If smashing patriarchy was easy, it would have happened by now.
That was my opening gambit to my nieces this week. You see, they were discussing women in parliament at school, and one of them had a conversation which involved a teacher interjecting with “that will be a woman first minister, who says woman can’t be whatever they want!”
My niece smiled and was pleased that her teacher was acknowledging the abilities of women to be as accomplished as men. She was confused at my face however, when she told me of this. There’s was nothing but cynicism and exhaustion across it. Think Professor McGonagall meets Toby from the West Wing ( that’s about as topical as my popular culture references get).
I explained to my wonderful nieces, who I have to say are some of the most articulate and inquisitive young women I know (pretty sure I’m at least 10% of the reason for this…), that this wasn’t because I am used to having to fight nor was it because the glass is half full for me. It’s because we see the surface and assume there is nothing more.
Nicola Sturgeon, regardless of your political affiliation, becoming FM is a good thing, and yes it has got to do with her being a visible, powerful woman in public life. But using that as an argument for women being equal is fundamentally flawed.
As a feminist campaigner, I am told time and time again that my work isn’t needed, it’s 2014 woman can;
– earn a living
– have any job they want
– own property
– run their own lives and bodies
…to name a few, so what’s there to moan about, women have got it now.
Why then is it that women, earn on average 17% less than men for the same job, despite making up the majority of the workforce?
Why is that women can have any job they want, provided it’s not a CEO position or in science, engineering or tech?
Why is it that 1 in 4 women will be subject to violence and women across the world are unable to access safe abortion?
Why is it then, that despite being able to vote and run for elections for 7 decades, make up 34% of the parliament and 25% of councils?
It’s called institutionalised inequality; where despite there being rights, attitudes and action do not meet the needs of these rights and maintain a system where equality remains on the surface rather than at the core of our society.
It’s there on paper but not in reality.
Much like Harry Potter and WestWing characters, although it took considerably longer for me to realise this than it did understanding inequality. Don’t worry, I’m seeking help.
We have three women leading major political parties in Scotland- credit to them, because they do this while facing these institutionalised attitudes- such as a media more concerned with how shrill their voices are, what they are wearing, if and when they will breed and what a cat fight between them would look like.
Take the equal pay act. Women should be paid the same as men. Done. Or not…over 40 years of it being on paper and not being a reality. Just one example of how equality sometimes only reaches the surface.
It’s for this reason that campaigns like women 5050 are so necessary. We need to see women in charge and we need to put mechanisms is place to make that happen.
And yet still, despite all of this evidence I hear
“but women should be there on merit not gender”
So are we to think women don’t have the merit- that’s the only reason they aren’t there? That’s pretty damn insulting.
“Equality is happening, you shouldn’t have superficial mechanisms”
Equality doesn’t just happen. It has never just happened. It happened because people who were under represented or oppressed fought to be noticed by those who had privilege as a standard. Why can’t women fight for it. If we wait for it to “just happen” it won’t be in my lifetime and perhaps not even in the lifetime of my nieces. What’s the big problem with pushing equality ahead? Who loses out?, from where I see, it’s only those who have perhaps had too much for too long.
Back to the story, the perfect response by my niece’s teacher would have been;
“that will be a woman first minister, who says woman can’t be whatever they want! Well except for patriarchy, that gets in the way…let’s base today’s class on how we can smash it…”
One day. (But not by sitting and waiting)