A guest post from Margaret Cain who takes a personal look at how the role of women has changed in her lifetime and cautions that there is no room for complacency.
The not-so-swinging sixties
As a teenager temping in offices in the late sixties, I encountered many intelligent, skilled women who, having reached a supervisory position, were then quite legally forced to return to the ranks when they got married, receiving a ‘dowry’ as compensation. As experienced trained secretaries, they were paid much less unskilled clerks, and pigeon-holed into boring, repetitive work with few prospects.
As a result of the Equal Pay and Sex Discrimination Acts in the seventies, women’s choices began to improve immeasurably. Today, helped by better maternity rights and childcare subsidies, women are breaking through the glass ceiling and retaining their positions in the workplace. One think-tank reports that in nearly a third of couples with children, the mother is a breadwinner.
I’m immensely proud of my daughter, who at 26 is passionate about building a successful multilingual online marketing and social media business. For her, having a career is not a stop-gap.
So isn’t the battle for equality over, at least in Western countries? Hasn’t International Women’s Day has become a bit irrelevant, a hang-over from less liberated times?
Well, yes…and no. You see, it concerns me that we may be taking our hard-won rights for granted.
Are we taking our eyes off the ball?
Here are some examples of what I mean. Some are merely trivial annoyances. Others are more worrying trends.
- The stereotyping begins at birth – probably even earlier with modern antenatal screening. It’s almost impossible to buy a birth congratulations card that doesn’t praise baby girls for being sweet and boys for being active. “Just like a boy” still excuses many an act of young thuggery.
- When my own children were small, the Early learning Centre had a ‘no guns, no Barbies’ policy. Today the Lego ‘Friends’ range features doe-eyed, skimpily dressed female characters.
- Girls are sexualised at an early age. The media sends out the message that the most important quality is to be sexy and/or pretty, not clever, active, ambitious or hard-working. Being a pole-dancer has become an empowering career choice.
- Being ‘well groomed’ used to require a good hair cut and a neat hemline. Now it’s hair extensions, gel nails and a perma tan. In the UK women account for over 90% of all cosmetic procedures; there were 50,122 such procedures last year, a rise of 17%. You can probably guess which was the most popular. The mainstreaming of porn gives adolescent girls an abhorrence of their own body hair.
- Women suffer from the ‘Cinderella complex’ and Kate Middleton is considered a good role model. Sit around for ten years, and your prince, too, may come along. Brides invest more time, energy and money in a single day than they do in their whole careers. And, yes, I am genuinely mystified why anyone in the 21st century would want to change her surname.
- Women still choose to take on the emotional ‘housework’, buying the Christmas presents, sending birthday cards etc for ‘his’ family, as well as the actual housework.
- Many women still hang back, waiting for recognition and promotion at work. (It’s not nice to ask.) They don’t apply for jobs unless they tick all the boxes on the employer’s wish-list.
- A Chartered Management Institute report recently revealed that a senior female manager will typically earn £425,000 less during her career than her male counterpart. That’s a whole house!
- The UK still has one of the EU’s highest number of births for girls aged 15-17. If nothing else, this shows a paucity of ambition.
- Not a single girl in our local sixth form is studying Physics.
- These days, I take my own reading matter to the hairdresser’s. The women’s magazines are so toxic: “Celebrity gains/loses a few pounds. Is she out of control/anorexic?” Whatever happened to sisterhood?
- The charity FORWARD estimates that as many as 6,500 girls are at risk of female genital mutilation within the UK every year.
- Nearly 1 million women in the UK experience at least one incident of domestic abuse each year (British Crime Survey), while two women are killed each week by their partner or ex-partner.
- The Everyday Sexism Project (everydaysexism.com) catalogues instances of sexism experienced by women on a day to day basis. Curiously, it’s never short of material to publish.
- Women such as Caroline Criado-Perez, who stick their heads above the parapet, receive rape and death threats.
If you’ve always had rights, it’s easy to take them from granted, but the rights we enjoy today were won by women prepared to take on employers, the State and society well within living memory.
This is why I believe we still need International Women’s Day. Let’s celebrate success but let’s also remember that our rights can be taken away from us far more readily than they were ever won.
“Many from a younger generation feel that all the battles have been won for women, while many feminists from the 1970s know only too well the longevity and ingrained complexity of patriarchy.” http://www.internationalwomensday.com
About the author: Margaret Cain is the driving force behind M squared Corporate Communications, a marketing consultancy that helps clients to get their message across with professional copywriting that’s backed by years of marketing experience. Margaret enjoys working with clients to uncover what makes their business special.