The fight for gender equality transcends time, cultures, and continents. In many parts of the underdeveloped world, women still fight for basic rights such as access to health care & education. While women of the developed world may enjoy more privileges than others, they are still struggling to be equally represented in every echelon of society, further reinforcing a need for global change.
In 1792, early feminist writer Mary Wollstonecraft proposed in her book “A Vindication of the Rights of Woman: with Strictures on Political and Moral Subjects” that change begins with education and challenging the idea that a woman’s place is not only at home, but outside as a contributing member of society. While Wollstonecraft was certainly not the first feminist to propose education for women as the paradigm shift, her work allowed women to acknowledge their potential, think beyond domestic life, and explore new roles in society. The change in mentality afforded women more opportunities and has paved the way for modern feminism.
We have made great strides since Wollstonecraft’s time, however women continue to be met with resistance in the fight for equality. Politics has the biggest impact on the evolution of women’s rights and until recently, women were excluded from the discussion altogether and prohibited to vote, undermining the democratic process. While that has since changed, women are still vastly underrepresented in politics, especially in key legislative roles. This means that many women’s issues are debated & decided largely by men. One example of the way in which politics exert a patriarchal force on women is through legislation that challenges reproductive rights and access to birth control. What women are legally allowed to do or not do with their bodies has been a conversation that women have been left out of. So how does this materialize at the most basic level? When male politicians dictate what women can do with their bodies on a national scale, it further reinforces policing of female bodies on a community level, for example stricter dress codes on girls in schools.
Policy influences economics, which then affects the lives of women daily. An example of the confluence of politics & economics working against women is the wage disparity of 16%-20% difference in pay. The U.S. also trails behind many other developed countries in benefits for women in the workforce such as paid maternity leave. Women get paid less than men in many fields, but also pay disproportionately more for household items, especially for personal hygiene products, creating another conversation about the financial burden of what it means to be a woman today.
The patriarchal force of politics & economics has a trickle-down effect into society, even in the subtlest ways. If women are intentionally left out of political discussions, or paid unequally, or if their bodies and agency are perceived as only as an issue up for debate by men, they cannot function as equally contributing members of society. Denying the agency of women has far-reaching consequences across all realms of life and by denying agency, you also deny yourself the opportunity to tap into the potential of some of the brightest minds of society. Until we as a society work to reduce the disparity, there will continue to be a need for more women’s days and marches. We can and should do better.