What does it mean to be a woman in the 21st century?

International Women’s Day was just under a month ago now, and recently a group of excellent students in my year, took the chance to create further awareness of what the day is supposed to be celebrating. I attended the fair for about half an hour and browsed cautiously through the different tables, each exploring a different topic to do with women. From women in literature, to exploring the definition of feminism to female rape, there was a vast amount covered and I found it extremely interesting. As a result, it prompted me to think about…

What does it mean to be a woman in the 21st century?

I have never been the inspired feminist that some people assume me to be. I don’t watch YouTube videos of feminist activists like Emma Watson or Gloria Steinem. I am unsure whether it is my strong personality that I put to use to defend myself when I am compared to the male gender, or my open view that anything a man can do, I can also do.

*cue song that always plays in my head when I tell a guy that I can do what he can do… “anything you can do I can do better, I can do anything better than you”*

Since humankind has existed, women have always been the inferior gender generally speaking. I cannot justify why scientifically, but rather sociologically. Society over time has placed labels amongst the two genders, for men, they are:

  • Superior
  • Masculine (whatever that means)
  • The head of the house
  • The protector
  • The provider
  • Sporty

However, women have been labelled with:

  • The housewife
  • Inferior
  • Weak
  • The Child bearer
  • Emotional wrecks

These labels have been derived from hundreds of years ago when these labels were probably true. But for men who still believe that any female should be bound to ancient labels are in the wrong. I am not saying that being a housewife or the one who brings new life into the world is bad- it is a unique trait we have. But men have manipulated those terms so that they are looked down upon from a male’s perspective. Women have come a very long way over the centuries and especially in the last 100 years and I can safely say that I am extremely grateful for being a woman in today’s conforming society.

Geographically, the majority of female human right violations occur in the Eastern part of the world- predominantly in Islamic countries. I do believe that the source to this problem is the evolvement of religion and the lack of wider education that people receive, outside of religion. If a Muslim man who has lived in a small village, where women are treated with limited freedoms, was to suddenly come and witness the vast and developed freedoms women have in the West (Europe, America, Latin America), I am almost certain that he will disapprove deeply of letting women live such ‘loose’ lives. Additionally, he would use the only source of information he knows to justify his disapproval- religious teachings, quoting the Qur’an, possibly rant about how men have lost their authority and how they should put their women in their place. I know I am assuming here, but there are endless articles and documentaries that I have read or watched that show similar outcomes. This is not a personal attack on Islam, this type of perspective can come from any one individual or community, from any religion or culture, however from my point of view mostly in Islam.

The issue is, when one person begins to interpret and adopt a religion in a certain way, another person witnesses and adopts his/hers methods and so on. It’s the chain reaction that sooner or later, builds up to be a group of people in their thousands. It is only once it has reach a substantial number that it becomes a way of life in that region- hence it becomes it culture.

As a young woman with her whole life ahead of her, I believe that I will still face challenges that target women. One issue I feel strongly about is the inequality regarding pay between men and women in the UK. Although the gap is at its lowest since records began, in 2014 it was shown that men still earn 17.5% more than women per hour. In terms of full-time workers only, women earned 9.4% less than men, showing that it has halved since records began in 1997. This is progress that I am happy to hear about, but is not a number that I will settle with for the rest of my life. Boys and girls from a young age both receive schooling, both have equal opportunities to go to sixth form or college and both have equal chances of getting into university. Women put in the same amount of effort, some times maybe more than men and yet women still earn less. That’s something that doesn’t add up for me.

On a brighter note, to be a woman in the 21st century means having the chance to strive for any career she so desires. Doctor, forensic scientist, solicitor, fitness trainer, dentist, programmer… the list can go on. This is the factor that I probably cherish the most. If you rewind 100 years back, the government at the time had expanded the Educations Act in which women were given the right for a better education and consequently, wider job opportunities as clerks or teachers. Industries took on more women making electrical goods and the Sex Disqualification Act of 1919, allowed for women to go to university in order to access higher job prospects. This was all new for women at the time though, so it was a gradual progression and by the time it reached the 1930s, one-third of women were working and one-tenth of married women were working. Forward to 2016 and women now make up 47% of the UK workforce. This is an incredible achievement for women around the UK.

Another element that I think is interesting to talk about is the progression of women’s fashion over the decades. To be a women in the 21st century means that she does not feel ashamed to show body parts that would have horrified communities a century ago. This is a topic that I believe has become controversial to young women such as myself. On one side, I can understand the freedom of no body shame and girls having the ability to wear whatever clothes they want without being judged. But on the other hand, looking at some pieces of clothing, new extremes have been definitely been established…to say the least. Additionally, it has led to a new set of problems in which women criticise other women whose dress sense is scandalous, as the root of objectification of women in the 21st century. I agree to an extent. Purposely showing off your assets to the public does create room for men to objectify women and use them for things such as one night stands or sexual icons for their own needs. Nonetheless, this is a minority and the true focus lies in the progression that has occurred.

Overall, to be a women in the 21st century is an exhilarating and exciting time as women have achieved many things over the past century. However, there is always room to grow and progress, and I myself along with many other young women hope to continue the true essence of feminism- achieving gender equality.

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