Updated: May 13
An Observation of Women’s Current Social & Political Standing in Society.
“I wish you were born a boy, my daughter” – my mother said to me, just as I started to understand the world a bit better. I was a bold child; my knees scratched from many playgrounds of memories, my hands burnt from playing with fire. My mother was taught by mothers and grandmothers before her, the concept of what I like to call ‘porcelain women’. Therefore, she was quite worried that I would lose my place at the display window, among the other dolls. The gender stereotypes perpetuated in popular culture and tensions between feminism and power, were monsters that my mother swept away under my bed and hushed with tales of heroes and damsels in distress.
She told me that women that lack perfect porcelain skin, i.e., raise their voice, take big bites of their food, walk carelessly, put their elbows on the dinner table, talk openly about ‘taboos’ such as race, religion, sexuality with an uncensored feminist tone, are not ‘proper at all’. You see, my mother was brave and bold too, yet as much as she wanted to paint her canvas in heavy reds and loud blues, she was told to brush it with white again, otherwise, she too, would not be ‘proper at all’.
My mother held my hand as we would walk through hallways filled with portraits of ‘good wives’, ‘good mothers’, ‘good women’, which to me were ‘quiet wives’, ‘silent mothers’, ‘tongue-tied women’. My mother has taught me to chew small bites of my food and I do not keep my elbows on the dinner table, but, to our mothers’ anguish, some of us are compelled to live out loud.
Women’s lack of participation in public and political life is not a choice, it’s a consequence.
The political neglect of women’s human rights is an infective social behaviour that cannot be considered a gender issue in isolation. The interconnection of the full range of human rights such as economic, cultural, social, health, education, family and safety rights stand in an unhealthy balance with entrenched gender roles and stereotypes – one group being the concept that demands respect and cooperation in theory & practice, and the other being an inherited social silence and in appearance a ‘necessary endurance’ (perhaps due to our incapability as the ‘weaker gender’ or political convenience, placement and displacement of power, which one can it be? – I am certain of the answer, I am not sure our society is).
The Weaker Sex (1948) | a British drama film directed by Roy Ward Baker and starring Ursula Jeans, Cecil Parker and Joan Hopkins. I highly recommend watching this movie, to get a better understanding of women's role during WWII, and especially widowed Martha Dacre's (Ursula Jeans) individual dilemmas when she starts experiencing regrets on not taking a more active role in the war - a very early discussion about gender roles.
A phrase we often use, but rarely discuss: ‘The weaker gender’ – measured by what? More than often, physical strength, which has become a very convenient comparative attribute between the two mainstream genders. From this autumn (autumn 2021), police forces will record misogyny as a hate crime for the first time. Is this governmental pledge comforting or a few spoken and unspoken names of unfortunate women too late? As a young woman, I was taught that my safety is conditional on me tailoring my routine according to the ‘rules’, but as aggressors are changing their behaviours every day, I am compelled to ask my mother if my porcelain skin is the only cause of this ‘cycle of tragedy that will never stop’ and if yes, is there any form of armour she can suggest – my mother won’t answer, because no mother before her could.
Are women’s human rights written-on-stone-worthy or just an ambition?
Institutions of the public domain often establish a framework within which women are painted with fragility, caregiver responsibilities and domestic responsibilities. The stereotype we dress young girls with reinforces patriarchal attitudes towards gender roles, responsibilities, identity, an emphasis on harmful ambitions and norms of discrimination, which hinder women’s progress and hope of nurturing the dream towards political participation. When referring to political participation, it is not only improvements in our legislative systems, institutional appreciation of domestic violence and misogyny, or better jobs fairly offered to more women that we consciously raise our voices for.
Video Source: DW Documentary, an interesting perspective on women's participation in German politics
We want to see women in parliaments, but more than that, we want to see them initiating discussions, we want them to be leaders. Women’s lack of participation in public and political lives is (as discussed previously) caused by current structures and proceedings(social, institutional, political etc.) that impose discrimination, mediatic attention and pressure on women to remain within the patriarchal frame, not enough decision-making positions being offered to women etc. Yes, but it is also caused by not enough young women applying for the job of their dreams because they have been told that their skins are made of porcelain, and they might break.
Change makes an inspiring entrance when invited by a united voice that demands it. Those voices hold my hand when I have to return late from work, or when I need to submit an application for an ambitious internship role, to those voices I say: Please! Speak Louder!
