I have always been surrounded by people who believe that feminism has no place in modern, Western society; many of these people believe that the enfranchisement of women has seemed to cleanse away inequalities which still exist. This belief is often laced into comments which will niggle into conversations about feminism: “women have the vote, though”; “but do women actually really face inequality in this country? I don’t think so. Do you honestly go through anything really awful? Do you?”. And I mean, I’ve learnt all about the Suffragettes, the three waves of feminism and legislature in the UK which has paved our society into a more level gender-field. There has been some positive change.
But it seems that on an institutional level, those dealing with our younger generation of women talk down to many of them in such a grossly detached way; they talk to them in a way that lacks understanding and empathy in regards to the hardships which young women still face.
To paint the picture further, I attended a school which separated young women from young men to talk to them about issues like female dress code and how god awful this is for a woman’s image. We were even told that “this is a man’s world” during the same assembly – inspiring, truly. There was me, 17 years old, thinking that the teachers before me would be parting some kind of womanly wisdom – but instead they just delivered this crap-filled line. I wondered whether this was my moment to go all Joan of Arc and start shouting about how vile this comment was but I was not confident enough at the time to risk getting into trouble with my elders. I would have made a shit Joan of Arc.
Even then, I was aware of the real issues that would be critical in my life. Like, you know, me having the confidence and encouragement behind me to enter a male-dominated field which is so often plagued with reminders of women being emotional and the hindrance of becoming pregnant. But I’ll get by. I mean, why would there be anything daunting at all about going into something like politics after hearing about how parliamentary women are often bullied and ignored? But as long as my skirt’s in good order and there aren’t too many cm³ of flesh on show, I’ll breeze by, I’m sure. And of course this issue isn’t simply about politics, but engineering, mechanics and other huge industries which constitute large sectors of our workforce. In 2013/14 for example, women only accounted for around 3.8% of engineering apprenticeship starts in the UK.
Earlier this year, I was lucky enough to meet the MP for Stretford and Urmston, Kate Green – additionally she was the Shadow Minister for Women and Equalities in the UK. She was such a genuinely lovely woman – down to earth, considerate and held a lot of those empowering qualities which I so sadly failed to see in many female teachers I’d encountered. We spoke about my frustrations and then shared with her that very experience of being separated from my male counterparts and told that this world belongs to men. Deciding to propose some ideas about how we could make the situation better, I suggested that all institutions who teach young women make sure that they have the support which they need to apply for such positions. She agreed herself that there was an almost Victorian element to the situation and that we should make sure that all women have access to such a level of encouragement.
But of course, the issue extends further than this. I’ve mentally battled with myself continuously about whether this is a matter of simply nurturing young women or if you need that natural gusto in order to merely survive in these fields. And yes, perhaps simply holding young women’s hands over the starting line isn’t enough to ensure that they won’t ever experience bullying on the grounds of gender or sexual harassment. But I believe that it is important that we start making these changes now so that women are not swayed from pursuing their dreams.
Unfortunately, you only have to look at what’s going on right now in Politics, just by picking an example from a hat, to see how truly important gender is. Now, Michele Obama, I really look up to that woman. I appreciate her speeches, the sheer passion you can note in her voice and how proud she is of her daughters. But I couldn’t help but roll my eyes as she praised Hilary Clinton for allowing children to “take for granted” that there may be a female President. At the same time, we saw our second female Prime Minister in the UK taking to her new office. And yes, I’m happy about seeing women doing these jobs, as long as they do them well.
But why, please tell me, are we championing gender equality and preaching how women should be in these roles – when, at the same time, we focus on their gender in nearly every single article written about them? And the true irony is that we are still exploiting these women to give presidential parties a more representative image. Most women will be happy when we can truly take their roles for granted, and appreciate what skill and passion they have as individuals, over the fact that they identify as women.
So yes, women may have the vote in many Western countries but every time someone reminds me of that, I will remind them of the fact that this inequality still exists. I will remind them of the fact that whilst I have such a greater freedom of choice than my grandmother did, or even my mother, we shouldn’t stop here. In western society we may like to believe that the marginalisation of young women’s dreams only happens far away in the Middle East, Africa or in the Southern hemisphere. But in a variety of forms, we have a global mission on our hands to ensure that we are not clouding up the visions of all our women.
Words by Lydia Ibrahim.