A friend mentioned to me the other day that although he had really enjoyed his school days, he did not know many women who had said the same. Generalisation though this is, it nonetheless seems to be one that holds some water. I’m sure there are arguments to be made attributing this to the differing ways boys and girls often handle stress, and the varying effects of hormones once puberty hits, but I believe there is a strong case to be made for many of the problems coming down to the differences in the way society treats the genders. More specifically, I think the problem lies in the ways we are taught to treat each other.
The UN theme for this year’s International Women’s Day (celebrated on March 8th all across the globe) is ‘Equality for Women is Progress for All’. Although I’m glad this sentiment is finally being given centre stage, it’s well over-due. It’s easy to stand on your soap box, preaching about oppression of and lack of opportunities for women whose own countries, own religions, own families are seemingly against them, but the reality is that we are far from getting it right ourselves. Not to mention how far our tabloid-soaked society is from really understanding the complexities in the assumed oppression of certain women. Does this mean we shouldn’t consider any women to be oppressed? No, of course not – there are so many women out there desperately needing help. Does this mean, from a wealthy, white male-orientated societal position, that we should assume all women, for instance choosing to cover their hair and faces, are oppressed? Again no, of course not. You can’t tell with just a glance and a quick generalisation why a woman chooses to present herself in a certain way. And again, we are far from being in a position to make such judgements. We are bombarded by images of surgically-enhanced and photoshopped women flaunting their assets whilst we proclaim them to be the pinnacle of desirability, and yet a woman attempting to emulate that in real life will be subject to abuse and victim-blaming.
This brings me back to my original point, that I think what we’re teaching in schools is the real crux of the matter. Schools – particularly senior schools – reflect the wider social conditions of their locations, as well as holding a mirror to the country as whole. Perhaps the problem is not only that there simply isn’t enough emphasis on equality, but that there are not enough discussions taking place about the nature of the society we grow up into. The problem won’t disappear overnight, but if it was a compulsory part of the national curriculum to study and understand things like gender differences and choices, alongside sexuality and sexual identity, then hopefully understanding would turn into respect. Understanding and respecting someone’s choices doesn’t mean that you have to make those choices yourself, but it does remove the stigma and fear that accompany the unknown.
This then, should be where accurately teaching Feminism comes into play. The first and most important – and most commonly misunderstood or ignored – aspect of Feminism, is that it is far greater than just being an argument for women’s rights. Feminism is not just designed to benefit a certain group of women, but to benefit everyone, even those resistant to its changes. As the UN puts it; ‘Equality for Women is Equality for All’. In real terms, equality for women means happier, and therefore more productive, workplaces; better educated women with more earning potential, who in turn spend more money and help to drive the economy; happier and more equal home lives, thereby relieving the pressure on men who often feel that society dictates it’s up to them to shoulder the burden of familial responsibility; and the general opening up of equality for everyone. If women can gain their equality, then how can equality ever be denied to anyone else? And if in schools we thoroughly teach the basic necessity for equality and for treating each other with respect, perhaps that will stop some of the problems causing women to look back on their school days as less-than-happy. If we can remove the imagined need to fight amongst ourselves over the things society dictates women ought to obsess over – principally attractiveness, appearances and men – then perhaps we can all move forward together as a society. Once again, ‘Equality for women is Equality for All’, and we still have a long way to go.
Post Author: Jessica Polling.