A few days ago has been the Women’s Equality Day. Nobody (or almost nobody) disputes today that women must have the same rights and opportunities as men and are equally capable of carrying out jobs and professions traditionally reserved to the male gender. At least in theory. There are many shadows when it comes to putting this into practice. Books, manuals, statistics, and the news, all of them soundly agree: the situation of women in our society is far from being equitable. We women know this all too well. We have endured it and our daily life brims with examples of inequality (and I am just talking about the developed countries: the situation of women in underdeveloped regions is something I cannot even start pondering here).
Personally, what I like most of the word equality is that it does not imply sameness. It does not mean that everything has to be exactly the same and be measured according to a fixed, immutable rule (something that horrifies me). It is the idea of equality that embraces diversity ensuring that there are the same opportunities for everyone.
Because men and women are different in the first place. And I like it this way. What should never happen is that the difference becomes a justification to give a poorer treatment to a collective of people. From the perspective that the affronts we have endured have given us, sometimes we women make a mistake: we pretend that we must be the same as men (instead of equal to them) in absolutely everything. For instance, historically it has been taken for granted that women are physically inferior to men. How do we measure this? When it comes to strength or velocity I have to agree men tend to be superior to us with a few commendable exceptions. However, there are other physical capabilities in which we outperform them, such as elasticity or flexibility. A quote pops into my mind from that delightful, amusing TV show, The golden girls: “Black people are not equal to us white people.” As her coffee companions look at her horrified she hastily adds: “Okay, name just one single white person who can dance like Michael Jackson.” I also think about all those women who faced so many difficulties to break through in a hostile, testosterone- filled professional environment; many of whom ended up reproducing the most aggressive, ambitious, competitive patterns (in the worst sense of these words) of the masculine behavior in their own leadership styles.
Men and women are different biologically. The question of whether our psychological differences happen by nature or as a consequence of education and social learning would start a debate that does not fit in this article, nor do I have enough knowledge to initiate it. By the way, men have to endure prejudice too. For instance, I have often heard that women’s emotional intelligence is far superior to men’s. In my very own life I can find plenty of examples that confirm this theory and at least as many that deny it. Men are not beyond suffering damage, either: many have had a hard time showing their tender, gentle nature or admitting (even to themselves) that their familiar vocation is bigger than their professional ambition.
While we wait for our society, firms, laws, and governments to solve this issue (or to not do it at all), whether you are a man or a woman, I would like to encourage you become an active participant, to find and pursue your own definition of equality: examine your life and identify where it is well balanced and where it needs a tweak; which tasks you do not mind doing on a regular basis and which ones make you feel frustrated; which parts of your life you are ready (even willing) to give up in order to achieve others. If it is your wish to stay home looking after your kids and you can afford it no one should ever judge you. You do not have to crave that professional promotion at all costs, either, if it is going to take up a valuable time you currently have and happily use for something else. And it is not at all humiliating to be ready to do more than others in a specific area as long as this is what you want. Personally, I do not even need to see similar numbers of men and women across all professions. Can’t we, men and women of the world, have different (neither better nor worse) interests? There are two conditions though:
- There must not be any bias according to which girls already grow with the belief that they are not fit for (or should not consider) certain professions.
- Any woman who wants to work in those fields must be entitled to do so with the same opportunities, and valued according to the same parameters, as her male colleagues.
The specific implementation of the ideas about equality in your daily life raises plenty of questions and your decisions on how to improve equality in your environment or how to act when it is threatened are only yours to make.
If you are a man reading this, how does this whole equality thing affect you? Maybe you have worked tons of extra hours because your company refused to replace a woman of your department who was enjoying her maternity leave? Maybe you never saw this extra effort recognized? Is there anything that you envy of women, anything you would love to enjoy too? Maybe being allowed to express your emotions more openly or having a wider range of options for your professional attire instead of being stuck with the ‘suit and tie’ set? Maybe you are more than ready to work shorter hours yourself to look after your family but you fear being frowned upon?
How about you, woman who works shorter hours to look after your family? Have you ever wanted to yell in anger when that male colleague who wastes his time at work got a promotion while you keep squeezing your days until the last drop and (to top it all) have given up a proportion of your salary? How many companies do still measure professional worth through hours and presence at the office instead of performance, attitude and valuable contributions? How many men are actually able to meet said standard of hours and presence only because their female partners reduce their salaries and working hours to look after their offspring while sadly coming to terms with the fact that their careers will not get far?
And you, childless woman who works full hours, have you ever found some kind of professional ceiling at some point, one that has never seemed to exist for your male counterparts? Have you ever had to face your manager’s expectations that you work longer and harder than others because ‘after all, you don’t have kids to take care of’?
I have thrown a lot of ideas and questions here, some of them inconvenient, and there could be so many more. I will not try to answer all of them nor am I trying to blame anyone: I am just trying to show that equality affects all of us and laying bare the complexity and multiplicity of factors and variables that participate in it. And all this without having even bothered to start analyzing the psychological elements (fear, mistrust, insecurities…) or cultural values (unequal standards for men and women in terms of beauty, ageing, sexual life…).
I will finish where I started. Equality has to be in rights and opportunities. The intention of equality is rooted in the will to embrace diversity, enrich one another and thus make a freer, fairer, equitable world. Equality protects our differences and ensures that our diverse natures can express their richness for the benefit of everyone.
After all, there is nothing more unfair than to treat everyone in the same way.
English transcript of mi blog for Womenalia, published September 30, 2017