I have been asking this question a lot since the release of my novel Women's Work, and it has been really interesting to hear people's opinions. Now, to clarify, I don't have any degrees in women's studies, and I have never thought of myself as a ultra feminist -- I'm just a regular woman who has lived in the U.S. her whole life. But, I've had many varied experiences with both men and women who have thought they knew more about my role as a female than I do.
I've created a few posts within Goodreads groups asking, "What if women ruled the world?" It's been fascinating to see that more men comment on those posts than women do. And their first comment seems to be, "I thought they already did." With a big smiley face next to it. Hmm. Once a few comments start showing up, however, their initial attempt at being light-hearted fades, and people begin to have some interesting and revealing discussions.
This is only a small sampling of what men think about modern gender roles, but it sounds as if they think women and men both have an equal shot at success. They site Margaret Thatcher and Condi Rice, Oprah and Gloria Macapal Arroyo. They say women can be in the military, but they aren't in the draft, so that's not really fair. They also often reveal that they wish men got to do more of the nurturing and family tasks than most American men usually do. One point that was made is that women have been striving to be equal to men in the workplace, but that might not be what we should be striving for -- they ask, why would women want to work 50-60 hours each week and never get to enjoy life? Why would women want all the stress of being the sole bread-winner in a family? Why would women want the pressure of being the boss?
I would be very interested to hear an honest and open conversation about these ideas. I think there are a lot of women in the U.S. who definitely do not think we have all the same chances as men, who do not think we have made it to some magical place of equality. The statistics alone might indicate otherwise -- Right now, a very great time to be a woman in many parts of the world, 20 out of 100 US Senators are women; 78 out of 435 members of the US House are women; 19 out of 207 world leaders (presidents, prime ministers, royals) are women. And those are all time highs. The Ledbetter Fair Pay Act was just passed. And the Forbes 400 richest people in America? 48 are women.
Perhaps men have had the upper hand for thousands of years because they have usually been physically bigger and stronger. Perhaps the survival of the species depended on a woman with a baby in her womb having less chance at getting gored by a wild beast, and therefore she stayed closer to the cave. But we need not go so far back in time to see a deep divide between men and women in many many parts of this world. All it takes in one look at today's news to remember that girls and women are being horribly mistreated by men. It is so easy to find examples of girls and women being treated like cattle, or like less than cattle, that I need not detail them here. And even in the U.S. where women can go to school, learn to drive, are not sold to an old man when they are 10 years old, and can even occupy positions of power in government and industry, I would venture that most women still get a tingle up the back of their neck when they have to walk past a strange man on the street at night.
When I asked in a discussion group, "What do you love or hate most about being a woman?" several women said they hate that the media bombards them with the idea that they can be raped or killed by a man at any time. Is it that the media feeds on our fear? Or that the stories are so easy to find that they are constant fodder for the news? One woman in the group posted a quote that said, "A man fears that a woman will laugh at him. A woman fears that a man will kill her."
Today in the U.S. we have so many rights and freedoms. We are blessed to be relatively safe from the systematic rape and murder that other women and girls face every day in the world. I feel pretty safe in my neighborhood and know there are many men around me who would never hurt me and, more importantly would stand up and defend me if necessary. But even in this country I still hear things like, "you throw like a girl; don't be a pussy; stop crying like a girl; strap on a pair; man up; she must be on the rag; she's a slut; he's a stud." There is no doubt in my mind that we are not yet on equal footing, and that we need to continue this conversation for the betterment of our daughters and granddaughters -- and for our sons and grandsons.