We’ve come a long way since that ad above might have been acceptable. If it, or anything similar to it, were reproduced today, well, it’s pretty obvious that the backlash would be indescribable. There was a time when women weren’t allowed to speak in public, vote, or to work where men worked. Just this past election, a woman ran for the office of President. Times have changed and women are slowly, but surely, being recognized as equal to men. Or are they? Does sexism still exist when women can hold public office, lead companies as executives, fly into space, and serve as some of the most respected and iconic figures of our time? I was sparked to write this after reading a brief post on feminism from a site, appropriately enough, called Superfem. (Since a particular post moved me to writing this, I might be referencing it a few times and offer my opinions and disagreements.) The answer to the question about sexism is yes. Yes, sexism still exists and it’s much worse than we think.
Are Men and Women Equal?
The first thing to consider is whether men and women are equal. The simple answer is no, they are not. Other than extreme circumstances, if you can’t tell the difference between a man and a woman at first glance, there is a problem. Physically and biologically, men and women are very distinct and different. The roles of a man in reproduction are very different than a woman’s. Men are, on average, physically stronger than women. Women, on average, have better linguistic skills than men. Men might be better at having a sense of physical direction where women are better at remembering landmarks and points in space, on average.
The point is that there are clearly differences in men and women when grouped separately and talents and temperaments are pitted against each other and averaging them out. The problem is that many feminists insist that there are absolutely no differences between males and females. Those extremists are holding the feminist movement back and poisoning the basic and most fundamental ideas behind feminism – that women deserve equal social, intellecual, economic and political rights as men.
Nature vs. Nurture
Denying human nature does not help the feminist movement at all. To say we are born equal, having a complete blank slate, hurts us more than it helps. The notion that we are all born equal is enticing because it doesn’t put anyone at an advantage. Nurturists and feminists who deny human nature are fighting a cause that can’t be won because their foundation or basis is wrong. By now, it should be known to most academics that heritable traits are no longer just limited to physical characteristics. Behavior and intelligence is shaped by the environment, but it is equally molded by genetics. A pre-school teacher, who spends time with society’s least experienced humans, should know that not all the four-year-olds in his or her class are the same. Some kids pick up math better than others, while some can build a popsicle-stick house more beautifully than the other children.
What does this have to do with gender equality? Just as there are differences between all children in physical and intellectual capacities, there are also differences between boys and girls when those same capacities are compared with each other on average. This is clearly why there is such a disparity in so many professions. The fields of technology, science, and engineering are dominated by men. Why? Are women any less capable than men to excel in these fields? Clearly not. The writer of the article who spurred this blog of mine is clearly enjoying a respectable position in technology and media. Off the top of my head, there is also Marissa Mayer, Carol Bartz, Mary Lou Jepsen, Marie Curie, Barbara McClintock and so many others. These women have all shown tremendous excellence in the fields of science, technology and business and have gained recognition for their accomplishments and contributions to society. If women are just as capable as men, why is there such a disparity?
People like to believe that little girls are raised on Barbie dolls and Easy-Bake Ovens, while boys play with toy soldiers, race cars, and little science kits. (I had to mention the latter since it comprised most of my play-things as a child. My parents refused to buy “normal” toys for me because I always took them apart – piece by piece.) The popular belief is that boys and girls are raised to engage in gender-specific activities, hence the disparity in career choices and professions between men and women as they grow older. Girls are encouraged to go into fields where women typically dominate and the same is done to boys. There are even institutions like Women In Technology that encourage women to enter the field of technology and who help them with resources and information. In the past, it was more difficult for women to enter fields dominated by men simply because there was a lack of resources such as WIT. But even with the rise in women in technology, science and engineering, why the obvious disparity in the men to women ratio?
I believe that some of those choices are innate and what attracts a boy or girl to certain things has more to do with biology than what their parents tell them. I happened to raise a girl who, at the age of 10 months, had more of a fascination with shoes and purses than I thought possible at that age. Nothing would pacify her crying fits except shoes! After giving her all the food imaginable and toys that were within reach, it seemed hopeless. I laid a blanket on the floor and put her on top of it while I searched for another toy to help stop the crying. With my head buried in the closet, the crying stopped completely. There was not even a whimper. As I turned around I saw her fiddling with two pairs of shoes – one was sparkly and red and the other was adorned with plastic flowers. She was completely engrossed with putting them on and taking them off. Without fail, whenever she cried, I would put out a few sets of shoes for her to toy with and it would calm her down.
