Women are from Venus, men are from Mars. This statement is one of many which determine the differences between sexes. For many years, people have been trying to solve the mystery of men’s and women’s creation and in most cases, women obtained a secondary role of keeping the home fire while men were considered winners, warriors and masters of the world. Are women really that different from men? Do men actually posses many qualities which distinguish them from women and thus enable them to do some kinds of work better and occupy the leading position in every aspect of life?
The problem of women’s inequality in the society has been discussed by many authors. Different specialists were suggesting reasons for men’s superiority and giving proofs for the need to give a higher status to men in the society. However, most of these proofs failed with time and it became obvious that they were nothing more than myths. Myths have followed women throughout their existence on Earth and are starting to vanish only in the recent years.
The paper discusses the problems of women inequality in the society in relation to various myths which exist about their characteristics feature and provides evidence of the mentioned facts. It describes the most popular proofs of male superiority suggested by different authors and makes conclusions about their unsoundness. Major attention is being devoted to the views on myths about women of Simone de Beauvoir, expressed in her “Second Sex”. The paper also touches upon Emily Cady Stanton’s “Declaration of Sentiments and Resolutions”. Finally conclusion is made and prospects are given for the reduction of women’s inequality in the society.
Myths about Women’s Inferiority.
Even though many myths have been composed about women since the day they appeared on Earth, all of these statements are for the most part false. Women are equal with men in most of the ways. Even though they have some biological differences, a different mind structure and are often considered more emotional, these features are insignificant and do not create any ground for inequality in the society. The inequality which has appeared is only caused by the male interpretation of female characteristics according to their interests, in order to obtain the leading role in the society.
For many years, male dominance has been considered a characteristic feature of the society, and could not be questioned. This view has been shared not only by men but even by women. Even nowadays, there are many female specialists who ague for the dominance of men and their major role in the society. “Some frankly glorify male dominance, among them Camille Paglia, who being a woman can say things- that the California high school date-rape gang known as the Spur Posse is “beautiful,” for example–that might make even Rush Limbaugh blanch.” (Speaking of Sex: The Denial of Gender Inequality, 1997, p.160). At the same time, there are opposite points of view. “Others… argue that feminism has completed its real job- overturning formal and legal barriers to equal treatment- so women are either already equal (more or less) or don’t wish to be, and all evidence to the contrary is false or trivial.” (Speaking of Sex: The Denial of Gender Inequality, 1997, p.160).
So, what are those famous myths which forced feminists to struggle so hard for women’s rights? The inferiority of women has been explained by different myths throughout the history of mankind. As Simone de Bouvoir (1952) mentions, in the patriarch society women were considered connecting links of the dead nature conquered by a man and spiritual essence, the carriers of which are only men. Thus, a woman in such societies was considered to be deprived of existential completeness and freedom of choice in life, she was denied of striving for the transcendent and was forced to obey and surrender to men- the only full-bodied members of the society. De Bouvior emphasizes that according to the myths born in the society, a man has a primary role in the society and a woman has a secondary role, she is a subject while he is an Absolute, she is Different. The concept of a woman being “different” from a man is central in the authors’ work.
The only time when woman was able to control the society was during the early years in the mankind when people totally depended on the kindness of nature. A woman represented nature and Earth and thus played a leading role in the society. However, with the development of the instruments of production, men gained superiority due to their biological characteristics. Inferiority of women is represented in many religions, including Christianity. De Bouvoir mentions that God created a woman of Adam’s rib and gave her to Adam for him not to be bored. According to the myth which appeared as the result of interpretation of this place in Bible, a man appeared as God’s creature, a real value, while a woman was given to him and thus created for him.
A woman became a reflection of evil in the belief of people due to her suggestion to break God’s prohibition and try the apple. In many cultures, different rituals existed in order to protect men from the evil influence of women during sexual intercourse. Women were considered evil and sinful creatures particularly due to their need for menstruation, defloration during the first intercourse and capability to get pregnant. In order to reduce the sinfulness of Christ’s Mother, the Bible enabled Maria to give birth to Jesus Christ without sinful defloration and conception. However, she was destined to consider herself the servant of God and the irony of the situation in which the mother kneels in front of her own son emphasized on the inferior role of woman in the society.
In the times of ancient Rome women were also considered sinful and blamed for the hardships which occurred in the country. “During the Black Death in medieval Europe, the clergy’s idealized, selfless image suffered when they fled, leaving no one to offer services, deliver last rites, and comfort the sick.” (Hobby, 2000, p.39). The only way to rescue their image was to blame women in all of the disasters which the nation had to suffer from: “unable to explain why their prayers had no effect on the plague, the clergy responded by accusing women of conjuring the disease.” (Hobby, 2000, p.39).
