As we welcome 2019 and set resolutions to become “better” versions of ourselves, we are already forced to acknowledge that the turmoil of 2018 is not yet fully behind us: the political state of the country remains unfathomable, our fight to save a crumbling ecosystem rages on, and society continues to mourn the loss of those simpler days in which a single cleverly constructed hashtag was unable to bring a powerful company to its knees…
One hot topic we can expect to hear about throughout the year is that of gender equality. Having gained traction over the previous decades, its momentum is arguably higher now than ever before and everyone is in on the discussion. Every so often a story will emerge bringing gender equality to the forefront: 2012 saw BIC release a pen specifically “for her”, because a woman remains incapable of writing with those other manly ballpoints, primarily because they’re not pink. This was a catastrophic misstep by BIC’s marketing team and was rightfully ridiculed by the majority of the population. Then there are the stories more worthy of your attention, such as figures released regarding pay gaps and lack of equal opportunities between men and women.
Meanwhile in everyday life, the phrase “… like a girl” is used to describe an action performed in a sub-standard way, while “man up” encourages men and women alike to stop being so emotional, because "male" equates to "tough". Widely used turns of phrase are so ingrained into our vocabularies that their potential repercussions are often overlooked. No one is getting a fair deal; being emasculated is considered an incredible insult for a man, but the perception that a man must be strong or unemotional is unfair for men, just as the concept that a more effeminate male is inferior is offensive toward females. These phrases and stereotypes are outdated, and people recognise this, but are some issues becoming sensationalised? It is so easy to spread so-called-news and create ripples within society, particularly regarding topics almost everyone has an opinion on. Gender equality is important, and people should feel strongly about it, but are we making it too easy to point fingers and place blame over non-issues, and in doing so, are the core issues that deserve our attention becoming lost?
The end of 2018 saw Kleenex agreeing to rename its "Man-Sized" tissues due to complaints about sexism – were we one complaint away from delicate, petite, pink tissues being packaged into a box labelled “Female-Friendly Tissues”? Jeremy Corbyn was recently criticised for referring to Theresa May as a “stupid woman”; interestingly, the defence was that he was referring to party members as “stupid people”, as though that is less offensive. This insinuates that the real insult was in the use of the word “woman”, as collectively describing fellow politicians as “stupid” would have been acceptable. Then December 2018 saw the gender debate adopt a new focus, as many took to social media to discuss the merits of a gender-neutral Santa. For every person labelling the debate as ridiculous, there was another referring to Father Christmas as an oppressive personification of Christmas. Calls to embrace a gender-neutral Santa ignited the gender equality conversation once more, with sexism becoming a hot-topic throughout the festivities.
The truth is that gender battles are everywhere. Globally, there are many problems to address, including wage-gaps, violence against women and stereotypical representations of gender. We live in a world in which every CV belonging to a Tom, Dick or Harry is far more likely to be placed on the top of the pile than an identical one belonging to a Melissa. In our primary schools, girls are consistently performing better than boys within literacy classes, whilst huge gender imbalances exist within STEM subjects in higher education. Men are often given a worse deal when it comes to parental leave in comparison to maternity leave, but then there’s the tampon tax. The list of examples is seemingly limitless, but not entirely biased in favour of one single gender. Since so many imbalances exist, it is naive to think that the solution lies in fighting every alleged bias with the same level of vigour. Society should endeavour to see people simply as people, but where inherent differences undeniably exist, or no malice was intended, it might be best to replace the media onslaught with a quiet word of advice to the guilty party in order to avoid repeat offences? Not all acts of sexism are created equal.
Yes, gender clashes are everywhere, but do we therefore need to start picking our battles? If we don’t become more selective, how will we ever retain enough energy to win the war? The boy that cried “wolf” ended up putting his life on the line because no one believed he was truly in danger… I wonder whether we are becoming the society that cried “sexist”, and fear the word might therefore lose its meaning. We will end up victimising those that misspoke, while truly significant gender issues become overshadowed as a result. It is important to walk the line between complacency and hypersensitivity; if we move too far in either direction, we risk losing focus on the battles that truly deserve to be fought. Everyone loves having someone to blame, but is your energy not better directed toward fighting for equality in schools, workplaces and courtrooms rather than debating whether the world would be a fairer place if the Easter bunny had a uterus and the tooth fairy a penis?
But what would I know? I simply write like a girl.