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The process of achieving true gender equality feels like it’s going at snail’s pace, but in these troubling times, a fifty-fifty ratio is urgently needed to bring greater political and economic stability to the world.
The battle to achieve women’s equality in life and in the work space – to secure the sort of change that profoundly transforms society for the better – is far from won. This pushing and shoving process is as challenging for men as it is for women. Both sexes are still susceptible to the emotional and intellectual conditioning of the “old normal”, which at best can be an apathetic deference to men, based on a force of habit. In developing countries, inequality can be a fait accompli that decides a woman’s fate with the same physiological certainty as her DNA. Walking into the public places of a developed country, such as a bar or office, and glimpsing a sea of dark business suits, not one of them on a female shape, might look weird, but it happens.
Women often fear sounding naive or un-succinct in public, so osmotic are their inbred notions as usurpers when it comes to offering leadership. It was not that long ago when a woman’s desire to succeed was considered a “neurosis” or the result of a “castration complex” that was best treated through passiveness, according to that great proponent of women’s psychology, Sigmund Freud. While women worry about public reaction, men naturally brace themselves for it.
Freeing inherent gender bias can still feel like loosening a mollusc off a shipwrecked galleon.
Hangovers from another era, when French women were encouraged to mime the heart-shaped pout with the words, ”pomme, prune, pouce”, resonate in today’s social media accounts of young teenage girls. Displays of sexuality are part of getting to know how and when to use or not use one’s physical attributes in a work or social environment. At least Aristotle and Plato can be relegated to their creaky beds in the firm knowledge that women are no longer an “error of nature” nor a “failed man”.
Some women may prefer the status quo of inequality; in anachronistic societies, docility can allow them to live through anything without too much personal injury; and, in modern ones, it is sometimes easier to wrap the security blanket of collective victimisation around a shrugging shoulder of acceptance. Not all women are born warriors or barricade removers, some channel their energy into a bigger, selfless love towards family, marriage and community. Yet, without true choice, the joys of ironing and washing-up are what Marcel Proust called, “the arts of nothingness”, when every-day sharing of drudgery constitutes a husband asking, “Do you mind making dinner again tonight, dear? I feel like writing a fleeting poem.”
A fifty-fifty world is not just about the empowerment of women, but of men, unburdening them from societal expectations and role-playing as traditional breadwinners and doubling up on the potential to share the good stuff about being alive, or at its most basic, a combined salary to live on.
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A recent international conference in London demonstrated the reality of what a healthy gender power ratio should look and sound like. Long gone were the days of the 1980s when a male participant forewarned a couple of women speakers on a literary panel about feminisation: “It’s going to be hard for me not to make fun of you two”. This time, panellists, participants and organisers were firmly a fifty-fifty women to men ratio, covering topics of governance, economics, cyber-security, religion, interconnectivity and globalisation.
The result was a dialogue characterised by measured passion; intense, civilised, human, complex, with an impetus towards the discussion of solutions over their recognised causes, and generated by a thought process of unity, not rank. An Imam, pressed on the dearth of women in leadership positions in Islam, rhetorically asked Muslim women in the audience if they were ready to lead, to which there was a respectful but resounding “Yes!”.
The conference was insightful, hopeful and up-lifting.
Solutions to the spiralling, exhaustive vortex of today’s dangerous realities – Brexit, terrorism, authoritarian governments, proxy wars, migrant crises – continue to elude nation states, shifting political institutions and Internet technology companies. Yet in western democracies it is the humming of a deep, purring motor of equal gender input by a group of women leaders, including Britain’s Theresa May, Scotland’s Nicola Sturgeon, and perhaps future Labour leader Angela Eagle, that may now unburden their male counterparts from future political mistakes.
Accompanied by Germany’s Angela Merkel and with luck, America’s Hillary Clinton, they will form the critical mass for stability so desperately needed when half the world is still not on board.