We Need More Faith in the “F-word” [Part 1]

As I write this, Malala Yousafzai lies in hospital the victim of Taliban gunshot wounds, and she inspires me to reiterate some thoughts from last year on the state of equal rights for women:

Women now make up more than 50 per cent of those attending post secondary institutions, but very few are making it to the top. As The New Yorker pointed out last year in ‘A Woman’s Place’, “Among the hottest new companies— Facebook, Twitter, Zynga, Groupon, Foursquare — none . . . has a female director on its board.” This isn’t only true for Silicon Valley. In politics only thirteen per cent of seats are occupied by women while in the corporate world many women are stuck in C-level jobs. The majority of women, it seems, fill what have been named “pink collar professions”, industries like clerical work or childcare that are often low-paying.

At the school where I teach, a female colleague shared with me that she was glad that I was taking a job in the elementary school. Her reason: because males carry a natural authority that women don’t possess. “The boys just don’t respect women teachers as much as male teachers”, she expressed. Regrettably her observation may be true, even if her reasoning isn’t. I am the first male teacher many of my elementary students will have had thus far, and many others have expressed their satisfaction that a man will lead this rambunctious male-heavy class.

Females have fought hard to gain an equal place in society. Now, in the 21st century, women appear to have equal rights (at least on paper). But how much has actually changed?

Conflicts surrounding gender challenge every society. Westerners gasp at the concept of cultures forcing women to cover themselves from head to toe or to undergo circumcision. Yet even in the perceivedly liberal West, our patriarchy is as notorious as any for diminishing women in the worst way possible: by silencing them.

Through history, there have been witch hunts, church splits over appointments of female clergy, and omissions of influential women from history books (see The Book of Women by Lynne Griffin and Kelly McCann). Yet unlike other revolutions, (and we believe women have had their revolution), it hasn’t really been considered cool to be an “f-word” . . . a feminist. Does the word stir up a glamorous image?

Women maintain the same basic rights as men. However, they remain constrained by our ingrained social values. Let’s be candid here: can we celebrate equality when a strong man is seen as “powerful”, but a strong woman is seen as a “bitch”? Or conversely, a passive man is seen as “weak” and a passive woman is the booming pornography industry’s bread-and-butter? If the majority of males view sexual content in which the woman’s role is degrading, it’s no wonder that diminishing attitudes towards females continue to prevail, or even worsen in our society. I was disgusted this week at a youth rally when a young supposed “world-changer” grabbed one of my female high school students… somewhere he shouldn’t be grabbing.

Listening in 2011 to Vancouver station The Peak FM the radio ad for the census form caught my attention. First, a female voice gently reminded citizens that the deadline was drawing near. Then an authoritative male voice came on and said, “by law, all households must complete a census form.” At first I thought nothing of it; coincidence, surely. Yet our common mental associations with females and males respectively are motherly compassion and fatherly authority. The radio ad, knowingly or unknowingly, played to our gender identity associations. Two weeks later, the roles were reversed on the ad. It made me wonder if someone else had picked up on it…

Reflecting back upon my elementary school anecdote, are we still teaching our children to respect dad (the forceful one) but not mum? If so, we are deeply ingraining attitudes that continue causing problems for women in an old boys’ world.

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