What’s the worst thing you can possibly call a woman? Words that come to my mind include slut, whore, bitch, slag. Now think about the worst things you can call a guy; names like fag, girl, bitch, pussy or cunt. Do you notice anything? The worst thing you can call a girl is a girl. The worst thing you can call a guy is a girl. Being a woman is the ultimate insult. By its very nature, this discrepancy in language illustrates gender inequality.
If you think about it, there are so many of these instances, both linguistic and social, where women come out worse than men. Here are a couple of examples to get you thinking:
- A guy who sleeps around is affectionately titled a legend, a hero, a player. However, a girl who has multiple sexual partners is known as a slut or a skanky ho.
- When a guy turns up at a girl’s doorstop unexpectedly, he’s romantic. However, if a girl does anything too unexpected, she’s a stalker, crazy or desperate.
- When a man is upset, he has a right to be, he’s angry. But if a girl has a bad day, she’s just hormonal, irrational or PMS’ing.
So often women are treated unequally purely by virtue of their birth. The first question asked after a baby is born is whether it is a boy or a girl. The answer remains of crucial importance throughout the child’s later life with gender differences determining so much of their human identity and social relationships. Politically motivated assumptions about what women should and will be create a social hierarchy where women’s biology is more often a handicap rather than an asset. But the inequalities that women face in contemporary society are not limited to language used to describe them, or assumptions about their personality traits. Women are also profoundly unequal in tangible and unmistakable ways that affect every aspect of their daily life. Such inequalities revolve around two central categories. The first is in positions or situations where men are highly represented often in instances where power, prestige and financially lucrative positions are many. The second category is where women are highly represented but often in situations that include low paid work, lack of power and sexual or domestic violence. Each component contributes to a gender inequality that has permeated the society we live in. However, where in one category women are excluded and need greater representation. In the other, men are not excluded and their lack of representation is one resulting out of privilege, rather than discrimination. Women still remain the people who are over represented in domestic violence shelters but under-represented in the board room.
We can only say inequality is a thing of the past when equality exists in the present. Even if you refuse to believe that sexism, misogyny or gender discrimination still exist, I challenge you to argue that women comprising only 13% of politicians in the Dail is equal. Like, really, if I were to give you 13euro and your friend 87 euro, would that be equal? If you say yes, I seriously don’t know how you passed the Leaving Cert. The best way I can communicate to you the seriousness of the inequality between men and women in Ireland is by reading statistics, as maths always makes things that little bit more real. With regard to the first category, it is plain to see that men are in the overwhelming majority across all positions of power in Ireland. As I mentioned before, women now make up 13% of the Dail, 17% of council seats and 12% of regional positions. . Only 30% of managerial positions in Ireland are taken by women and Ireland has never nominated a woman to represent them at the European Commission. Finally, women in Ireland earn 17% less than men for the exact same work. This means that for all the young women in this audience, in the next couple of years when you’re looking for a job, you are almost guaranteed that the men here, with exactly the same qualifications, will automatically receive more money than you, purely because they’re male. Whatever the reasons the opposition may use to justify these statistics, the reality is that women continue to be treated unequally to men in Ireland.
Looking at the second component I mentioned earlier, women are over represented in situations that involve violence. One in five Irish women report being sexually assaulted as adults, this is over double the amount than men. Meanwhile 1 in 7 women in Ireland experience severe domestic violence, are twice as likely to experience severe physical abuse and seven times more likely than men to experience sexual abuse. That means that in this room, it is almost guaranteed that some of the women here have experienced either sexual or physical violence. This is beyond the realm of debate and is such a horrific discrepancy that discussion over whether inequality exists in Ireland becomes immediately redundant.
I need to make the point however that this last collection of statistics is not an instance I wish men to be equal to women. It would be no more acceptable that men be subjected to such appalling lack of respect for their bodies as it is for women. Just as in the first instance women need to be equal to men in order to have any influence over the trajectory of their political and economic existence, women should also be equal to men by having less to fear when going out alone. Women should be able to say no and it mean no and have the power, both financially and socially, to leave abusive relationships.
Statistics mentioned here are also not unique to Ireland. A valid and critical component of this debate is gender inequality that exists in developing countries. Instances like female infanticide in China and India, sexual subjugation in Morocco and access to education for women in Afghanistan are but a few examples. Women’s right to travel is highly restricted in Egypt, Bahrain and Syria and in Saudi Arabia, women are not even allowed to drive. Women are unequal to men across the world, so whether or not you choose to acknowledge the gender inequality in Ireland, take the word of thousands of researchers that it definitely exists elsewhere.
Finally, gender inequality is not limited to women. The inequality that exists between men and women in Ireland affects men almost as much as it does women. Men’s role as the dominant and forceful influence on society encourages environments in which men do not have the ability to choose their own identity. Instead they are forced into macho, aggressive stereotypes that constrain their own freedom of expression. The pressure to be the main breadwinner leaves men with an inability to play the primary caregiver role with regard to parenting. Furthermore, men are encouraged to be sexually single-minded and are often displayed as having no control over their hormones. I don’t know about you, but I like to think men are more than sex-crazed, aggressive and emotionally crippled.
Gender inequality is not a thing of the past. The concept is actually impossible to argue, as in order to do so you must deny reality. For, whatever the reasons you may use to justify the inequalities that exist for women, the discrepancy in figures still exists. To end I would like to paraphrase a quote from Mary Wollstonecraft, one of the earliest critics of gender inequality, who said “I do not wish [women] to have power over men, but [rather, I wish women to have power] over themselves.”