The Changing Roles of Gender: First Part
Decades ago the role of gender was assigned by society at birth, but nowadays this is changing. The roles of men and women are generally no longer as fixed at it used to be. In this article we explore how things have changed and how much more they need to change.
Women and Inequality: Have changed things for the better?
‘People associate feminism with hate – with man hate – and that is really negative. I do not think that is what feminism is about at all – it is really positive. I think that is why women became reluctant to use the word,’ these words were spoken by one of today’s most famous and influential advocates of gender inequality, Emma Watson. But first, what do we actually mean with gender inequality? According to the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and Empowerment of Women, it refers to unequal rights, responsibilities and opportunities of women and men and girls and boys. Gender inequality implies that the interests, needs and priorities of both women and men are not taken into consideration, not recognizing the diversity of different groups of women and men.
Emma Watson is one of the many powerful figures who have strived for a more equal treatment of women and men. The history of gender inequality can be divided into three waves, the first wave started in the nineteenth century with Elizabeth Stanton and Susan Anthony in the United States and the Suffragettes led by Emmeline Pankhurst in England as key pioneers. These women have led the public and high – profile advocacy groups into major accomplishments: women’s’ suffrage in the United States in 1919 and in the United Kingdom in 1928.
The first wave sisters had obtained equality rights and suffrages; the second wave sisters were tackling different problems like discrimination in employment opportunities, pay, education and the role of the women in the family and household. Key figures in this wave were Germaine Geer and Betty Friedan, their works concern the origins of women’s inequality and breaking the silence over the false myth of domestic and docile of housewives and breaking the taboos of female inequality. The major achievements of this wave were in the United States like the Equal Pay Act of 1963, the Women’s Educational Equity act in 1972 and 1975. The United Nations also established a Commission on the Status for Women in 1946. As time progressed, the gender inequality campaign entered the third wave in the 1980s. This stream of women accused the second wave of ‘conformism:’ women from minority backgrounds, bisexual, black, white, Asian, lesbian, transgender women were all considered as one group. Feminists urged to call for greater awareness of other female identities. Thus, the campaign has had many successes leading to a more equal role for women in today’s society. But, these examples and the history of the campaign only tells the story of the Western society and not other ethnicities. This shows us only a small part of the whole story and nonetheless gender inequality still occurs in every parts of the world, despite the many leading victories.
Male Equality: Masculinity and Insecurities
Feminism is about the equality of the sexes – not trampling men’s rights – a fact that has been lost in translation over the years leading to many people to believing, as stated above, that feminism is synonymous with man hating. This is absolutely not the case. Feminism is about the changing gender roles and the sexist practices that limit people and punish them whenever they deviate from the expected. This can be experienced by both men and women. An extreme example of this example of this for men would be If a man was raped, or became the victim of domestically abuse. It is very unlikely that he will speak up for fear of not being taken seriously due to the unfair stereotype of men always being up for sex or that only a man can rape someone. Other, more everyday, examples include similar body insecurities to women but that their body isn’t big or strong enough. Emotional insecurities as they feel helpless when dealing with feelings of sadness, hurt or shame because they were taught to believe that emotions show weakness or sexual expectations such as feeling burdened to objectify women.
These are the reasons why it is important for equality that men participant for feminism. Being told to ‘Man Up’ or to ‘Be a Man’ is one of the most destructive phrases in modern culture and can have damaging repercussions on your men worldwide. When men hear those phrase they may picture muscled superheroes fighting for good or saving women. Men tend to feel that they can’t live up to these expected standards leading to feelings of insecurity and shame. This causes men to change their personalities, disconnect from who they really are in order to fit into the stereotyped box that society has created for them. No wonder suicide is the leading cause of death in the UK in males under age 50.
It is important that we reach equality between genders for both men and women. But as Emma Watson eloquently stated during her HeForShe speech at UN women: ‘How can we affect change in the world, when only half of it is invited or feels welcome.’ Watson believes that when we free men from gender stereotypes things will change for women as a natural consequences because among other things, if men don’t feel the need to be controlling any more, women will not have to be controlled. Both men and women should feel free to be sensitive, both men and women should feel free to be strong.
Stay tuned for part 2!!
By Lisa Hu, Nora Fiskaa Ljostad (embrACE) & Olivia Hobden (Credo)
This article is a collaboration with embrACE the magazine for the International Faculty Association for the faculty of Erasmus School of History, Culture and Communication (ESHCC). You can pick up a printed version of this article (and many more) from the outside the ACE offices in M7 and around campus.