A few weeks ago, my husband traveled to Washington D.C. for a couple of days. Because he knows I am not fond of politics or political “things,” he decided to bring me a T-shirt depicting a woman raising her fist and the words We Can Do It.
"We Can Do It!" was originally an American wartime propaganda poster produced by J. Howard Miller in 1943 for Westinghouse Electric as an inspirational image to boost worker morale. It was rediscovered in the early 1980s and widely reproduced in many forms, often called "We Can Do It!" but also called "Rosie the Riveter" after the iconic figure of a strong female war production worker. The "We Can Do It!" image was used to promote feminism and other political issues in the 80’s.
Today, we like to think we have come very far from those days. But have we really? When we think about feminism we think about the fight of women for their right to vote and access education. But the gender division did not exist until ancient Western societies and the strong influence of Christian beliefs and norms took over, when women, who were not slaves, belonged to their fathers before marriage, and thereafter, to their husbands.
Taking that into consideration, yes, we have come very far!
But to understand what seems to be so much progress, we need to examine the concept of the Matrix of Domination. Such theory posits that in order to truly understand oppression, we must understand its opposite, privilege. In other words, despite our status as oppressed, we all occupy some status of privilege. Therefore, there is always choice, and the power to act, no matter how bleak our situation may seem.
One of the most important lessons of this choice concept is the notion that our choices give way to empowering or oppressing others. Let’s take for example a woman’s ability to take time off from work after giving birth. Fighting for that privilege has allowed women to spend more time with their newborns. But at the same time, it has also allowed men to position themselves in a place of workplace dominance while the new mother is absent, and has helped to create the myth that women employees are not as reliable.
If women are going to occupy more top jobs, then men will occupy fewer. If women are going to have more power and do less childcare, then men are going to have less power and do more childcare. So yes, we won, but we also lost.
Given that working women are tasked with bearing children, caring for their families (including husbands), being loyal and always putting the needs of their families family first, despite having crucial, professional responsibilities at work– exhaustion, rather than discrimination, constitutes their biggest barrier to success.
Basically, we are dealing with people’s perceptions and people’s brains. We have to confront belief systems and irrational assumptions and force people to unlearn things that they’ve “known” for decades. It’s a really, really hard thing to face.
Let’s talk about what is considered socially right and wrong depending on the genders–addiction, for example.
A man with an addiction is mainly considered a problem for society and for the economy as it costs businesses a huge amount of money in recovery treatments. Little is said about the impact to the family. Especially to children. But when the case is reversed, women suffering from addiction are seen as flawed and inherently guilty of betraying their sacred roles as mothers and providers. Yes, economic impact is sometimes mentioned. But mostly, it is their sacred role as mothers that are judged. Little or nothing is said about their sacrifices of being strong and compassionate, stern but flexible, being able to change their roles at a minute’s notice to fulfill their obligations as responsible caregivers and successful professionals. No consideration for the myriad of stressors in women’s daily lives. They are just banned and disgraced!
Moreover, look at what is going on recently with powerful men who have been exposed due to harassment and sexual assault. What drove these men to think and believe they could get away with this behavior is not the question. That it still happens in this day and time is not surprising. The only thing that’s surprising is how many of these men, who have long abused their power, have gotten away with it for so long. The truth is that gender discrimination is built into society from birth, and cultural values stressing strength and power over empathy and softness are transmitted through everything we experience in life from entertainment to news to our political structure.
I just hope that one day, in the very near future, humans will understand that we are all nothing more than that: human beings, and that race, creed, ethnic background, and gender, are artificial divisions made up by those seeking to divide and conquer, not through effective and healthy self-esteem, but by discriminating and utilizing force to gain their desired positions.