Feminist change, however, as all change, calls for a march towards a clearer, brighter, loud rise of hope and positive ambition, requires unity and leadership.
But, where can I purchase a ‘leader’ uniform?
Being raised a woman, in a society that harbours a mentality of patriarchal frames, does not mean you are raised to be a leader, it often means the opposite. It often means that if you are an advocate for positive change, as a woman, you will most likely be in the minority.
But research shows that being part of a minority means that you are much more likely to raise your voice for issues that directly concern you.
One of the most dramatic changes in recent decades has been the increasing prominence of women in positions of leadership. Many more women are providing leadership in government, business, higher education, non-profit ventures, and other areas of life, in many more countries of the world, than would ever have been true in the past. As we approach this subject, we need to understand what we mean by “leadership.” I use the following definition: “Leaders define or clarify goals for a group of individuals and bring together the energies of members of that group to pursue those goals.” - Women, Power and Leadership (2020) by Nannerl Overholser Keohane | Full PDF here.
As the ‘weaker gender’ label gradually peels off, we wear a mantel of persistence and bold honesty, as the parade of masks dawns upon us rather ungracefully – it consequently makes me wonder, what does equality look like?
“Equality looks exactly like me, not my neighbour” – misleadingly quoted by the 1900s (but not only)
Women's Suffrage, Racism and Intersectionality; Courtesy of the New York Public Library
It has been a long march since one of the first historically recorded feminist voices, in Renaissance, Christine de Pisan who boldly called for female education, to the famous Susan B. Anthony for giving us the right to vote, to the multi-tasking, resilient and pragmatic woman – But I want to stop on the matter of the vote for a minute. By 1900, the passion for the principle of equality, which was manifested with women’s suffrage, was dimmed by the arrival of Eastern European immigrants. People were not questioning the common grounds of humanity between men and women, but collectively appealing for the right to vote for racist and nativist purposes. Suddenly, equality was well-dressed, literate, high-born or middle-class, definitely not ‘other’.
This is not a conclusion; it is an invitation to a longer discussion…
In my understanding, it is not only the matter of gender equality that has polarized people, only to create division and fear, but the dresses of labels, laces of different names and titles, and ribbons of assumptions and prejudices. We fit in and out of conversations about our race, background, religion, sexuality, culture and mentality like we do with garments, as we walk a catwalk of masks.
Being a refugee and coming from a small country, only to set shelter in a land where one’s search for like-minded kindred spirits does not go in vain, I have learnt immensely. I have witnessed, first-hand, the hardships of the working-class immigrant women, who are more concerned with wages, protective legislation, integration in a new country, learning a new language, stable housing and safety – than with women empowerment, modern issues concerning women as well as outdated issues that sit comfortably around creepy corners as we walk home. (And yes, I am referring to Sarah Everard and Sabina Nessa).
Being a 21-century woman means that you jump over a widening pit of prejudice, racism, and discrimination, on your way to school, to work and back home. A leader is one who builds a bridge over this pit. I have crossed many bridges built by women leaders, who have created links between marginalized groups of girls and women with an embracing world of dynamic feminist leaders. Undoubtedly, their hands bruised, their knees scratched – a shock to my mother, certainly. I have taken a seat with them and been told to fill that application form because I do not need an armour to cover my porcelain skin, I am made of earth and love, evergreen and ever-growing.
During COVID-19, the dreadful circumstances instilled a corroding fear and anguish. Yet, the space created by this erosion, forged an opening for love. We practiced social distancing, yet our hearts came closer together. As we strongly held on to the foundations of our society, weak links became clearer than ever, and we patched them up by joining our hands together. The same bruised and burnt hands, taught us healing.
As our march continues, our gallop measured in flashes of lightning, a question that ticks stronger with time stands, how do we achieve equality in a post-COVID-19 world?
That question is answered by all women leaders every day. By a young refugee girl that says: “Mommy, I want to be a doctor”, by a non-profit organization CEO that fights relentlessly to secure women free English Classes, every feminist that signs a petition so that asylum-seekers have access to higher education, every employee that ensures that you meet your personal and family responsibilities without penalty, every activist that stands for equal wages, maternity leave, fair treatment in the workplace, every neighbour that accepts you and your values and welcomes you in, an influencer or politician that raises their voice for tolerance, education and a flourishing land of colourful backgrounds. Equality is brought by daughters, sisters, mothers, wives, by women, by leaders who inspire us all, to BUILD BRIDGES.