Sexism is a proven phenomenon, much like the notion that the Earth is spherical or that gravity exists. The theory has been tested, proven, disproven, re-proven and ultimately decided upon: Sexism is a thing. If you, as a reader, aren’t on the same page with this assumption then I’d recommend you stop reading and cast your eyes over a colourful volume entitled ‘Invisible Women’ by Caroline Criado-Perez. Similarly, if you aren’t on board with the notion of gravity then I suggest that you drop said volume and analyse the results.
The unhappy truth of the matter is that Sexual discrimination persists in contemporary society and it may be the worst that it ever has been. When the suffragette movement achieved its victories in the early 20th century, it was made clear to the world that women deserve their place in society. At the time of writing, the hopeful dreams of a fair and just society for all remains unforeseen. No, it could be that conditions for women are far worse now than they were a hundred years ago. To illustrate this point, I would like to take you through several examples.
1) Size Does Matter – If you are a woman and happen to own the average smartphone, the chances are that your phone is too big for your hand. That’s because most smartphones are designed based on the measurements of a man’s hands – which are usually bigger than women’s. Moreover, you won’t be able to fit your oversized smartphone into your pockets, because they are made too small so that you will be persuaded to buy a purse to hold your possessions. To test this out I used my Mum as a Guinea Pig. I took my smartphone, an iPhone 7+, and placed it in her hand. My Mum, a five-foot tall woman in her mid-fifties (I mean mid-forties, sorry Mum) was incapable of operating the device that she held, which looked the size of a computer keyboard in relation to her hand.
This isn’t all – if my Mum had joined the military and served in a close combat role (which was prohibited for women until 2016) then she would probably have been supplied with equipment that didn’t properly protect her because it was designed for men.
When my Mum drives, she is at higher risk of serious injury and death because the safety measures in her car were designed using a crash test dummy that represented, you guessed it, a man’s proportions.
If my Mum were an astronaut, she would only be able to select a spacesuit in the sizes Medium, Large and Extra-Large. Small is not an option, as the designers did not envisage them being worn by someone who was smaller, like a woman, for example.
2) Dough – The traditional role of women in society has been stereotyped by maternalism, caring and most importantly, cleaning. Most of the unpaid care work of society is still done by women. Taking the kids to school, taking care of elderly relatives, doing the shopping etc. are all still considered to be feminine roles. This, in turn, adds pressure and time constraints on the lives of women who consequently don’t have as much space for a career. Undoubtedly, one of the most time-consuming aspects of being a woman is bearing children. Consisting of extreme strain on the body, mind, and life of women around the world, pregnancy and childbirth are significantly life-altering experiences. Unfortunately, society doesn’t care. If you get knocked-up, you don’t get that promotion, sorry. Women are consistently hired less for roles because of concerns that they could get pregnant and pose a problem for companies. If they do get a job, which they are statistically less likely to get compared to a man of similar status, then they probably won’t get paid as much as their male counterparts. And Even if women did get paid the same amount as men, they must spend more money on the daily just to get the same level of cleanliness and lifestyle. Women’s razor blades, sanitary products, birth control, deodorant, haircuts, shampoo, car insurance etc. are all more costly than the male equivalents.
3) Power – Currently, only 21 of the 193 United Nations have a woman in the highest position of executive power. This is approximately 10.8%. Some would argue that women have equality of opportunity when it comes to seeking out positions of power. Others, the author included, would argue that this isn’t the case, and that even if it were, the equal representation of women in high levels of influence is important for society. People become mobilised when they witness people like them achieving something that they didn’t believe possible. Young people require role models to aspire to and young girls cannot aspire to be a world leader if the vast majority of them are men. For instance, as a kid I wanted to be an astronaut (kind of still do), but as a kid I didn’t dream of being Peggy Whitson, I dreamt of being Jim Lovell. People young and old need role models that they can aspire to be. Why should we live in a world where we tell children that they can’t do something because of how they are?
Sexism has become worse in the last century not because there is more of it. It hasn’t become worse because the gap between men and women has widened. Sexism continues to be a problem because we cannot see it. Sometimes, it is hidden in the deepest parts of minds and at the furthest corners of data. Only by looking can we find the solution. I am a firm believer that human beings are not born sexist, racist or any other “ist”. Children are not endowed with innate knowledge of how to discriminate – they learn it. We just need to teach them better.
Written by Isaac Knowles
Isaac Knowles is a columnist at DecipherGrey. He is currently studying International Politics and Human Rights at City, University of London.