Being a female in the 21st century

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Linh Cardinali

I first encountered the difference between being born female or male when my brother was born. My relationship with my dad crumbled instantaneously as he gazed into my brother’s dark brown pupils. I was pushed to the side-lineswhilst my brother basked the glory of my dad’s appraisal. This anecdote is not built upon a tale of jealousy; it is about how as a young girl; I was taught that I was not enough simply because of my gender. However, my father’s attitude towards women and young girls was not solitary as my classmates from a young age claimed that girls could not play football at recess, or even the teachers who shouted to the back of the classroom that they needed “two strong boys” to help them. These attitudes have moulded our misogynist society which have not been eliminated over the years but rather concealed. Changing these attitudes may take some time which is why some women are already creating this change. As a young female in the 21st century, gender inequalities are experienced throughout one’s upbringing whether it be through the attitudes of men or an already established misogynist society. Women are proceeding to fight for theirrights and bring awareness nowadays to change the system for future generations, yet they are often shut out.

The attitudes of men which have been continually tolerated by society for generations have built the framework of our misogynist society. Toxic masculinity, or the cultural pressures males face is one element that has impacted male’s attitudes. It is the belief that certain people’s definitions of “manliness” encourage dominance, homophobia, andaggressiveness. Toxic masculinity revolves around “three core components: toughness, antifemininity, and power”1. Through these aims set by society, it is no wonder that men desire control and being placed on a pedestal. Furthermore, it fosters a loathing for femininity which explains why men tend to ridicule and dismiss it. For instance, when I wasaged around six years old, I wore nail polish for the first time, to which my dad responded with “you’ll never beanything if all you do is care about your nails”, “girls who paint their nails are vulgar and unworthy”. These assertions are not only built upon the toxic masculinity desire to be antifeminine, but also on gender stereotypes instilled in children from an early age. Some popular gender stereotypes include; girls playing with dolls and boys playing with trucks, boys should like blue, and girls should like pink, girls should be well behaved, and boys are expected to act out… We have all heard these stereotypes at least once, yet it has never inherently shocked us. We have simply accepted societies expectations by adopting gender roles. However, these stereotypes are harmful to society as they restrict individuality, “kill a woman’s self-confidence”, and reinforce gender inequalities. According to a Harvard article, “researchers believe gender stereotypes hold women back in the workplace” and “cause women to question their own abilities”, it is no surprise that these widely held stereotypes have exacerbated gender inequalities and contributed to the patriarchal culture.2 However, recently many are battling these gender norms. For instance, some teenage boys have worn skirts to school which has been trending on social media which is setting a complete taboo around these stereotypes and allowing one’s own individuality surface beyond conventional expectations. Speaking about taboo, I have often heard the taboo that feminism represents ‘women being better than men’. They view feminism as the polar opposite of gender equality and believe it is more of a ‘women’s issue’ rather than a societal one. With these beliefs and moulded societal acceptances, the attitudes of men have notaltered towards gender equality as they have not been inclined to.

The attitudes of men are supported by our misogynist society which contributes to the treatment of women in the workplace and the norms of female subordination. Women suffer “unequal pay, access to leading career roles, sexual harassment, and non-inclusive workplaces” in the workplace.3 My mother has experienced almost all of these factors at her workplace. In fact, she often dwells on the notion that she would have been provided with many more opportunities in her career if she had been a man. Women struggle to obtain the same jobs as men which are traditionally considered to be male roles. In political positions, women serve as Heads of State or Government in only 22 countries which is already an achievement in itself, yet many still distrust female leaders which is understandable as our society has constantly had male leaders.4 What is surprising however is thatgovernments have not made a concerted effort to improve working conditions for women and provide them with equal opportunities in our generation. Hence, portraying that there is still a long way to go for our society to stray away froma patriarchal one where men are benefactors.

