The notion of equality has always puzzled me. I grew up in the 80’s and 90’s in a world that taught me I could be anything I wanted to be. It wasn’t until I got older that I learnt that things hadn’t always been that way. That once upon a time women weren’t allowed to do and be whatever they wanted. My confusion about equality was that it seemed obvious to me that people weren’t equal. Not that women were less then men or men less then women, just that some people were smart, some were ambitious, some were rich and some were poor. It wasn’t about gender- it was about people.
Feminism fought for the rights of women everywhere to loose the shackles of a male dominated society, fought for equal rights under the law and fought for changes in society that had kept women “in their place” for centuries. And they succeeded. Women do have those rights so vigorously fought for, but equality still doesn’t truly exist. The idea of equality does, but in the real world we aren’t all equal. A white, middle class, well educated woman still has a lot more opportunity then a poor woman, with little education who comes from a non English speaking background. At least here in Australia.
What has changed though is the single most important thing and that is the law. So, now we live in a world where legally, women have every right that men have. But has that given us an equal society? No. Because discrimination still exists. Not just discrimination based on gender (but that’s a different story). Attitudes are harder to change then laws are. It takes generations. My generation was the first to grow up in a world where women could do anything and be anything. And will take a few decades more before the women of my generation are in positions of power. The women currently there had to fight for recognition as equal to their male counterparts; they were swimming against the tide. It never occurred to the men I grew up with that any woman was less then them, after all, most of them were in school with girls who were getting better grades then they were. So in twenty years time, when the people currently in their 20’s and 30’s find themselves CEO’s and ranking politicians I’m betting there will be as many women as men. Women who will be busier doing their jobs then watching their backs.
Feminists fought for our right to not be excluded from any type of work based solely on our gender. They abolished the division of “men’s work’” from “women’s work”. Which was great in theory but to this day you can still see that the majority of women go for certain kinds of work and the majority of men go for others. I don’t know of any little girls who grow up wanting to be say, bricklayers. This is what I mean about being puzzled by the notion of equality. I may be able to be a bricklayer, but not only do I have no interest in it, I simply wouldn’t be as good at it as most men. And while I’m sure men would love the notion of being a lingerie salesman, most would admit that they wouldn’t be very good in the job. This is not to say that individuals can’t be good in any job. I’m sure there are fantastic female bricklayers and male lingerie salesmen, but the majority of people will find themselves in work that suits them best, regardless of sex. Yes. There are exceptions to every rule, but I’m talking about majorities.
The unintended consequence of the feminists fight for equality was the notion that to be truly equal women had to be like men. We were under-represented in certain areas of the work force and this was something that needed to be fixed. Now that we have the right to do whatever job we apply ourselves to we can see that there are certain divisions of labour. Not because we are oppressed by male chauvinist pigs but because we ourselves are drawn to different types of work. More women get joy and satisfaction out of being primary school teachers then men. More men get joy and satisfaction out of being miners. We can’t impose a rule which says every profession must be split 50/50 down the middle, equal representations of both sexes, it simply doesn’t work that way.
True equality is like Utopia. It’s a great ideal and something we should strive for, but it doesn’t exist in a flawed world. It can’t. All people are different and our genders are the least of those differences. As the saying goes, “There are more differences within the sexes then between them”.
Originally Published on Rusty Lime 13th July 2008