“Never doubt that a smallgroup of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it’s theonly thing that ever has.” once said Margaret Mead.
?What’s included in “women’srights”? That has changed in focus overtime. In ancient cultures, women had some rights that women in later culturesdid not have. The early feminists (early 19th century and before) often focusedon women’s education and property rights.
During the 19th century until 1920,women’s rights activists often focused on suffrage. In the so-called secondwave of feminism (1960s) which was the mainprogress in this field, women’s rights embraced economic rights, reproductive rights, political rights and equalityat home, the workplace… Tostart with, we are going to introduce the social evolution of women in terms ofgender parity. We can then ask ourselves: in what sense can women’sright be considered as a form of progress ? First of all, let’s have a closer look on suffragettes, as it is, indeed considered as the biggest wave of revolts in the history ofwomen. It is in 1903, in Britain, that everything began, Women’s Social and Political Union forthe right to vote was created and women showed multiple militant politicalactions.
This organization was led by Emmeline Pankhurst and her two daughters. Women of all ages, going from young age toolder ages, and classes demonstrated through numerous political actions. However, things did not goas planned and these demonstrators were jailed on a massive scale, locked out of their own houses, and being misused every time they acted for theirown favor ‘like being thrown down the steps ofParliament’.At the outbreak of World War I in 1914, this divisivenessbetween genders was officially over due to the Women’s Social and Political Uniondecision which was to support the men by helping them taking care of their everydayjobs and help the war effort. This mobilization by the organization led to thevolunteering participation of countless of its members in the field ofindustries during the war and support services. This event soothed the situation,and overpowered the aims of the Women’s Social and political union towards thegovernment.
Indeed, the right to vote was conceded in 1918, it was first given toall women aged 30 and above and was then reduced to 21 years old in 1928. This episodecan be seen as a very important time in our world and society and should be anexample for our days, indeed these women got what they wanted without quittingwhat they had already started. Yet let’s look ata different point of view, and show the evolution of equality between genders.
To illustrate this , let’s use as an example the 2010 movieMade in Dagenham by Nigel Cole, which isbased on a true story. It delves intothe movement that caused a symbolic lawreform. An extract from the film Made in Dagenham (2010) draws our attention tothe fact that women were still officially discriminated against in GreatBritain in the second half of the 20th century. This extract takes place in aFord car factory in London and expose underpaid women working inindustries and here, particularly in the Ford sewing Machines whodemandequal pay to men. Rita O’Grady, which is the main character in this movie,leads this in the 1968 Ford Sewingcategory in Dagenham.
These women workers walk out of their job in order toprotest against sexual discrimination. This event causes alot of public attention around the world and was seen somethingwhich was seen as an exceptional but also notable asit was not a woman’s job to do anything else apartfrom the traditional family roles. It was known that when ajob was done by a woman, it was much less valuable than when it was done by aman, therefore women were less paid than men for the equivalent job. Once more,the world needed to advance and obtain mentalities that are worth having forthe whole society, we wanted at the time legal recognition but we still do now.However, women from this strike succeeded and thestrike wasat the end very successful and led to the EqualPay Act 1970. Wecan seethat the places of women in the world has evolved over the years howevernowadays women are still fighting for some small inequalities thatare present. We can, however, ask ourselves, arewomen going to be more powerful than men one day?Like said, Jennifer Worth “Bah! Suffragettes. I’ve notime for suffragettes.
They made the biggest mistake in history. They went forequality. They should have gone for power!”. Norms and beliefs about gender and work seem tobe longstanding, fortified and difficult to change: indeed, they have changed veryfrequently and significantly throughout history in line with broader economic,social and political transformations.If wehave a closer look on what concerns gender and work, the equality have notalways been a line going up progressively towards full modernization andequality. There have been advancements but also setbacks and backlashes, according to whatis economically and politically necessary at a particular time. Thecategorisation of jobs as more or less skilled and their evaluation as more orless valuable is gendered.
‘The concrete value judgments that constituteconventional job evaluation (…) replicate (…) structures of gender typing andgender segregation of jobs and the clustering of women workers in the lowestand the worst-paid jobs.’ (Acker, 1990) ‘Women’s skills’ are less valued, and women devalueskill, wages in a male-dominated sector very often decrease when women enter itin large numbers (Irving, 2008) consequently, trade unions have not alwayssupported women. Furthermore, sexual harassment anddiscrimination only became visible and denaturali-sed when it was named byworkers, activists and scholars. It should be understood not as theindividualised trait of ‘a few rotten apples’, but as part of theorganisational culture: ‘in many or-ganisations, the willingness to toleratesexual harrassment is often a com-dition of the job’. (Acker, 1990). Addressing render segregation and gender pay gapsin work has required legislative intervention, and this has generally comeabout as a result of protest, industrial action, and political mobilisation.
Manyoccupations presume and prescribe a particular kind of gendered worker, andtherefore doing that work requires doing gender. Thetransition in Western societies from a Fordist to a Post-Fordist system ofeconomic production and the concomitant growth of the service sector placed anincreasing emphasis on emotional labour. This concept was created by thesociologist Arlie Hochschild: ‘the management of feeling to create a publiclyobservable facial and bodily display; emotional labor is sold for a wage’ (1983).
The financial sector is characterised by profoundly masculinised workplacecultures (Ho, 2009; McDowell,1997;2010) that value ‘macho’ behaviors, based onrisk-taking, aggressiveness and over-confidence. Thesenorms become seen as a ‘normal’ and ‘necessary’ part of trading, such that male(and female) workers must adopt such behaviors in order to fit in and getahead. ‘Exaggerated forms of masculinized language andbehavior are still commonplace.
Horseplay, sexualized banter, loud andaggressive talk, as well as forms of sexual harassment are tolerated (…).Social exchanges are still commonly set in masculinized arenas, including ingolf clubs or hospitality suites at major football clubs as well as (..
.) lapdancing clubs’.(McDowell, 2010) Dominantunderstandings of masculinity and femininity are classed and contribute toreproducing class privilege and inequalities. Historically and in the present,ideals of femininity tend to be aligned with the practices and possibilities ofthose in the upper and middle classes.
For example, the social construction in 19th and 20thcentury UK society of ‘ideal femininity’ as defined in terms of full-timecaring for home and family was an impossible goal for workingclass women to reach.Consequently,working-class women seen as ‘less feminine’ and less ‘respectable’, as BeverleySkeggs (1997) shows in her longitudinal ethnography of the lives andsubjectivities of working-class women in the UK. They are seen to have the ‘wrong’tastes, clothes and behaviors; they are ‘too much’, ‘too loud’, ‘too sexual’. Consider,for example, current reality shows and how they portray working-classfemininities. Based on theargumentation made abovewe can conclude, ‘In Westerncountries, many of the feminist movements’ ideas and demands have becomeincorporated into mainstream beliefs, norms and policies relating to gender,but feminism continues to be regularly stigmatized’can be explained by the fact, that the world will never agree on the fact thatwomen should be as equal as men, and only a small portion of the population ofthe world will agree to this.
Different countries hold different speeches aboutthis problem as there are countries where this equality should have alreadybeen accorded. It has been at least one century that this problem has occurred forthe different reasons that we have quoted. That is why this question is stillbeing discussed and why render equality is so hard to achieve. Feminism isstill seen as a ‘non-important’ political movement by some people and it isstarting to be a very serious problem.