Inequality of sexes in the modern society.
The myths which became firmly fixed in the minds of the people pre-destined the fate of women in the society. The myths went through some sort of transformation due to the changes in the world perception of people and particularly due to scientific discoveries in the field of human anatomy. However, most of the ideas were forever spread in the minds of people, so women were forced to lead a secondary role in the society and surrender to their representation as inferior creatures in the eyes of men.
“The history of mankind is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations on the part of man toward woman, having in direct object the establishment of an absolute tyranny over her.” (Stanton, 1848, p.70). Stanton points at many facts of women’s inequality which take place in the society and argues that men have taken advantage of women in many ways. Stanton states that men do not allow women to participate in the legislative process but at the same time require them to surrender to laws which were adopted without women’s participation.
The author also emphasizes that in her society, even foreigners and completely ignorant people have a say while women, no matter how brilliant they can be, are not allowed to take part in government affairs. Stanton mentions that women lose all of their rights when they get married: “He has made her, if married, in the eye of the law, civilly dead.” (Stanton, 1848, p.70). Women get forced to merge with their husband and from now on he is the one who determines the woman’s fate and shapes her outlook. If divorce occurs, women are absolutely unprotected against it and can remain without any sources of income, while the fate of children is being decided according to the desires of the husband, without considering the interests of the mother and, most importantly, the child.
Even though Stanton’s times have passed and inequality between sexes was smoothened a little, the issue is still urgent. The problem of female inequality is in some ways common for industrialized countries, but in developing countries it is very severe even at present. As Howell (1995) states, “females almost universally are consigned to participation in the reproductive process and perhaps to being considered as rewards or prizes for successful males” (Howell, 1995, p.54). He mentions that in many Asian countries girls are considered inferior and thus are often murdered or abandoned after birth. The numbers of lost women in the countries of Africa and Asia is very large and very few actions are taken to find them. In some nations, it is common to perform injuries to the bride if her dowry is not large enough: “If a groom and/or his family deem a bride’s dowry–in an arranged marriage–too small, she may face persecution or death by fire. This is seen as a crime of passion, not of greed” (Howell, 1995, p.54). In many countries women are not protected in case their adultery is discovered, while for men adultery is not considered a crime. “If a married woman commits adultery in some North African countries, law permits the husband to injure or kill her as punishment” (Howell, 1995, p.54).
All of this evidence shows that in the developing countries many women have to suffer from inequality in many aspects of life. The mentioned actions are not being taken in highly-developed countries, but even in the USA and European countries women are suffering from inequality: “Quality and justice are American myths” (Browne, 1998, p.123). They are often unable to obtain the jobs they apply for because the employers prefer male candidates or because they have small children. Even though women have shown brilliant results when working in different industries, they often suffer from salary discrimination. “The United Nations summed up the state of inequality as of 1980: “Women, half the world’s population, did two-thirds of the world’s work, earned one-tenth of the world’s income, and owned one-hundredth of the world’s property.” (Howell, 1995, p.57).
The role of women in politics has been one of the major areas of discrimination for many years. Thirty years ago women were not able to participate in politics even in the United States. At that time, women in the US Congress numbered about 5%. In other countries, the situation was much worse. For example, in many countries, such as countries of Latin America, there was no legislation regulating the rapes of women. In Senegal no women could be involved in political matters.
Even though some rights were given to women in the recent years, many obstacles which were standing in their way of building a successful career have not been removed yet. Men are oftentimes considered superior and women inferior in during job applications and particularly when it comes to promotion. The issue of salaries for men and women working in Congress has also caused many discussions in the last 30 years. “Capitol Hill, like American society at large, has a long history of discrimination against women on the basis of pay.” (Foerstel, 1991, p.149). It has also been noticed a tendency of hiring attractive women for front desks by some politicians, which discrimination occurred against unattractive women.
The problem of sexual harassment in Congress also shows the inequality of men and women. In the past, there used to be special sheets of paper in every office where females worked with the list of men with whom they could not get into the elevator with. Such lists showed that women needed to be extremely careful in every step they took in the building.
Feminism and Its Opposition.
All of the displays of female inequality in the society inspired the representatives of feminism to struggle for the rights of women and ruin all of the myths about the inferiority of the weak sex. “Feminism does not see its view as subjective, partial, or undetermined but as a critique of the purported generality, disinterestedness, and universality of prior accounts” (Browne, 1998, p.165). Feminism seeks to build up the forgotten image of women as representatives of images of Nature and the Earth which are the start of all the life in the planet. Feminists seek to establish equal rights for women, “challenge established norms around women, seek to actively construct more positive and realistic images of women, and advocate for new opportunities for women” (Browne, 1998, p.165).
