As the lead up to the General Election gets under way, it seems as appropriate a time as any to reflect on the position of women, and why we need feminism. The western world prides itself on promoting equality and condemning the rest of world for sexist behaviour, but does not recognise the internal problems it has.
By Lylaah Bhalerao
|148 out of 650 MPs are women… and strategically arranged in this photo…
(Photo: UK Parliament)
Only 148 of our 650 MPs are women, which is just over 20%. In a world where women make up half (well in fact more than half) of the population, there must be a problem. The problem is that women will not put themselves forward, and, often, men do not like it when they do.
Women are not reaching the top of any profession anywhere in the world. This is because they do not sit at the table. Of all people who have top, executive jobs, only 17% are women; a measly 17%. The numbers reflect our problem, the cause of which is that women struggle to put themselves forward. Generally, women are known to think more negatively of themselves than men. We can recognise this even at our age: walking out of an exam, we girls are more likely to think we did badly or missed something out, whilst the boys are more likely to believe that they aced it. Also, research shows that women are likely to underestimate their abilities, whilst men tend to overestimate theirs – but that is what gets them the jobs. Firstly, most men are more likely to apply for a job for which they are inexperienced, but women will decide to bide their time. Secondly, once they have a job, a woman does not like to take credit, instead citing a team effort or external factors, while historically, men (and perhaps rightly so) will stand up and say, ‘Yeah it was all me’. Yet, this behaviour is perceived as more tolerable in a man.
Women also have to juggle the classic beasts: motherhood versus career. Having a baby alone takes 6 months to a year out of a woman’s career. Then, childcare affects how much a woman can work, whereas men are expected to work so don’t have to worry about this: they are traditionally the breadwinner. Moreover, maternity affects a woman’s employability. Employers assess whether someone is likely to have children in the coming years, so are more likely to hire young men than young women. A lot of women also return from maternity leave to find that there is not a job to do. Some would say women are oppressed on the basis of reproduction which may be true, but it is much more complex than this. For most mothers, it is a matter of the heart more than anything; but the most concise way of looking at it is that women are oppressed on the assumption that they cannot be both highly effective in a job and as a mother. How can a career be developed if this is happening? This is why women don’t sit at the table, or get invited to it.
|It’s all about perspective.
Yet, it’s all about perspective. And the male perspective is key. Career women, especially those without children, are viewed by society as heartless. Historically, men (and indeed other women) do not like women who put themselves forward, whereas it’s an admirable trait in a man. A group of researchers took the information of a very successful woman called Heidi and gave it to two groups of people, changing one detail for one group: Heidi became ‘Howard’. And, lo and behold, the groups responded very differently.
Everyone loved ‘Howard’: he was the guy you want to work for, he was successful and he was smart. Heidi, on the other hand, seemed cold and selfish – some even doubted if the work was her own. Women cannot become successful if this is how society sees them. In fact, studies show that when 17% of any group of people is female, men think it is equal. How many top jobs belong to women again? Ah yes, 17%. Furthermore, many men start to feel outnumbered when 30% of the group are female. The numbers are against us: how can women ever be equal if we get capped at 30%?
Why do we need feminism? To educate our generation so that the future is different. The men of tomorrow need to know about the issues facing women and need to understand that they can have a direct impact: we need them (#HeforShe). Thankfully, there is a cross-party parliamentary campaign aiming to get 50% female MPs, which goes by #5050parliamentpetition. This is a sign of progress and gives our cause momentum as we head into an election. After all, a better world for women is a better world for everyone. That’s why we need feminism.
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