I never really thought of feminism and gender equality until I was already in my 20s. It just didn’t strike me as something I would ever have to wonder about in the modern society. Of course, history lessons taught me of how a woman’s place in the past used to be in the kitchen and at a baby’s crib. I was aware of matters being different now. My mother divorced my father when I was four and I lived with her until I was 21. She raised me largely by herself, from a single income and the small amount of money that my dad was sending.
Moving to a city from a small town, working for a bigger company, eventually my mom was earning money that even allowed her to buy me a Barbie! Finally. One doll that girls had, that one doll that seemed like show of a class. And wealth. The wealth we didn’t have. But I remember clearly my father complaining about his financial contribution towards my education, clothes and food costing him much. And how my mom was earning more than him.
Why did he even feel hurt by that? My mother had to feed two humans, one of them, me, unable to earn any money at all. Also, her salary was never twice as large as my father’s. But I suspect it just didn’t occur to him. After all, he never had to raise a child into a teenager and an adult by himself. Perhaps he’s the lucky one. Getting himself Hi-Fi, satellite, new TV, computer and camera. While I was growing up with three TV channels on a tiny screen, never had a VHS player, or the financial opportunity to have a computer before I was already 16.
But this all came back to me only later. The realization of how different men and women view the world. Education in Slovakia largely consists of female teachers. Which is a shame, really. But perhaps because of being taught by women, I never thought of the rest of the world outside of school being very different. We would see women working in grocery stores, retail, holiday agencies, recreational services and in other places. Where were the men though? Hidden, far away from the mundane tasks of customer services? Why were they not present in the process of educating young children? Or feeding them in the school’s kitchen? While professional chefs are mostly men, as Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie confirms in her talk We Should All Be Feminists (Adichie, 2014).
Still, it took me a while to see that there was something wrong with the society. Perhaps I was lucky enough not to see it any earlier. Or I was blind to the presence of unequal treatment, unconsciously confirming it to be right. But on one particular day I was excited to speak to my boss, a Muslim man of Moroccan origin, about a great idea for his wholesale and retail business. Interested in innovation, business progress, social media and communication with our clients, I hoped to spark his interest and support me in eventually bringing more customers to his business. To my great surprise, the idea was dusted off like dirt from a suit. When my boss left the office, I decided to voice my irritation. And my colleagues, both male and female, confirmed that our boss was indeed a sexist. To truly show the matters, my male colleague later presented my idea to the boss. And yes, now the boss was actually willing to give the idea a shot. Now, when a men “came up with it”.
Was I upset? Hell, yes. How dare he treats me like a simpleton? How dare he, in the 21st century, dare not to take a woman’s idea into consideration?
Western world has gone far. Certainly further than Nigeria, at least according to Adichie. Where a woman isn’t even allowed to walk into restaurants and clubs unattended. Where a woman doesn’t get greeted by a waiter and is treated like an invisible nuisance.
Why are we not considered equally?
Why are members of the same species still treated differently based on their ownership of a penis or vagina?
Why should my ability to come up with a good idea be degraded by my gender?
It is absurd, isn’t it?
But we are very similar in treating animals in such way. Thinking that their sex will give them certain abilities. And perhaps this is how we forget, that humans have gone beyond instincts. That we have progressed far away from the animal kingdom into the vast social complexity. We don’t take into consideration the evidence, that we have lost a part of our animal nature. I may be a woman, but that doesn’t guarantee that I want to be a mother, or that I would be a good mother.
So then, what does it even mean to be a woman? ‘What is a woman?’ asks Simone de Beauvoir in her book The Second Sex (1949). ‘The fact that I ask it is in itself significant. A man would never set out to write a book on the peculiar situation of the human male. But if I wish to define myself, I must first of all say: ‘I am a woman’; on this truth must be based all further discussion. A man never begins by presenting himself as an individual of a certain sex; it goes without saying that he is a man.’ (Marxists.org, 2016)
And this is how we keep extending the gap – by allowing ourselves to think of women as ‘the other’ sex. While in being human, we are one and the same species. And one’s gender should not be the base for defining any person.
But this view on a woman nature and femininity has deep roots. De Beauvoir uses Aristotle as an example: ‘The female is a female by virtue of a certain lack of qualities,’ said Aristotle; ‘we should regard the female nature as afflicted with natural defectiveness.’ (Marxists.org, 2016) It is also planted in Christianity – seeing the woman as a part of a man, but man not being a part of a woman, making her inferior. The religious views spread thousands years ago have survived the time, putting men and women into categories in such way that they seem natural. But the modern society needs an upgrade of such thought. The category of gender should be erased altogether. Our abilities, the ones important for survival in 21st century civilization, are not defined by our biological attachments.
We are all human after all.
Simone de Beauvoir: The Second Sex, Woman as Other. 1949.
Marxists.org. (2016). Simone de Beauvoir The Second Sex, Woman as Other 1949. [online] Available at: https://www.marxists.org/reference/subject/ethics/de-beauvoir/2nd-sex/introduction.htm [Accessed 1 Nov. 2016].
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: We Should All Be Feminists. 2013. [online]
Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hg3umXU_qWc [Accessed 1 Nov. 2016].