Of course, the story or anecdote mentioned is only one case and it could simply be that keeping her busy was more effective than holding onto a teddy bear. I still have to wonder as this same girl, over the years, would often greet me at the door with, “Daddy, look at my shoes!” No hello, no “I missed you,” just the excitement of a proud owner of a new pair of shoes. That same obsession is just as intense for her fascination with bags and purses, but I guarantee I did not raise her that way. At first, I wanted a boy, so I bought boy-ish toys and tried to do “boy things” with her. She has little to no interest in sports, doing our little science experiments, or anything remotely close to the wants and interests of the “gross” sex. How can I blame her? She’s a girl!
In an opposite example, there was a case of a little boy who wanted to do the opposite of what his parents gave him. He only wanted to play with dolls and girls toys and he even wanted to wear dresses. Where could a child of just a few years possibly learn such behavior? No matter what his parents tried to do, and regardless of their efforts to make him more like the other boys, he simply resisted and wanted to be just one of the girls. (The case can be found in The Blank Slate, by Steven Pinker. It’s a great book on human nature and acknowledging the fact that we are not born completely blank and devoid of certain capacities and capabilities.)
While these are two small cases, it should reveal something about human nature and the role that it plays in the disparities in certain fields and professions. There is no denying that sexism still exists, or that areas of interest dominated by men can be intimidating for women, but I highly doubt that it is the sole cause of the stark difference in the number of men and women in science and technology.
Battle of the Sexes
In the Superfem post, the author writes, “It’s my hope that the gender war will be won this way.” I have to disagree with this statement not because of what it intends to convey (equality for women), but that feminism is framed as a gender war. However, it has been almost like a war for women in their struggle for equality. In many cases, women have suffered more than just harsh words or criticism from men, but calling it a war hurts a feminist’s cause more than I think it helps. The reason why the battle of the sexes is a failure is because these battles and competition for recognition will only take someone so far. Treated individually, the women who are smarter and more capable than men will always stand out, be successful and will serve as martyrs for the feminist movement. But what about the women who haven’t had the opportunity to shine because of suppression and repression? How does a gender war or battle of sexes help them? It doesn’t.
Once feminism becomes a battle or war against men, the movement becomes more destructive than it is constructive. Many would be surprised at the number of men who are willing to help the cause, rather than fight it. One thing that becomes forgotten in the feminist movement is that there are many men who are feminists, too. I happen to consider myself a feminist because I think that men and women should have equal rights. Like myself, many men would be put to better use in becoming active in the advancement of women in society rather than furthering their suppression by turning this into a gender battle.
Feminism Is Not Limited to America
Without trivializing women and the feminist movement in Western Civiliation, feminism is about females across the world, not just in our country. This is why I believe that sexism is far from over and that feminism and feminists have their work cut out. Feminists have come such a long way in receiving equal rights, but what about the women with no rights? How do women in other countries feel when they need to wear a veil in public? How are young girls affected when they’re told as children that their place in society is to the bidding of their husbands? Sometimes, I feel like the feminist movement is so limited to the West that it marginalizes women everywhere else, making the feminist movement more of a national one. Feminism should transcend cultures and fight to gain respect in every society. Feminist extremists, whose battle seems to be against men rather than for equal rights, are hypocrites in the sense that they couldn’t care less for the advancement of women everywhere or the liberation of those who are still wrongfully suppressed by men. As mentioned earlier, we’ve come a long way when women can start running for President, but what about those risk being beaten or killed for simply speaking in public? They need feminists more than ever.
I know I’m going to receive a lot of criticism for what I believe in and the things I write. Feminism is a delicate subject and there is so much more to be said. Of course, not everything can be covered in just a single blog post. It was difficult enough doing this without an outline or being able to organize my thoughts. Perhaps writing this in one sitting was not the best idea, but I believe I made a few solid points. In some places, feminists have made strides toward success in that they are being treated more fairly and as equals to men, rather than their subordinates. But in other places, the idea of feminism is blasphemy and women have a long way to go. It’s time to start helping those women instead of being fixated on a particular demographic. Feminism is about all women, everywhere.