Written By: Poh En Xi (20-E3), Pheobe Ong Hong Ying (20-O1)
Designed by: Poh En Xi (20-E3)
The issue of gender equality is a tale as old as time. For centuries, people of a certain gender may not be treated as fairly as those of another, despite widespread advocacy for equality of the sexes. Why, then, does this inequality remain such a controversial and pertinent issue to date?
The Cambridge dictionary defines ‘gender’ as the physical or social condition of being male or female. In reality, the concept of gender is not in black and white. It can refer to the characteristics usually associated with gender, like the way that we dress, behave, and work. Certain talents and expectations can also be associated with certain genders. Gender, in the context of our everyday life, is socially constructed; ergo, it is shaped by different cultures, historical influences, people and even the media.
Gender inequality may have been caused by preexisting gender stereotypes. These form society’s conception of gender, and are usually reinforced by popular culture. Many games, movies and other types of media before the 2000s rarely showed female characters in any prominent roles, the female characters usually being ‘damsels in distress’ or satellite love interests of the main character. Men are often portrayed as extremely strong and unemotional, leading to them being seen as far stronger and also creating an idealised version of what a man should be that leads to toxic masculinity or even misogyny, which are attitudes that only perpetuate gender inequality.
As many people are influenced by what they see in the media, this portrayal of women as weaker than and more passive than men is one of the stereotypes that are unconsciously ingrained in our minds. However, other than stereotypes specific to gender, there are also stereotypes to do with gender equality itself. One group that fights for gender equality are the feminists, but many people see them as ‘men-haters’, and dismiss them as simply people who dislike men or think women are superior–a large misconception, as feminism simply campaigns for equal rights for women. Hence, the misconceptions people hold towards both gender and gender equality cause these to be mired in controversy.
So what is all this fuss over gender equality? Well, it turns out that warped perceptions of genders have caused many complications. For example, the stereotype that females are less productive or efficient as men in the working field has resulted in fewer females being employed, and some females are even paid less than males despite them being on par with their male colleagues. This is unfair to the women that also have to do household tasks and look after their children. Hence, creating a more fair workplace for all genders is one of the common goals In feminist movements across the world. In fact, the Organisation of Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has calculated that ‘on average, across the OECD, a 50% reduction in the gender gap in labour force participation would lead to an additional gain in GDP of about 6% by 2030’; Mari Kiviniemi, OECD Deputy Secretary-General, further asserts: ‘Frankly, I don’t think that our economies can afford to ignore such huge potential.’ Empowering women in the work field can result in tangible positive outcomes for the economy and standards of living for both genders.
The impacts are not just economic. In some cultures, females are seen as inferior to males. These cultural norms of masculinity lead to a power imbalance between males and females which cause some males to act violently and lash out at females to assert their dominance. On the other hand, females suffer in silence believing that they are powerless compared to men. As such, females are stripped of their rights to safety and freedom of expression. The United Nations Development Board stated in an article that ‘practices like early marriage are also widespread, particularly in low human development countries, where 39% of women aged 20 to 24 were married before their 18th birthday.’ Women are not allowed to make large decisions in their life whether they like it or not. Even if their partner does not treat them with respect, there is not much that they can do since they lack the power and support required. Estimates by the World Health Organisation (WHO) indicate that about 1 in 3 (35%) of women and girls worldwide have experienced physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence in their lifetime.
This all seems rather dystopian, does it not? Yet, for these women, it is the lot they have been given in life. In third world countries such as Bangladesh, many women are unable to complete their education due to child marriage, as about 59% of girls are married before 18 years old.
Furthermore, the perception of gender also stunts the emotional growth of people of both genders, as it creates a certain expectation of how they are supposed to behave and hence they try to conform. This can lead to mental and emotional problems, as well as an inability to form relationships due to believing that they and their partner should act according to certain stereotypes.
Currently, one of the most important solutions for the issue of gender inequality is people advocating for it. There are many activists, and the feminist movement is still ongoing, with many countries slowly becoming less misogynistic or patriarchal in nature, though it is a work in progress. According to Time newspaper, this year is the first year in which more than half of employees are female. Considering that the U.S. is a First World country with relatively liberal views with a constant increase in the proportion of women employed as compared to men, this is encouraging as it shows that workplace equality has become more prevalent. Another solution would be for more publications and media to give both genders opportunities to speak up about the problems, stereotypes and inequality they face. This is an important step to help to raise awareness and generate discourse about gender inequality.
Yes, we have the campaigns and the movements, but why is achieving gender equality taking so painfully long? Achieving gender equality is not as simple as ensuring that there is an equal number of people of each gender in each job. Rather, its fulfilment goes beyond quantitative results. Gender equality comes from the provision of equal opportunities to allow people of both genders to make their decisions in life. Neither gender should be denied access to education, jobs, freedom of expression. Notably, we must recognise that ideas of ‘gender’ vary between people–therefore, we should not impose our own expectations and discriminate against others if they do not meet personal standards, respecting others in their endeavours to discover their own happiness regardless of gender.
Perhaps one day soon, our world will become a far better place, where people of both genders have equal opportunities and chances for a good life.
This article was written in the authors’ personal capacities. Views, opinions, and thoughts expressed in all articles published on The Origin* belong solely to the author(s), and do not represent the values or ethos of The Origin* or the College.
Cambridge dictionary (n.d.) GENDER meaning in Cambridge Dictionary. Retrieved from https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/gender
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