I am certain that this title alone will cause many people – men and women – to roll their eyes, let out a groan, or simply mutter, “not another article on this topic.” And that is exactly why writing about this polarizing issue has been something I have been hesitant to do. Yet, the very reason as to why I am now putting my thoughts to paper is because if we do not continue the conversation then progress around this divisive issue will never occur, and not only is that a disservice to myself and other women (and men) around me, but it is also a disservice to the millions of young girls (and boys) growing up in today’s society.
Social injustice has occurred to millions of people based on their race, culture, ethnicity, age, religion – you name it – but never has there been a time (while I have been alive) where the voices of HALF OF THE POPULATION (versus a subset of the population) has risen to deafening cries. Nor has there ever been a time where those voices were actually heard and brought to the forefront- and something is being done for it. The fact that this is still an issue in today’s society is not a surprise. I am not fooled by the mere fact that talking about it will make a difference, but I do believe that if we all educate ourselves around it and discuss HOW to stop it, then progress will continue to be made in this arena for BOTH men and women, as it is not an issue that only affects females. It is a difficult discussion to have for many people, it is a difficult concept to grasp for many people, and it is a painful topic to discuss for many people – but that does not mean that we shouldn’t hold these conversations, that we shouldn’t allow for these conversations to happen, or that we should simply remain silent. It should be the very reason as to WHY we discuss it, in hopes that we will pave a clearer path and less daunting path for both men and women moving forward.
Without talking politics, or religion, or cultural ideas, we as a society have an issue around the concept of being either male or female. And by this, I mean we tend to pit one sex against the other – whether in equality, sexuality, mentality, competency, etc. Furthermore, we often characterize the sexes based on certain qualities aligned to each sex, starting from birth: Male – tough, bold, protector; Female: nurturing, reasonable, loving. Boys are given things that are considered “tough” – action figures, cars, video games while girls are given “girly” toys – kitchen sets, frilly dolls, stuffed animals because we ASSUME that boys should be tough and girls should not be…we create the image ourselves and so they grow to believe in these predefined gender roles (and to make it clear, I am not admonishing these things, I am simply using them to illustrate a point). When playing pretend, boys are taught that it’s ok to be rough, to act like protectors while girls are taught to play gently, to not get dirty, to do “lady-like” things. To take it a step further, ask yourself what chores you tend to give your daughters versus your sons? Who is taught to do the laundry and who is taught to take out the trash? It’s a simple task for either sex to do, but just take a minute to ponder who you would initially assign the chore to (and if you only have boys, or only girls, then does dad or mom do it instead and a different chore is assigned?).
Let’s take this thought a step further. Let’s say those boys and girls are now functioning members of society as grown adults. The discord between being male and female is still in full effect: men are considered to be leaders when moving up in corporate America, while women are often seen as bossy and are labeled negatively as prioritizing their careers over their family; men are seen as doctors while women are seen as nurses; men have magazines that celebrate their successes based on their intelligence and perseverance while women have magazines that celebrate their fashion sense and how to catch the perfect guy. Furthermore, being female is in and of itself a double edged sword. How many times have you heard that a female should “celebrate her curves”, “own her figure”? Yet when they do (and this CAN be done without showing too much skin or wearing too tight of clothing), they are then told that they are being too sexy, that they are trying to get ahead based on their sex appeal. You can’t have it both ways. First of all, being female is physically different then being male (duh, I know) but women shouldn’t be blamed for the sheer fact that they have curves, breasts, or a nice body. How can a female be confident in her own skin yet at the same time be told not to be too flashy or to “ask for it” based on what she is wearing? Does anyone else see the hypocrisy in this? How is it possible for a female to “own her curves” but then be blamed for another’s actions towards her self-confidence, as if it is her FAULT that another individual was unable to control themselves because said female was wearing a skirt and therefore “asking for it?”
Let’s put physical attributes aside and talk corporate knowledge and growth. Females are just as skilled and capable as men in succeeding at all types of roles, industries, etc. Yet if a male counterpart applies for a job that would require him to be away from home for a week or two at a time, no one questions his commitment to his family or how he would “handle” being away from his kids. The same is not true for a woman. And I know this from personal experience. The first thing my female friends asked me when I applied for a temporary position that would have me in New York for a couple of weeks was “are you sure you want to be away from your kids, won’t you miss them?” As if I was not aware of the fact that I would not be home and subsequently that my children would somehow be “hurt” in the short time period that I would be gone. Even more daunting for most women in corporate America is the need to “balance it all.” Meaning, females are often the ones who have to figure out how to manage work and family, often at the expense of their careers. For example, a woman is less likely to take a promotion if it requires moving the family while the same is not true for a man. Also, if a chid is sick, the woman is often the one who leaves work to care for the child. (I understand these examples are for working moms, but they help to illustrate my point). Lastly, sometimes we as females do not help our own cause. For some reason we see each other as direct competition instead of as allies in furthering our own shared cause of having a seat at the table so to speak. You do not see this as much amongst our male counterparts. Men do not make comments about other men “probably sleeping their way to the top” as women do about each other. Why is this? Why do we tear each other down instead of building each other up based on our strengths, capabilities, etc? We must learn to celebrate one another’s successes, not see them as a threat to one another. The more women leaders that there are, the more our collective voice will be heard. But if we ourselves do not have a unified voice, then what good does that do for any of us? (and to be clear, whether or not you are a working mom, stay at home mom, or not even a mom, this applies to all of us and each of our roles are just as important – there isn’t one that is better then the other).
So, what do we do about all of this? If you’ve stayed with me until now, I applaud you and thank you for your desire to continue this conversation. This is definitely something that we need BOTH men and women to be a part of for it cannot be changed without both sexes fighting for a shared vision of change. But please realize that I DO believe we have made progress, we have had brave men and women come forward to share their opinions, stories, and experiences. We must continue to be open and honest with one another, we must not fear repercussion for sharing our ideas and beliefs around this movement. WE cannot afford to do so as it will leave residual affects on the growing boys and girls in our world. Personally speaking, I have fought the concept of being unable to do things simply because I was a girl since I was a child (my parents are well aware of this discussion!). I was labeled a “tomboy” simply because I would rather play outside and get dirty then play inside with Barbies and a playhouse. Still to this day I argue with my dad (sorry, dad!) about being female and being able to do what any guy does! I also have my own #MeToo story but in the end, it doesn’t matter whether we are MALE or FEMALE, it matters that we are all HUMAN. We are all capable of being treated equally, fairly and respectfully. No one ever “asks for it” – that is a cop out. We are all responsible for our own actions and never should there be a time that we blame the victim of either assault or inequality. We do not teach our children to be “responsible for another person’s action,” we teach them that “they are RESPONSIBLE for their OWN actions.” Furthermore, we do not teach young boys to expose themselves in front of young girls – if they do we PUNISH them. So why now, do we forget the things we teach 5 and 6 year olds? Moving forward, we all need to be held accountable for bringing equality and change for the BETTERMENT of all humankind (and though this was an article about men and women, this concept can be vastly applied to all human beings). We need to continue the conversation. We need to continue to make it a MOVEMENT and not a moment – only then will we truly be heard and see change.