The divide between the sexes (and don’t forget gender)

I do not apologise for the amount of blogs I’ve written which discuss the issues in the modern day world as a result of the divide between the sexes. I’ve explained it before, but I’ll say it again. Sex is a biological construct, meaning that a male has a penis while a female has a vagina and breasts. This of course is put very simply, but some people seem to think that these differences between the sexes also govern the divide between genders.

Gender is a cultural construct, meaning that the way a person behaves is supposedly governed by their sex. For example, a woman is considered as emotional, irrational and weak due to natural and hormonal changes in the body (e.g. the menstrual cycle, menopause), which causes periods of hot flushes and, as described by men only a few centuries ago, moments of ‘hysteria’. On the other hand, a man is seen as rational, strong and not swayed by their emotions, but is instead inclined to portray anger and courage due to the levels of testosterone in their body.

SGBMC_Diagram

While the scientific and biological differences between the sexes were not fully understood centuries ago, the binary oppositions based on gender where men are seen as superior to women have been firmly and long established within Western society and culture (i.e. the patriarchy). This means that women have been in the background of history, while men have always been in the foreground. Women were expected to be silent and submissive not just to their husbands, but to men in general, so being outspoken meant that women brave enough to have their say were often seen as outcasts. A woman who was reserved, submissive, subservient, weak and in need of protection and safety through her husband or a male guardian was seen as the ideal figure of femininity.

Fortunately there are examples throughout history where women defied the cultural construct of acting like a female. Mary Wollstonecraft (1759-1797), known as one of the founding feminist philosophers, is well known for writing A Vindication for the Rights of Woman (1792). She advocates for equality between men and women, stating that women are not naturally inferior to men, but they seem to be because they lack education. Before Vindication, Wollstonecraft wrote Thoughts on the Education of Daughters (1787). Young girls would have been taught how to be a good wife and behave like a ‘proper lady’ (e.g. sensibility), but they would have not easily received education on academic subjects at the time. This ensured that women remained in the background so that men could continue to dominate and essentially be in control of society. Wollstonecraft’s works were important for the suffragettes when the Women’s Movement started to come into existence towards the end of the nineteenth century. It is probable that Emmeline Pankhurst and other suffragettes referred to Vindication in their influential speeches when advocating for equal rights and votes for women.

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Mary Wollstonecraft

While there have been a lot of changes and improvements in equal rights between the sexes, similar negative views towards women still exist today. You only have to consider that the changes for sex equality are relatively recent. For example, British women gained full emancipation in 1928, where all men and women aged 18 and over can vote. That was only 87 years ago, which may sound like a long time, but it isn’t really when you put it into a historical perspective. Furthermore, equal pay between the sexes was only granted by the British government in 1970, but not all companies and businesses pay their employees equally. You only have to look at the workplace, particularly where higher positions of management are concerned. Jobs with higher salaries, power and authority are still greatly male dominated. While success and determination are encouraged more than ever in British society, women who want to succeed and seek for more in life are downtrodden. Women who are authoritative in the workplace are viewed as bossy and naggy. Men who are authoritative, on the other hand, are seen in a positive light. This implies that the traditional values of gender still exist, hence the negative connotations towards women also still exist and outweigh the ones associated with men.

The divide between the sexes cannot be eradicated since men and women are born biologically different. However, gender can be. Gender in my view is a cultural entity which has negative consequences (e.g. stress and depression). You only have to look at the struggles children go through when they are growing up. I always remember growing up at primary school being a difficult stage of my life, being bullied by other girls for acting like a ‘tomboy’ because I preferred to wear tracksuit bottoms than pink frilly skirts and dresses, watching boy’s cartoons such as Pokemon and Beyblade and playing the games associated with them, arm wrestling with boys to show my ‘boyish strength’ and not complaining about getting wet in the rain because girl’s hair will go frizzy and their makeup will run. I do not know what it is like for children growing up now, but it is good that parents have campaigned in recent years for gender neutral toys, such as shops not organising toys into separate sections for boys and girls.

I probably did all of things I did when I was growing up because I did not want to be associated with conforming to femininity, because it was and still is seen as being ‘girly’ and weak. A phrase I used often in my childhood, which I detest now, is ‘man-up’. To ‘man-up’ is to continue giving authority and dominance to men, whose sex and constructed gender are still seen as superior to women. Despite the advocacy of equality, Britain is still led by a patriarchy. It is shameful that there has only been one female prime minister in the entire history of prime ministers in Britain! What is even more shameful is that there has not been one single woman who has been president of the USA! If the world thinks it is far more advanced than its predecessors in terms of being civilised, then it is wrong.

 

Complete equality between men and women in terms of sex and gender is fundamental for a world that wants to continue progressing for the greater good.

Clare Abbott

 

 

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