Are women more equal in the 21st Century?


Thursday 19th June 2014

This last U4 Creative Living enquiry of the year turned into an animated and often fierce discussion of feminism. This is a snapshot of how the talk evolved:

[The Scene: KEHS, English Classroom, Room 9. Periods 2-3, U4 Creative Living. A sunny day with a little light air blowing through the window from outside.]

Priscilla: [Fondly remembering a Lower Fourth year lesson with Mr Mac when studying a famous class text] This question reminds me of Animal Farm – ‘Four legs good; two legs better’ – women have come a long way towards equality, but the context always seems to change so that they never feel fully equal with men.

Daphne: [Sounding somewhat dubious] I’m not so sure. Just look at us: we go to a fantastic school and both parents and teachers constantly tell us that we’re not only going to be good daughters and wives, but also fine professionals as long as we don’t take our educational opportunities here for granted. These opportunities are equal for both us and those at the Boys’ School.

Mildred: [Philosophically] Fair point, but it’s a bit of a generalisation isn’t it? Surely we need to explain what we mean by ‘equality’ before moving on. There are so many kinds aren’t there? ‘Political equality’, for example, is to do with gaining access to positions in which you can make big decisions about how people live and what they think; it’s to do with being able to organise society and shape values and make life changing laws for the betterment of a nation. Do women have more equal opportunities in this area?

Priscilla: When you put it like that, I suppose not. But this only reinforces my point. There are more women MPs than ever before, but very few women making Cabinet level decisions.

Daphne: Wait a minute. What if women don’t want to become politicians? We just want economic equality, whatever jobs we get into. And this is just not happening. Look at the simple example of business: a female CEO’s salary is much less than a male CEO. Why? They work as hard; generate the same profits; manage people with the same flair and drive. We’re not too different from men in this case, are we? So should get the same money.

Priscilla: Okay, I agree about making things more economically equal – it happens at Wimbledon now where the men’s and lady’s winners each receive the same prize money – but this shouldn’t be based on the grounds of being ‘male’ or ‘female’; it should be based on other qualities like skills and experience. Just like in politics: you shouldn’t be elected as an MP or onto the Cabinet just because you’re a woman, but because you have a passion for changing the world whether this be at local, national or global level; because you want to make life better for the majority. You don’t have to become more ‘manly’ to do this.

Mildred: [Looking a little aggrieved] Yes. I hate it when women tell us that we have to be more hardened and tough so that we can compete with men. Well, I don’t want to be hard or tough; I like being a girl and having a pink bedroom with all my cuddly toys around me. And I don’t want men to have to ‘get in touch with their feminine side’ [she makes imaginary quotation marks in the air with a sarcastic flourish of her fingers.] Surely we can be feminine and still strong enough to do a job as well as men, if not better.

Daphne: So what you’re saying is that even though we’re physically and biologically different and (it goes without saying) always will be, we should learn how to use our feminine qualities to empower ourselves – not to be like men, but to be more ourselves?

Mildred: Yes. That’s exactly what I’m saying.

Priscilla: Easier said than done. But what exactly do you mean by ‘be more ourselves’?

Mildred: Consider, for example, how when we have discussions about big ideas, boys generally tend to jump in and say what they think without fear of sounding stupid, whereas girls will sit and ponder before expressing their ideas. It’s a kind of stereotype, I know, and there are always the exceptions of confident girls who’ll also assert their points. But in general, girls are more risk averse than boys, aren’t they?

Daphne: True. You know, Priscilla, how you always blush when we talk about things when the boys from KES are around.

[Priscilla blushes]

Mildred: [Nodding knowingly] I think this is an evolutionary difference. And while the bigger brains of homo sapiens enable us to override some of the fears associated with risk and danger, evolution has shaped women to look after their bodies and minds; we are, after all, life givers and have a tremendous responsibility to ourselves.

Priscilla: But what’s this got to do with equality?

Mildred: I’m just getting to that. Our risk averse nature is not a disadvantage; it’s a protective measure to ensure survival. From it emerge all kinds of other emotions and intuitions: the maternal feelings; a deep capacity for empathy; an ability to communicate complex needs and forge social networks and more. So instead of abandoning these qualities, everything we do must enhance and refine them as a way of empowering each other and those with whom we have contact with an ultimate aim of fulfilling our own and others’ potential.

Priscilla: Wow! I don’t even know how to begin to do that.

Daphne: I suppose we could start in PDM assemblies!

Mildred: We do it every day in little ways just by being around people, both men and women. After all [with a cute smile and glint in her eye], as my dear mother says: life isn’t equal; deep down men really know who has the power in every relationship…

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