Guest Post – A Level student Kim discusses her views on International Women’s Day
I imagine that the way we view International Women’s Day (IWD) now is very different to how women would have reacted when it was first observed in the early 1900s. There has been a great deal of progress since then, especially in terms of women’s rights and pay. This year, the theme for IWD is parity, which means equality of status or position. I know that the experiences of women around the world are too varied for us to make any generic judgements. However, from my point of view as a woman living in the UK in 2016, I would say that women in this country have achieved parity.
For most of my life, I was told that men have never treated women as equals. I was assured that it would be incredibly difficult to succeed in education or to get a ‘top job’. Many people very strongly believe that patriarchy is prominent in all societies. However, I don’t believe this is the case in modern Britain. I know that women’s lives were very different in the last century, but a lot has changed in a hundred years. Women often seem to judge their quality of life based on the past, rather than how they are treated now. A perfect example of this is how people constantly refer to women not having the right to vote. Yes, this was true. I don’t underestimate the sacrifices that were made in order to gain voting rights. I also know that other countries in Europe were much slower on the uptake than the UK. Despite this, women can’t simply use this singular example from the early 1900s as evidence that society is patriarchal.
I class myself as a liberal feminist. I don’t take a half-hearted or woolly approach to women’s rights, but I try to be rational and positive about progress. Honestly, radical feminist views make me feel uncomfortable. There is a thin line between wanting equality for women and supporting the demonization of men. Radical feminists tend to ignore all the positive changes that have been made in society. The government has introduced many pieces of legislation in order to help improve women’s lives. Whenever I think about the pledge for parity, my mind is instantly drawn to the Equal Pay Act. This was definitely a step in the right direction. Women and men who do the same job at the same level must receive equal pay. I admit that it is worrying to think that no one addressed the issue of pay before the 1970s, but the majority of married women had not been encouraged to work until this point. It was seen as a woman’s duty to care for the home and children. This is why there was an accompanying Sex Discrimination Act to change attitudes towards women’s economic role. The fact that in 2016 the government is actually criticising women for choosing children over work shows how effective this legislation has been.
On the other hand, it would be ignorant to assume that women’s lives are completely free from sexism. One issue which I find particularly disturbing is the sexualisation of young girls. Whenever I watch beauty pageants on TV I feel disgusted. I can never understand why parents dress their daughters in wildly inappropriate clothing and plaster their faces with make-up. Children who are only around the age of 10 should never be forced to look attractive. Similar problems occur on children’s TV programmes. Often the girls on screen are obsessing over shopping, drooling over boys or having clothing disasters right before a big night out. They focus on looking ‘hot’ rather than being themselves. There is also a stereotypical ‘dumb girl’ in most shows. If I met someone with the level of intelligence displayed by some of these female characters then I would be seriously concerned. If girls are being influenced by these sexual messages at a young age then it’s understandable why their behaviour is sometimes inappropriate.
International Women’s Day, in my view, brings mixed feelings. In my entire lifetime, I have never been blocked from an opportunity because I’m a woman. Personally, I want to celebrate the day and remember all the progress that has been made towards parity. However, IWD also makes me think of all the women who have not shared my positive experiences. It is important to acknowledge that in developing countries women are much more likely than men to be living in extreme poverty. The law does not provide the same protection of women’s rights that we have in the UK. Also, there are religious institutions which oppress women and persecute those who seek education or employment. My message for everyone is this- don’t sit on the fence and assume that someone else will fix all women’s problems. If you are lucky enough to have a voice, use it, because some women will never gain the opportunity.
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