International Women’s Day has been acknowledged since the early 1900’s, an era that saw the birth of new radical ideologies through struggle. In fact, women today would not have the same rights if it had not been for the struggles that women in the late 19th century and early 20th fought against. Thanks to the persistence of these women, British women over the age of eighteen get to vote. These women are known in history as the ‘suffragettes’.
The first suffrage movement was presented before parliament in 1870 but was unsuccessful but from 1897 women and organisations came together and persisted to persuade parliament with petitions and meetings. The two main organisations were the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies (NUWSS) AND the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU). The latter group took a more forthright approach when it came to campaigning and was notoriously known to be more aggressive and disruptive.
So why did women worry themselves with voting? Well, in those days only wealthy males had the right to vote, leaving women with very little rights in society. This is how civil inequality was born. Many women felt like the laws at the time did not protect them and portrayed women as being inferior to males. The only way to stop this was for women to get the vote and participate in parliamentary decisions. By 1928, the right to vote was given to all women aged over 30.
With International Women’s Year being declared in 1975 by the UN, many organisations and charities have since held events on a yearly basis to commemorate the progress and achievements of women. So has modern day society finally established satisfactory and widespread equality between men and women? We reflected on this at the office and asked some of our students to reflect before having a big discussion in one of our classes. It was interesting to see that many people shared the opinion that women and men now exercised more or less the same rights and that when it came to this there was practically no inequality between men and women.
However, when it came to discussing men and women in the workplace, it was agreed that women are still highly disadvantaged compared to men. A Guardian article published last August revealed that a shocking 40% of 500 managers avoided giving young women a job because ‘the cost of maternity leave is too high’ and apparently they believe that women are not ‘as good at their job after.’ As rightly highlighted by Employment relations minister, any kind of discrimination, be it pregnancy or gender is illegal as well as immoral. In fact, we’d like to add that employers shouldn’t even generalise because women are allowed to make their own decisions, and that decision could just be prioritising a career over having a family. Employers shouldn’t absent-mindedly make a woman miss out on a career opportunity based on the assumption that she could ONE DAY have a baby – that is her personal decision and it shouldn’t affect her professionally. Our marketing strategist Bea Garcia pointed out that working environments have never really been prepared to combine their employee’s personal and professional lives but believes that employers need to start providing this kind of support and understanding, and ‘a good way would be to allow recent mothers to do some work from home’.
Perhaps it is due to missed opportunities or the ‘lack of support’ from employers that women are deciding not to go to work but to start-up their own business. In the West, more and more women are taking control into their own hands by becoming their own boss. According to statistics published last year, the number of female entrepreneurs in the UK has increased by 10% in the last two years compared to only a 3.3% increase of male entrepreneurs. WCE director Noelia Rodriguez believes women make fantastic teams because of their family-orientated nature, “women were made to look after others”. This mutual understanding that women have makes it easier to talk to one another, which in turn, makes a business a lot more productive.
However, what a lot of people forgot to contemplate was the fact that inequality between men and women is very much still an issue when it comes to the presentation of women and men in the media. Of course, this is having a psychological impact on both men and women, which very much influences modern behaviour. Sex has always sold and it will continue to sell but when you compare images of Marilyn Monroe in the 50s compared to pictures circulating around today then the change will shock you. If you look at the examples to the side, you can see that Monroe wasn’t really covered up (something that she often didn’t like to do, as she was very comfortable with her body) but she almost looks cute and innocently playful, which were attractive characteristics back in those days.
However, if you look at the recent Kim Kardashian cover that drove the internet wild, you will see a complete change… Kim Kardashian is completely nude and she is holding a dress beneath her famous derriere as if she has just pulled this off and seems to be teasing the viewer. This image is overly sexualised and this summarises how media treat women nowadays. Women are over sexualised and this influences many men to think that it is acceptable to look at women as sexual objects.
Women used in advertising are all prepped and primed to suit the male gaze. It is no longer about women being themselves and having fun but it’s mostly about what men like to see. I saw a presentation delivered by scholar that analysed adverts where women are used to sexualise and ultimately sell a product and then compared these to the same advert but with men acting as the over-sexualised object. The images were awkward and unnecessary… then why is this so acceptable if it’s women acting this way? Surely it should be seen as something unnecessary.
This is not only influencing how men perceive women but also affecting how women perceive themselves. These adverts are sending out the message of how women should act and look like. Did you know that women are more likely to suffer from eating disorders than men? Only around 5 – 15% of men suffer from eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia. Is this because there isn’t as much pressure on men from the media to be or look a certain way? Probably. Noelia Rodriguez said ‘Some women set us back when it comes to achieving equality with men’, and when taking into account the psychological impact that these adverts have on women that statement is not far from the truth. It is not only affecting the way women feel about themselves but it is also having an effect on how they allow men to treat them. And more frequently, women are allowing men to see them as sexual objects rather than another human being that should be respected and treated with dignity. These adverts play on women’s insecurities.
2014 was known as the feminism year. When people think about ‘feminists’ they think of them as women who hate men, but this is not the case! As Emma Watson stated in her speech for the famous #heforshe campaign, feminism is synonymous to: “The belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities. It is the theory of the political, economic and social equality of the sexes.” Should a woman be made to feel insecure in her own skin? When asked what qualities an inspirational woman should have, people came up with the following: self-confidence, strength determination, intelligence and be hardworking and most people picked their mum’s as their inspiration as they embodied all of the qualities a strong woman ‘should’ have.
An inspirational woman isn’t one who bears all for men to goggle at on magazines but it’s someone who doesn’t need to do that to show that she is someone. Someone like Michelle Obama, who doesn’t live in the shadow of her powerful husband, she’s strong and she does her own thing – an individual, a strong woman, and example to all of us. And that’s exactly what women should feel like they can be: someone that can break away from the flock and herself in a society that asks them to be a certain way. You are your boss. Inequality is everyone’s problem so #heforshe let’s make equality happen! #makeithappen