Equality is an ideal many of us like to think we strive for. It’s the same reason why we love underdogs – why we feel an innate sense of injustice when we hear about people being oppressed. But throw the word gender into the mix, and suddenly these very same people start taking sides. Feminists, chauvinists, and those who believe everyone should just accept that each gender has their own role to play and leave it as that.
I had initially planned to take you readers through a brief history of humanity (I wanted to use the term Mankind, but you know, that’s not acceptable these days), and show how men were the de facto leaders – in the country, in the workplace, and at home. And how education began to liberate women from their traditional roles as mothers and housekeepers. But the thing is, you already know all that. Everyone knows all about the rise of the Feminist movement and how girls still struggle against gender discrimination all around the globe (if it’s a developed country, it’s in the workplace. if it’s a developing country, it’s sex trafficking, rapes, female infanticides and honor lynchings).
So I’m just going to cut straight to the point. Or rather, the question every reader should ask themselves: Deep down, do you really believe men and women are created equal and should be treated as such?
Let’s say you answer no. There are two possibilities – either you believe men are greater than women, or you believe women are greater than men. It doesn’t matter. It is true that men are better at some things. But it is also true that women are better at others. Men’s bodies have higher muscle mass and metabolism, and can perform physical tasks better on average. Women’s bodies have a much greater pain tolerance, and are on the whole better at empathy, due to their innate ability to pick up non-verbal cues and read between the lines in verbal communication. These things don’t have to be debated – they’re facts. There’s a good reason why most sports don’t allow men and women to compete with each other, and there’s also a reason why women can normally sense things that men can’t – the much-vaunted female intuition that makes the service industry (jobs that require good communication skills) primarily dominated by women.
So if you believe either gender is greater than the other, one explanation is because you feel that the role played by the supposedly superior gender is more significant and important than the one played by the supposedly inferior gender. However, it doesn’t matter what the role is: Whether it’s the role of a breadwinner, homemaker or teacher. The truth is that every role is important. Everyone has only 24 hours in a day. With time as a limited resource, that means if you work all day for a salary, you can’t spend that time cleaning the house or raising your children. Remove just one of these roles, and chaos ensues. No salary means no money to buy daily necessities or to pay the bills. No one cleaning the house means undone laundry and an unsanitary, unhygienic home. And no one bringing up the children is just a social disaster waiting to happen. It’s like those ecosystems and food chains we learnt about in school – remove just one creature, even if it’s an unwanted pest – and the entire structure falls apart. Men and women are better at different things, but no one gender is less important than the other. And that makes the genders equal.
Okay, so maybe I’m preaching to the converted here. Let’s say you answered yes to my question above, and you agree that men and women should have equal rights and all that jazz. If that’s the case, why aren’t we living in a world where this is not just an ideal but reality?
Aside from the obvious point that there are a significant portion of us humans who believe the genders are unequal, the other big reason may be due to us unconsciously (or consciously, for some of us) holding on to some double standards that keep us from truly achieving equality between the sexes.
What am I talking about?
Let’s start with the men. You men who claim that the genders are equal and should be treated as such. If you were taking a flight, would you feel more assured if your pilot was a man or a woman? The same goes for taking a car ride with a male or female friend. But wait, you say. Men have innately better spatial awareness than women, and so they should- Stop that train of thought right there. At the very core of this argument is the idea that men and women are better at different things, so although they are equal, we should let men do certain kinds of jobs while women do other kinds more suited for them. I mean, that’s just playing to their strengths, right?
Wrong. Without knowing it, we have just elevated ourselves into a position where we feel it’s okay to dictate not only what a man or woman should do, but also what they should not do. If the genders are truly equal, then shouldn’t we have equal rights, and therefore equal opportunities? It is thanks to this unconscious bias that it’s a challenge to find many women in corporate boardrooms or in government cabinets. It’s the reason why girls who dream of becoming pilots, engineers, or any profession which is considered a “man’s job” face much greater pressure and obstacles in achieving them.
It’s true that the genders have different strengths, and that they may perform certain tasks better than the other. But if we truly believe in equality for both men and women, then this idea that we should only do things that we are “more suited” to is an antiquated one that has to be hunted down and eliminated at all levels of our society.
Let’s move on to the women now. When and if you get married, does the man need to propose to you? Does his family need to pay you a dowry? If you truly believe in equality of the sexes, won’t you feel compelled to do something similar for your male partner? No? Why not? If the proposal is a show of a man’s love and commitment towards a woman, then why isn’t it fair to expect the woman to make a similar show of commitment towards the man? Similarly, if the dowry is a material show of how much the man desires to marry the woman, then why shouldn’t the man also require the woman to show him materially how much she desires to marry him? It is telling that this one-sided practice has persisted well into our modern way of life, where it is commonplace to find dual-income couples. It is no longer a viable excuse to say that women are financially dependent on their male partners in a world where women can earn the same, if not more than their male counterparts.
This double standard persists in other areas as well. Who pays for meals and for other financial costs in the relationship? Who has to hold the door open for the other person? If men and women are equal, then it naturally follows that neither gender should be unfairly discriminated against. If we flip this around, then it also means that neither gender should receive special treatment, right? So why does our society as a whole still value such behavior, and expect this of one gender but not the other?
The point I’m trying to drive home here isn’t that traditions such as proposals need to stop (okay, maybe dowries should stop), or that men shouldn’t be courteous or generous towards women. The point is that equality – true equality has a cost. The cost of having no discrimination and no persecution is having to give up all these bonuses accorded by virtue of one’s gender. And that statement holds true for both genders, as it should – for they are equal.
If you’ve managed to read until this point without closing the page in disgust, I commend you for your patience and open-mindedness in hearing me out. As you can see, gender equality is something that many profess to believe in, but the truth is that we are just not really ready or willing to give up the benefits we enjoy due to being one gender or another. It is this hypocrisy that forms the real explanation for why we still live in a world where we are judged and have expectations forced upon us simply by virtue of the gender we were born in.
I envision a world where true gender equality exists – and because it exists – gender will cease to be an issue or consideration in anything whatsoever. If I live in such a world, it will not matter what gender I am – I will be free to pursue anything I want without oppressing others through receiving unfair advantages, or being oppressed in turn by being unfairly disadvantaged against. I will not have outdated expectations and traditions forced upon me simply because I was born a boy or a girl. Ensuring that everyone – everyone in the world shares this freedom to live their lives the way they want – that is why fighting for true gender equality is so important.
The next time you make a decision, think to yourself: Am I unconsciously helping gender inequality to persist?
Thank you for taking the time to read this. If reading this has changed your worldview in some way, even if just a little, then I consider it well worth the effort it took to pen this.