My hubby and I went to a friend’s birthday party last night (Happy Birthday, Robert – we all had a ball!) and over the course of the evening, the talk turned to education and the fact that in Trinidad and Tobago, girls are basically “showing up” the boys, consistently producing better grades and going on to pursue university level educations. Once they graduate and secure full time jobs, women are also more vigilant about pursuing Continuing Education opportunities in order to update and improve their skills set and ensure professional mobility.
On the anniversary of International Women’s Day this year, I was asked, as President of AFETT, to make a statement in the local press about this phenomenon:
I am proud to say that as we celebrate another International Womenâ€™s Day, women have continued to make tremendous strides in the world of work. In fact, statistics show that more women than men are now taking advantage of educational opportunities available to them in an effort to stay competitive and keep their income-earning potential at its highest.
We need to put in place all of the mechanisms to promote equity between the sexes. This means re-socialization; it means systems and legislation that allow both genders a voice in decision-making at every level, even in areas where it hasnâ€™t been typically considered the norm â€“ for instance, men participating more at home and women being more present in national affairs. The Gender Policy that is being drafted will be a key tool in redefining what gender equity means. Its recommendations, once adopted, should result in improved relationships between men and women both personally and professionally.
But it seems as though the more women accomplish, the more equal we prove we are, the more some men (especially the younger generation, interestingly enough) feel sidelined – confused about what their new roles should be. With change comes extremism – at least at the outset. The pendulum must swing wildly to each side before eventually settling in the middle. While this is natural, it is also where the confusion comes in. Feminism became so much larger than itself that the message grew louder and louder until no-one really heard or understood what was being said. Suddenly, a condition of female equity was curtailing a man’s relevance not only in a woman’s life, but in the world. To me, this does not reflect the spirit of feminism.
True feminism is inclusive. All it asks for is equality, honouring our differences while celebrating the capabilities of both sexes. But the damage from the miscommunication has been done and it’s up to women to start fixing it. That’s right – it’s our responsibility because it’s our movement, our message. Women have already proven that we’re not physically or intellectually inferior to our male counterparts. Now it’s time to prove, mainly to ourselves, that it’s okay to be a woman and it’s also okay to let a man be a man.
Case in point: in a recent report on an American cable news station, the presenter related an incident in which he had held a door open for a young, attractive woman, only to be told off good and proper. I’ve seen countless scenarios like this happen and I usually feel incredibly sorry for the poor sod who’s on the recieving end of the “feminist’s” wrath. A woman invites a man out (even for business) and he’s unsure whether to pay for his share of the meal because she’s perfectly cappable of affording it (she probably makes more than he does) and because, well, she invited him. It’s no wonder men don’t understand us – feminism has completely turned previously accepted social norms on its head and the two contingents from Mars and Venus are not talking about it.
Many older men (thirites and up) who lived through the changes feminsim brought, are having a difficult time redefining their roles as husbands, fathers, employers and significant others, while younger men, who grew up seeing their mothers as equal – even predominant – partners in their households, may not have been socialized to treat women with the frills they were supposedly entitled to by virtue of being “a lady”.
The good news is that there is a middle ground, and it is, as the old people say, “brought-up-cy”. Common courtesy is becoming less and less common in a society driven by technology, speed and a proclivity for worshipping the bottom line. Competition is fierce – who has time for niceties? But it is exactly that – the time we take to be thoughtful of others – that defines the human condition and assures us that we are not all rats just running the race.
So the question remains – did the TV presenter open the door for that young woman because he was attracted to her and thought the act of chivalry would provide him with an opportunity to strike up a conversation? Or was he just being polite? The reality is, it doesn’t matter. The point of power is always in the present moment and the woman was the one who held it. By saying “thank you” and walking through the open door, she would have demonstrated her equality as another human being for whom something considerate was being done. If conversation followed that she did not wish to pursue, she could then have demonstrated her power by saying, “no, thank you” and going about her business, secure in the knowledge that she had the choice. And in the end, isn’t that the whole point of feminism?