Girls and boys are told that everything is equal, that the gender equality war has already been won. Heck, even I was told that, and I was born in 1990. And yes, feminism has come a long way from the time when women weren’t allowed to vote. But the war is far from over. And telling kids that the current status quo is equal is, actually, ensuring that it will never be. For things to change, they first have to be recognized.
A couple of examples:
– My 5th form Biology teacher told us a story once. She told us how, when she was our age, her only career options were nurse, flight attendant, or teacher. The moral of the story was that we were lucky to get to be anything we wanted. But it’s not that simple. Obviously in 2005, when I was in 5th form, society was much more equal than in the 70s, when she was in 5th form. But improvement doesn’t necessarily mean success. She didn’t acknowledge systemic bias, male-dominated industries, cultural norms, or the gender pay gap. She made it sound like we were all on an even playing field, when that simply wasn’t the case (though I’m sure she believed it). What she said only hindered our progress to a truly equal society, because she taught many people that day that such a society already existed.
– A colleague of mine, just a couple of years older than me, had a young daughter. She was all for equality, as most women of my generation are. But one day she came to work and told me how, on the way to kindergarten that morning, her daughter was dancing in the car to the rock that her husband had left on. She told me that she changed the music to pop, and told her daughter “dance to this music instead, this is girl’s music”. How can she, on one hand, want an equal society with equal opportunities for her daughter, and, on the other, limit her daughter’s taste in music based on her gender alone? I heard her tell her daughter, regularly, that she could be anything she wanted to be. Yet my colleague was simultaneously perpetuating the institutionalized sexism that will ensure her daughter will not have equal opportunities – which will make it harder for her to be “anything she wants to be” (especially if her daughter wants to work in a male-dominated industry).
What I’m saying is lets not pretend that everything is equal and fine when it isn’t. By all means, we should tell boys and girls of the progress made, of how far we’ve come. But we should make sure that they know there’s still a way to go – that, as of right now, girls do not start at the same starting line that boys do. People who think that equality already exists are less likely to support feminism, or identify as feminists. Only by realizing the problems that we face today can we move forward and overcome them. I bet a lot of people who think that equality already exists want that to be the case. But in saying that it does already, when it doesn’t, they’re making it harder for it to happen. Less people supporting, or joining, feminism means a longer and harder path to equality. We aren’t equal yet!