For many years, and perhaps for as long as history is recorded, women have been viewed differently to men. Not just different, but subservient and weaker. As long ago as the Victorian era, women have fought hard to have the same rights as men. Thankfully in 1903, due to strong minded women with the determination to stand up for what they believed in, the women’s suffrage movement was formed. Women suffragettes stood tall and fought for the right to vote as the men did. Astonishingly, it took activists a long 15 years to win the right to vote and even then, it was restricted to women who were middle class and at least 30 years old, compared to all men aged 21 and over. Extreme measures such as chaining themselves to the railings, setting fire to post boxes and empty buildings, storming parliament, setting off bombs in empty buildings and having battles with police, saw many imprisoned, where they continued to protest through going on hunger strike, only to be force fed. A further 10 years of perseverance saw the Representation of the People (Equal Franchise) Act 1928 which finally gave all women the right to vote at the age of 21. That’s a total of 25 years to persuade the government that women’s views were just as important as men’s! Such an amazing achievement, but such a long long way to go to achieve total equality and for women to be valued in the same way as men. Fast forward to today and many changes have occurred. Women may no longer be chained to the kitchen sink with the pressure to find a ‘good man’ to keep her, nowadays many women work, live alone and are independent, however, there are many aspects of society which still view men as the stronger sex and women as weaker. More often than not, women still take the man’s surname in marriage, men are often handed the bill in a restaurant and feel obliged to open doors for women, yet they are often told to ‘man up’ if they cry. So, how much longer will it take for women and men to be treated equally?
Marriage still remains stuck in the past
Thankfully, most women and men marry today due to love, not duty, fear or financial dependence. That’s not to say it doesn’t happen, I’m aware that arranged marriages still exist in some cultures and that in some countries such as Russia, women are under the command of ‘their master’, many too scared or financially unable to leave, but in England, I like to think that the majority of marriages are based on love. Despite there being new foundations for marriage, they are still, more often than not bonded with traditional, albeit old fashioned customs that are accepted as a social norm and rarely challenged. For example, there seldomly seems much discussion about whose surname will be taken upon marriage and more commonly there is an assumption that the women will automatically adopt the man’s surname, often justifying it by saying that ‘it will be nice for the family to all have the same surname’ if they have children, rarely considering that this would still be the case if the man adopted the women’s surname. Historically, men read to women and women simply sat and just listened as they were seen as intellectually inferior to the man. Although times have changed in some respects, in marriage, customary speeches that take place at the wedding breakfast are normally dominated by the male members of the party- the father of the bride, the groom and the best man. Seldomly do women do a speech, instead they sit, listen, smile and laugh on cue. A far cry from the outspoken protesters that fought hard for women’s rights and equality.This doesn’t look like it will be changed any time soon as it appears to be rarely questioned or challenged. Years ago, people may have thought this was due to the majority of people getting married being a young age and therefore less likely to challenge a societal norm, but today with the average age of people getting married being in their 30’s, according to ons.gov.uk, by this age, most people have clear views and beliefs and have developed the confidence to express them. So, why aren’t more people challenging a tradition that is so old fashioned and reflects a hierarchy that is more fitted to the Victorian times?
Could it be that we are so conditioned to seeing gender inequality that we recognise it as being ‘normal’ and therefore we are reluctant to challenge it? When reading, many books still refer to a person of unknown identity as ‘he’, never ‘she’. It has always been this way ever since I was growing up so I have never questioned it until now. In fact, at times I still also receive mail that addresses me as Mrs, followed by my husbands initials. Not only have I taken his surname, they are also depriving me of my own initials! For many of us, we see it but we don’t ask why. It’s normal to us so it’s just the way it is.
Fear prevents change.
It is expected for men and boys to hold doors open for women and girls. It’s some kind of door holding etiquette that is so old fashioned, yet still exists. Even if they realise that it’s sexist and they don’t agree with it, they are worried that if they don’t, they will be thought of as being rude or bad mannered. This, I believe, is why so many men/boys conform to society’s expectation of them- to avoid being seen as impolite. Don’t get me wrong, if I’m opening a door and there is someone behind me I will naturally hold the door open for them out of politeness and I would expect someone to do the same for me if I was behind. I just don’t think our sex should come into it. If a women is in front, I don’t see why a man has to jump in and open it for her. We are more than capable!
Daily chores are also consciously and subconsciously allocated, often with ‘pink’ jobs for women and ‘blue’ jobs for men. You may be saying ‘well I don’t do that!’ but subconsciously I think we all do to some extent. How many men jump in the drivers seat when the family go out? How many women decide and prepare what the family are having for dinner every night? Who checks the children have the right school uniform? Who makes the packed lunches? Who clears out the shed? Who lifts the heavy furniture and puts things in the loft? Who checks the water and oil in the car?
A job that is also often thought of as a ‘blue’ job is putting the rubbish out.Sometimes, without even realising it, women take more control in the house and with the children and men carry out the more physically demanding tasks that women are considered too weak for.
In the work place- According to data from LinkedIn, it was found that women are under-represented in six of the eight fastest growing professions of the future: They are also still generally paid less than men.
More pressure for men
Being treated differently however, doesn’t always go in the man’s favour. If a women phones their employer to ask for time off due to the children being sick and a lack of child care they often get more empathy than if a man does. When going out for dinner, the bill, still more often than not, lands in front of the man. A bonus for the women, some might say, as it adds pressure for the man to pay and it makes it easier for the women not to, while others may see it as the man being thought of as the most powerful and therefore the most capable of being able to pay the bill. It also puts pressure on men to have enough money to be able to pay for both themselves and their partner, a pressure that women are fortunate enough not to have imposed on them.
Men are also still expected to be stronger than women emotionally and I have heard people (even in educational settings) tell boys when they are crying, or on the brink of tears to ‘man up’. I can’t believe that in 2020 crying is still seen as a sign of weakness! This perhaps subconscious reinforcement of the expectation of boys being strong is encouraging the cycle of inequality. There’s also no doubt in my mind that this also contributes to the high suicide rate amongst men and boys, as encouraging feelings to be suppressed prevents people from obtaining help and support that they may need. According to Samaritans.org in the UK men are three times as likely to die from suicide than women. A very sad statistic, especially considering this could be significantly lower if we altered our old fashioned views and expectations of the male population.So, while some members of society knowingly or unknowingly reinforce gender stereotypes such as males being stronger, less emotional and more capable of paying a restaurant bill than women, these attitudes and behaviours will delay change. Ultimately the gap between women and men will close more slowly. Inevitably, some behaviours will be inherited by the next generation, but some will be diluted down, with only some aspects passed on. We can only hope that people today question what they have learnt, rather than simply repeating learnt behaviours, and that more people see the benefits of acting as the ‘water’ to the drink, that so desperately needs refreshing. Until then, sadly, we are looking at many more years before women and men are treated entirely equally.
Tip- Try not to speak out of habit. Make it a habit that you think before you speak