On Wednesday, we celebrated International Women’s day. To many it was just a normal day but to others, it was a day to show how the world would be different if women had stuck to the status quo.
I grew up in the Kansas suburbs. During most summers my sisters and I would play outside with our neighbors, the majority of which were boys. My younger sister had two girl friends that were her age, so my older sister and I would play games with the boys our ages. We learned to play football, basketball, baseball, kickball, etc. We would spend hours each day playing games and hung out. Never in my mind did I think we were different, or that we were treated differently, because we were girls. We just played as if we were all the same.
Why is this important? I think that’s how our society should look like. I think that whoever we are, whatever personalities we may have, women and men shouldn’t be stereotyped into certain roles because of their gender.
This idea of women being able to do what they want and not be looked at differently, isn’t a radical thought.
I’ve been taking an international politics course this semester. The assignment this week was to watch a BBC News documentary What Stands in the Way of Women being Equal to Men?
While watching the BBC Documentary (shot in 2014), the reporter followed four teenage girls from four different countries, Vigdis from Iceland, Mira from Jordan, Lulu from the UK, and Shoeshoe from Lesotho. Each country has a different ranking on the gender equality index.
The 2014 index has the highest possible score of one. Iceland, who ranked number one on the list with a score of 0.8594. The UK ranked in 26th place with a 0.7383, followed by Lesotho at 38th place with 0.7255, and Jordan who ranked 9th to last at 0.5968 (this lists contains 142 countries).
The United States was ranked number 20 with a score of 0.7463.
I looked at the 2016 index to see if the rankings had changed. Out of 144 countries, with the highest possible score of one, Iceland was still number one with a score of 0.874. The UK jumped up six rankings and landed at number 20 with a score of 0.752. Lesotho dropped to 57 with a score of 0.706, while Jordan managed to go up to 11th from last at 0.603.
As for the U.S., it dropped from 20th to 45th place with a score of 0.722.
While following the young teenage girls, each faced a different situation and environment where women are subjected to different roles.
Vigdis, 15, who lives in Iceland, thinks there are still things she cannot do because she’s a girl. “For example, when you think about a plane, you think about a guy as the pilot, and a girl as the one who’s catering the food and stuff like that. And I think about when I become older I want to do whatever I want, and it doesn’t matter whether I’m a girl or boy.”
In Iceland, it’s not unusual for girls to be walking around alone after dark. But what women have come to realize that there is this double pressure where Iceland has come to accept women working the same as men, but are still expected to excel at being in charge of the home. Men haven’t been exposed to being in charge of taking care of younger children or the extensive responsibilities of the house. The father of Vigdis, believes that men tend to get in the way and so they don’t know how to deal with infants, like a mother would.
Lulu, 16, is from the UK and hopes that one day men and women can see each other as equal, and that men wouldn’t look at women as objects. “I’d like to be treated the same as boys. I’d like to wear whatever I want to without anything being expected of me. And I’d like to go where I want, do what I want, wear what I want without anyone saying ‘no you can’t do that because you’re a girl.’
In the last 30-40 years the UK has been able to progress with conversations about race, but when it comes to sexism women have seen an increase in verbal harassment. Lulu told a story about her male classmates who were discussing sex and porn. The classmates were asked about this by the reporter, in the documentary, and they explained that porn was something guys just do and gives them a standard of how women should be at sex. The classmates believe that by sexualizing the girls they’re complimenting them.
Mira,15, lives in Jordan, and also believe women should have more rights. “Because of a girls reputation she is claimed, not like a boy. There are a lot of things that a woman can’t do, and maybe some[things] that women would love to do.”
In Jordan, the country holds very religious and conservative values. Women are held to strict standards. Mira is not able to do a lot of stuff that her brothers are able to do. She’s not allowed to associate with friends without her parents permission, or allowed to play sports like basketball. Her parents believe its more important to protect the family’s reputation and respect their religion than it is to allow their daughter to have equal rights and freedoms like men/boys do. When Mira’s brother was asked if girls should have the same rights as boys, he said yes, but it probably won’t happen for another 100-200 years.
Shoeshoe says there are many things she still cannot do because she is a girl. “There are a lot of things I can’t do, like I can’t go out at night to parties. I can’t speak out in class. I can’t really stand up for myself, because a lot of people see that as a girl being disrespectful or just a wild crazy child.”
Lesotho has improved in gender relations in the last few decades, 30% of women are now more literate than men and are also getting more professional jobs but they still face cultural issues. Shoeshoe has a conversation with her boy friends at school. She asks them if they would marry a women who is paid more than them. One boy answered no immediately and believed if he did marry a women who had a better job than him, she would control him. He believes that their culture doesn’t allow that. Another boy said it depended if he had a job or not. If he didn’t have a job he said no, because he believes he wouldn’t have a proper role in the family.
As I watched the documentary it was interesting to see how each country differed from others when it came to the perception of women. It also shows how even in Iceland, who has continued to pursue an equal society for men and women, has struggled to get to a point where there’s equality for each gender.
I think one day, societies will no longer hold stereotypes for each gender. But in order for this to happen we need to recognize the double standards that are held for each gender. We also need to understand that each gender’s role is changing. Our society is progressively changing, and more women want to experience freedoms that they have the rights to. The process to achieving women’s rights isn’t something that simple, but if society begins with tearing down stereotypes and change out-of-date traditions, the road to women’s rights can be achieved.