Unfortunately, the aspirations of this movement are not always met with inspiration. Davidson (1989), Shugart (2001), Roiphe (1993) and many other authors argue for the superiority of men. They also claim that all of the inequality problems described by feminists have been invented while in reality women either obtain equality or just do not need it. Davidson (1989) states that “feminism has achieved sacred-cow status, its claims on everything from how hard women work to how men treat them largely immune from criticism” (Davidson, 1989, p.44). Katie Roiphe (1993) with her work “The Morning After: Sex, Fear and Feminism” also does her best to destroy feminist principles. She “took to task feminists for creating and maintaining “myths” and other constructions of rape that end up celebrating women’s victimization” (Shugart, 2001, p.131).
Davidson (1989) is particularly concerned about the importance of destroying all of the myths created by feminism. But are they really myths? The author states that one of the most popular myths invented by feminists is that “there is an epidemic of male family violence” (Davidson, 1989, p.44). However, is it a myth? As it was mentioned above, in some nations husbands are allowed to kill their wives for adultery while in others wives obtain severe injuries because they did not have enough dowries. In Russia and Ukraine, cases of male family violence are common. Many women forgive their husbands only because the population of men in these countries is much smaller than the population of women, and it is difficult for these women to find a new husband. Therefore, the myth suggested by Davidson is bitter truth rather than the invention of feminists.
Other “myths” discussed by the author can be described as equally realistic. “Women suffer from economic discrimination. In the standard version of this myth, it is asserted that “women only make 59 cents on the dollar to men.” (Davidson, 1989, p.45). Even though Davidson states that this figure was common only in the 70s while at present, woman often make even more than men, evidence shows that the researcher is again wrong. Even in Congress, the negative tendency of differences in salaries is very visible. It has been discovered that women working on equal positions with men obtain equal salaries. However, the number of high positions which women are allowed to occupy is much smaller, so in reality the average salaries of women are much lower than salaries of men, due to large discrimination.
The “myth” of women’s victimization by feminists raised by Roiphe (1993) is also destined to fail. As the investigations have shown, women have actually been victims during the whole time of existence of mankind and they were destined to surrender to men- their owners. They did not have rights in the era of Ancient Rome and even during the times of Emily Stanton. Women were considered prizes for men, as it was described by Simone de Bouvoir. Only due to the struggles of feminists, women are gradually starting to possess an equal place in the society.
The inequality of women in the society has been supported by different myths throughout the existence of mankind. The major reason of the existence of such myths is the historic perception of sexes by common people, in the first place, and the position researchers who have summarized these views on equality of men and women in the society. The myths about the sinfulness of women were common for many religions. Even though the perception of women by the society has changed in the recent years, some of the myths still remain strong. For example, cases of male violence against women have not disappeared. Adultery of women is considered much more sinful than adultery of men because women are sinful in the first place and “pure” men are allowed to make small mistakes. Christianity still argues for the superiority of men and women’s submission and obedience to their husbands. The equal status of women in the society will be achieved only when all of the myths vanish into thin air.
The discussion of the myths supporting women’s inequality in the society has changed my vision of feminism to some extent and shaped my outlook in many ways. The sources of myths of women’s inferiority are striking because they have an influence on the society for so many years. Even though Eve persuaded Adam to eat the apple such a long time ago, the legend about women’s sinfulness is still remembered by people. The description of inequality of women in the times of Emily Stanton is very remarkable and enables present generations to realize how harmful such policies can be for the welfare of the nation.
It is very important to ensure that all of the myths about female inferiority are destroyed in the nearest future. There are no differences between men and women which determine any kind of inferiority or superiority. Both men and women were created by God. In “The Woman’s Bible”, Stanton states that “the masculine and feminine elements, exactly equal and balancing each other, are as essential to the maintenance of the equilibrium of the universe as positive and negative electricity” (Sochen, 1974, p.432).
Stanton marks that “the first step in the elevation of woman to her true position, as an equal factor in human progress, is the cultivation of the religious sentiment in regard to her dignity and equality”. (Sochen, 1974, p.432). Many other actions need to be taken to ensure equal position of women in the society. However, the most important of them is the change of perception of the role of women in the society. As soon as all of the myths will be ruined, women will be capable to realize their potential in all of the areas of life which they choose for themselves.
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