Furthermore, our misogynist society has institutionalised all around female subordination meaning that females are considered as secondary beings. This has not only created gender disparities in the workplace and in how society viewswomen, but it has also created an unsafe environment for women. As a young girl, I cannot walk freely after dark; I must examine my surroundings, be on a call, and carry pepper spray with me. I am not implying that men do not face these issues, but it is more prevalent amongst women. One moment which struck with me last year was when I got followed home by a man who was in his thirties. Fortunately, I was able to make it home safely, although I was quite petrified. When I recounted the incident to my aunt and uncle, their response was disappointing to say the least: “In Italy, being followed home is taken as a compliment, so maybe he was just complimenting you”. The way in which our society has subordinated women creates an unsafe environment as behaviours like such are justified. Rape culture, for example, has allowed men to justify rape through the victim’s attire. Our misogynist society has produced an unjust andunsafe world for women who must conform to a male-dominated society.

Despite the fact that gender disparities continue in our generation, many women are challenging gender norms and advocating for their rights. These movements are at the root of change and introduce a safe community where thevoices of young girls like me are heard.

Various movements have been introduced such as the #metoo movement, awareness about abortion rights in certain states, and awareness of a significant femicide in Mexico. The use of social media has especially been powerful for these movements as they have widespread information about gender inequalities in different areas. Most of my awareness about these movements was rooted from social media and made me aware ofwhat women are fighting for across the globe; it made me conscious of my privilege whilst also inspiring me to makeand request changes for my own situation as a female. The #metoo campaign originated in 2006 which essentially used this hashtag to spread awareness about social harassment and abuse within society. Several women came forward including celebrities Gwyneth Palthrow, Ashely Judd, Jennifer Lawrence, and Uma Thurman. This movement not only raised awareness about sexual harassment, but it also resulted in positive changes for women such as improved women’s working conditions, new policies implemented within women’s workplaces, and harassment issues are further accounted for by companies.5 Therefore, this movement illustrates how once women raise awareness about an issue on a global scale it can create a significant change in their quality of life. Furthermore, issues such as abortion rights and the femicide in Mexico have sparked major protests by women who voiced on the streets their demand for equal rights. Poland implemented legislations making abortions illegal even in the case of rape, therefore removing a form of women’s freedom and further subjugating women. Women protested for this cause but were dismissed by pro-lifers who defended their cause through religious considerations. Likewise, in Mexico women of all ages were murdered in public spaces. As a result, women protested in March 2020 which men responded to by calling them “exaggerated”, displaying how women’s voices frequently silenced.6 Many women are no longer keeping quiet about the treatment thatthey face in their daily life; however, it takes men to listen in order to make a change as they occupy key positions in thegovernment.

 

Thus, gender equality in 2021 has not yet been achieved. To achieve gender equilibrium, a shift in male attitudesand general society would be required. With a combination of a change in male attitudes, a more open-minded society, and strong female voices and leaders; gender inequalities could be reduced immensely. Gender inequalities are frame worked by our society, hence, only we as a community can fix it if we make it a primary mission in our current reality.

 

Works Cited

1 Morin, A. (2020, November 26). What Is Toxic Masculinity? Verywell Mind.https://www.verywellmind.com/what-is-toxic-masculinity-5075107

2 Gerdeman, D. (2019, February 25). How Gender Stereotypes Kill a Woman’s Self- Confidence. Harvard Business School. https://hbswk.hbs.edu/item/how-gender- stereotypes-less-than-br-greater-than-kill-a-woman-s-less-than-br-greater-than-self- confidence

3 10 Big Issues Women Face at Work and What Leaders Can Do to Help – Catalyst. (2019, February 20). Catalyst. https://www.catalyst.org/2017/01/19/10-big-issues-women- face-at-work-and-what-leaders-can-do-to-help/

4 UN Women. (2021). Facts and figures: Leadership and political participation. UN Women.https://www.unwomen.org/en/what-we-do/leadership-and-political-

participation/facts-and-figures

5 18 women in the workplace statistics you need to know (in 2021). (n.d.).

Www.fingerprintforsuccess.com. https://www.fingerprintforsuccess.com/blog/women-in-the-workplace-statistics

6 Minutaglio, R. (2020, July 2). Why Are So Many Women Being Killed In Mexico? ELLE.https://www.elle.com/culture/career-politics/a32998348/mexico-femicide-crisis-what- to-know/