Despite being just as important as men, there are still economic and social divides which result in gender inequality in the UK.
Modern society is built upon foundations of free will and freedom of speech. Our equality gives our actions and voices equal value and a right to be heard. This is what the democratic world believes in and it is the basis for fair trials, educational opportunities and, in the UK, the functioning of our National Health Service.
Yet, in this equal world there are hundreds of different minority groups being discriminated against because of their race or religion. The most surprising part of this fact is that the largest minority group being discriminated against is barely a minority at all; because this group is called women, and they make up 49.96% of the global population. In the UK we actually have more women than men, making up 50.81% of our national population.
Why then is there such an obvious social divide between the two sexes? Economically we see a substantial gap between men and women. The Equal Pay Portal states that between the ages of 20 to 29, the average woman earns slightly more than the average man but that over the age of 40 (when many expect to be in a stable career with stable pay rises) the gap opens and men are paid substantially more than women. In November 2015, the Office for National Statistics stated in their survey that the median pay for men in April 2015 was £567 per week compared with £471 for women, a gap of just over 20 per cent. Excluding overtime, this £96 gap equates to almost £5000 a year. The pay gap at the top two per cent of earners sits at 54.9 per cent, according to the Trades Union Congress. At no point does either survey say that women in employment work 54.9 per cent less than their male counterparts.
Recently, media attention has been brought to the issues of tax on male and female products. Whilst some members of the public claimed that men’s razors were tax free, these rumours were untrue. However, when the Independent and BBC covered the story of the fight to make women’s sanitary products tax free, they also mentioned some of other items that were not subject to tax. One had to wonder how sanitary products (taxed at a reduced five per cent rather than standard VAT at 20 per cent) were still subject to more tax than Jaffa cakes and cycling helmets. The rumours of a gender tax, accurate or not, evoked an unusual trend in social opinion, with a great outcry of support for women.
There has, for some time, been a patriarchal dominance within humanity. In the mid-19th Century, men often justified the treatment of women as second-class citizens by referring to it as the natural order of things. Men were the hunter-gatherers who presided over childbearing women. Obvious biological differences between the genders have manifested themselves since our ancient ancestors began to form communities – differences in height, muscle mass and hormonal balances, all due to sexual dimorphism. However, in the 21st Century there are no hunter-gathering males. Men and women almost always work side-by-side in the same offices, companies and factories the world over. Yet still the physical advantages granted to men (being, on average, slightly bigger and slightly stronger) by the outdated process of evolution seems to affect modern life.
These biological differences between our genders have boiled over into a social construct that now governs our collective consciousness. There is, for example, a current stigma in schools and on social media that women should be confined to the kitchen. The “go make me a sandwich” joke was revived in 2013 through memes all over the internet.
Many feminist authors seek to raise the subject of this social inequality through their writing. Angela Carter, author of The Bloody Chamber collection and arguably the most prolific feminist author of the 20th Century, was often criticised for portraying her female protagonists as weak, being dominated by their – often evil – male counterparts. Ms Carter, on the other hand, was of a mind that if women wanted to raise their profile for equal influence in society, they must use their perceived weaknesses to make their strength a startling revelation. Sheryl Sandberg, CEO of Facebook and author of Lean In wrote that women can be perceived as weak and need to “lean in” at the negotiation table, establishing their right to be treated equally.
The feminist movement, of which Ms Carter and I myself would claim to be a part, has many different aims and goals, ranging from altering the everyday sexism of TV and theatre through the Bechdel test, to raising awareness of our use of culturally constructed linguistics. Have you ever noticed that phrases such as “Life’s a b*tch”, “the fairer sex” and “stop being a girl” all contribute, on a very small scale, to the issue of our tilted collective consciousness, the issue that devalues the feminine and suppresses its voice and power? It is subtle issues such as these that contribute to issues of perception. She says she doesn’t think all men are too self-confident or domineering, instead saying that “women aren’t self-confident enough.”
Many of us never notice the struggle for equality, imagining that the word “feminism” is really just a pseudonym for “feminine supremacy” and that the “glass ceiling” has long been a figment of history, destroyed when Emily Davison died at the feet of George V’s horse.
The battle for social equality is not yet over for the feminist movement. It is not a solved problem which we can now ignore. If issues such as economic bias, social discrimination, and sexual assault (don’t forget the events of Cologne) are to be solved, if the misogynistic societies of the Middle East are to have no detrimental effect on Europe and the West as we gradually build relationships with them, we need to fix our social constructs of gender and come to terms with the fact that the days of the dominant male are gone. We are a dominant species together, but apparently half of us are “fairer” than the other.