuries?Has the historical imbalance been lifted?Are women fairing any better in terms of political, social and economic opportunities?
The successful woman today is implicitly been defined as one with a successful career, financially independent, and thriving or atleast secure in material terms. Personalities such as Michelle Obama, who had apparently managed to juggle a successful career with being a mother of two and wife to the president, are often cited as role models. Alongside this is the belief that to be dependent upon a husband or father gives the women an inferior status within society. There is a sentiment that a mother and wife having no career has sold herself short in life or is even a failure. This may not be expressed openly but is evident in the manner by which many women feel about themselves when asked the question (especially on game-shows on daytime television), “What is your occupation?” The uneasiness they feel is mirrored when they respond “I am just a mother” or “I am only a housewife.”
This historical problem was the inequality women feared in relation to man ever since their struggle has always been one of being equal to men in terms of work, pay, opportunities and politics. This has led to an increasing shift in attitudes towards gender roles in society, with a belief that the women should have as much right to be the bread earner within a family as the husband.
This has naturally fostered a view in society that the one of the most important objectives of life is to pursue a successful career. The belief is that a career gives a woman status and respect within a society, so marriage should be delayed or avoided altogether, since it would be a hindrance to her career objectives. Children also should be delayed, or maybe she would not have any at all. The belief here is that motherhood will prevent her chances of promotion excelling in her career. Those women who do not work feel a constant pleasure to do so.
Women today fare better even when it comes to pay. Equal pay legislation has been in place for thirty years in the developed countries. This is of no surprise as women were encouraged to enter the workfare due to economic need when they were requested to directly contribute to the economy during the Second World War.
“A major factor in emancipation of women economic need…. economic modernization brought a need for female labour, which was augmented by mobilization for modern war…..The economic involvement of women and social changes resulting from it continued in the inter-war period and after and even brought a few legislative changes of women. These have some effect in social and family life.”
Her day is spent rushing from one responsibility to another; making breakfast for her family, preparing lunch for her husband, getting the children washed and dressed, doing the school run, rushing off to her job, performing a full day strenuous housework, rushing to school to pick up the kids, taking them to after school classes, making the dinner, getting the children ready for bed, and then the routine starts all over again. More often than not, she feels unable to perform any of her duties to the best of her ability because she is so tired, stressed and miserable. Lisa Belkin in a book called “Life’s work: Confessions of an unbalanced mom” writes
“Not one of us seems to be able to give 100% of themselves of their job or to their family and 100% of themselves to taking care of themselves”
So after a century long struggle with an age-old prejudice women do not fare much better. In some ways it is this bad if not far worse. The 21st century woman has moved from being just a man’s other-half to where she is potentially only an object of desire for men and not much else. While this dilemma has confronted women ever since they began to enter the workplace today women face far greater sex. In many fields, not least in the city of London women often expect not to be employed simply on their abilities and intellectual powers, but on her looks, her ‘sex appeal’ also plays a fundamental part in securing existing employment, whether to attract clients with her sexuality or to ‘fit into the team’. An article on BBC News online (Laddism in the city, 10/4/2001) showed the plight of many women working in the city; many say they are “touched up by both colleagues, contacts or compellers…. and think objecting would be bad for business.” Team building meetings and ‘client facing’ often take place in strip clubs or seedy bars. As one woman put it, opting out is not an option, “you had to be part of the gang…they see it as seriously effecting their profits if you miss these events.” Interestingly, the author of the BBC article said one bond trader interviewed for this article suggested to her that “a sexual favour might be adequate compensation for his opinions on why UK government bonds have slumped in afternoon trade.”
So something has seriously gone wrong with male-female relations. Women may not be oppressed the way they were a few centuries ago but the oppression they face today remains; it is just different in its manifestations. The problem lies in the assertion that neither men nor women are inferior to one another. Taken in isolation this is a very simple, indeed obvious truth, but correcting historical prejudice alone cannot be a basis for defining relationships between people. The simple assertion that men and women are equal (i.e. that women are not inferior to men) alone is exceptionally simplistic once its historical context is considered. It also leaves a number of unanswered questions. It does not address how best men and women can co-operate to forge of cohesive society. In the wider context equality alone is very limited in handling disputes and organising the relationships that naturally arise between people. A simple assertion of human equality provides no guidance on the issue of difference and this fact gives rise to need for additional, more elaborate ideas and principles. In reality, the call for equality is nothing more than making man the bench mark to aspire to – the call to equality is oppression itself.