Why women aren't taken seriously

Whatever the cause, women have, through the centuries, been regarded as secondary to the superior dominant male



Image used for illustrative purpose.
Image used for illustrative purpose.
by

Rasha Abu Baker

Published: Wed 9 Mar 2022, 11:02 PM

Last updated: Wed 9 Mar 2022, 11:09 PM

You are not to blame if you struggle to take women as seriously as you do men, whether you are a man, a woman or even a child. You are not alone, many people do it, mostly subconsciously, but it happens and that’s unfortunate. I can’t speak for the whole world, but I believe this is a prevalent phenomenon across the globe, amongst even the most developed of nations.

Historically, this attitude has been put down to many perceptions, all of which were wrong then, and still are: we would call it women’s disposition, their passive demeanour, delicate faces, soft voices or their smaller build. Or, could it be the estrogen? Maybe it’s the fact that women are more prone to tears, tend to be viewed as ‘emotional’ and weak. Whatever the cause, women have, through the centuries, been regarded as secondary to the superior dominant male, who boast desirable characteristics such as being taller, stronger, supported by a powerful presence, along with deep voices that command attention. How can women compete with all these natural powers that men possess?

Since their early years, most children around the world are brought up with these gender norms, preconditioned to look to mum for ‘affection, warmth and safety’, but it is dad who handles the ‘big stuff’ — complicated stuff like making money, solving issues and making things happen. Even today, working women are seen as performing a secondary role, as that primary role of bread winner is still the purview of man. After all, he brings home the meat, while ideally, a female will cook it, just like the days of the hunter gatherers. If, for whatever reason, a man decides to cook or change a diaper, he is considered to have taken up an unexpected task and is hailed as being an “amazing husband”, “incredible”, and their female partners are constantly reminded of their good fortune. The same thing happens when a working woman takes time off to look after the children because that is expected of her, but when a man does it, he’s being an angel…I am aware that some cultures and individuals around the world have thankfully moved on from such limited and absurd attitudes, but I still feel the need to bring it up — because they still exist in our society.

Don’t get me wrong, women are also the recipients of commendation, often praised for their courage in delving into traditionally male-oriented domains and exuberantly celebrated if they manage to do ‘manly’ things like run a successful business, ride a motorbike, or change a tyre. Gender roles are still being reinforced through schoolbooks, tv adverts and yes, adults, all around us. To understand why these attitudes are still rife within our society and how to promote change, we must question ourselves, and then try to do our part in our commitment to achieving gender parity. This means building a world where women are accepted for who they are, where females are regarded as different but not less than, and where men are allowed to express their emotions more freely and without judgement.

This is a timely issue because today, women have already proved the fiction surrounding gender-based bias and have passed well beyond a lot of the ridiculous beliefs harboured by many. Unfortunately, some people have been conditioned not to treat women as equals. The attitudes based on a patriarchal system and laws encourage this even further.

The statistics are frankly appalling. Globally, on average, 30 per cent of all women who have been in a relationship have experienced physical or sexual violence, yet some countries do not consider spousal rape illegal. In others, we hear of children and baby girls being sold or married off, usually to a much older man. I realise that this is an extremely complex issue, and that many mitigating circumstances exist, but surely we are way beyond the time when these matters could be discussed with hope for reform.

Despite there being ample evidence to show how central girls’ education is to development, gender disparities in education persist. UNESCO tells us that around the world, 129 million girls do not attend school; 32 million of primary school age, 30 million of lower-secondary school age and 67 million of upper-secondary school age. In countries affected by conflict, girls are more than twice as likely to be out of school than girls living in non-affected countries.

The reasons, of course, are many. Barriers to girls’ education – like poverty, child marriage and gender-based violence – vary among countries and communities. Poor families often favour boys when investing in education. Poverty or lack of education often drive women into situations of financial control and desperation.

And let’s not forget the gender pay gap. According to Amnesty, women around the world, in 2022, earn roughly 77 per cent of the salaries that men earn for doing the same work.

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It is still a long road to reverse centuries of learned behaviour, oppression and subjugation of women but it is beginning to look very promising. The World Bank claims to have documented more than 1,500 reforms enhancing women’s economic empowerment that were passed in every country during the past 50 years and I’m delighted to be able to include the UAE in a list of nations that has instigated considerable reforms. But more work is needed to reach what might be termed legal gender equality at a truly global level.

People are much more aware of the issues now, mainly due to the availability of information via the internet, but even as I write those words I realise that the internet is also a contributor to the problem. Misogyny is rife in certain darker corners of the web, toxic masculinity is rampant, and while TikTok videos of cute cats and dogs are lovely, there are others, in many cases uploaded by women, that blatantly undermine womanhood; which is a shame because I had hoped that by now, the concept of women supporting women would have become the norm.

So regrettably, in some quarters young men are still being conditioned in the idea of male dominance and women have been led to believe negative things about themselves and society hasn’t banished this element of control – and therefore the abuse continues and the children of the abused become victims, or even perpetrators, as well.

What can we do to speed up reforms?

Reform by itself is not enough. Changing laws doesn’t always cascade down to positive action – we also need a change in attitudes and perceptions, of both women and men. I made a short list: support feminism, break barriers, listen, put yourselves in women’s shoes, respect, accept women for who they are, put a stop to male chauvinism (even “seemingly harmless” sexist locker-room banter), and lead by example.

Yes, on average, women express themselves more freely than men. Not necessarily because they biologically need to, but because they are allowed to. Unfortunately, men for the most part, society in general and even females to some degree, have been conditioned to believe that showing emotion is a sign of weakness. But every single form of emotional expression — crying, sadness, laughter, anger etc. is natural — we were all born with these traits. It’s just sad that in this day and age, males are still encouraged from a young age to ‘be a man’ and women are called weak for expressing emotions like sadness or distress…but interestingly, when men express themselves equally in emotional behaviou with perhaps anger or violence, they are considered passionate.

I don’t have a son but I always said if I ever had one I’d allow him, no, encourage him, to freely express himself at any time without any shame. It’s ok to cry — even at Disney movies (‘Encanto’ got me in floods of tears).

And like a Disney movie, there is a moral to this story: even if you are not emotional — man or woman — the stigma surrounding emotional expression must be broken down. People should be able to cry without others’ judgement. Choking up while telling a story is not weakness, it’s courage! That means that a person cares, that a person is humane, and that a person is not a sociopath. And when we all care, when we show our humanity as a species and not relate it to gender, then we can rest a bit easier, knowing that at last, women are being taken more seriously.

rasha@khaleejtimes.com


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