It is true that there has never been a better time to be born female. The difficulty is, I struggle to declare this statement with beaming enthusiasm or infinite optimism. It is simply a matter of fact that, for women worldwide and in the UK, things have been a lot worse. The work done and the incredible milestone achieved by the Suffragettes is unequivocally groundbreaking and indisputably celebratory, and 100 years on we have a duty to recognise this. However, we must not mistake revolutionary progress for definitive success.
Right now, in 2018, the goal of gender equality still feels somewhat utopian, which is why voices rejecting the patriarchal system must remain consistent, united and unwavering. 1918 marked the year that woman over 30, with certain property qualifications, were given the vote. 1973 saw the invention of the mobile phone. Now, iPhone 10s are as common as a sunny Edinburgh morning, while the number of openly proud feminists (albeit rising) seem more comparable to the amount of £14.19 Vodkas left at Lidl on a Friday evening. The point being that the advancement of equality and technology have hardly progressed side by side and, thus, we must use this ridiculous comparison to push forward, unite, and make the achievability of gender equality more than a utopia.
While Britain has some of the best equality laws in the world, often these laws do not translate into real life. The resignation of Carrie Gracie, BBC’s China Editor, over unequal pay, pushed the gender pay gap into the limelight. Similar to laws regarding sexual harassment at work, laws meant to protect equal rights lack teeth, and women’s rights are being delegitimised because of it. Nonetheless, the hashtag #Istandwithcarrie represented a shift in attitude towards this problem. Now, both men and women are less afraid to speak out against the blatant sexism. Actions speak louder than words, but the changing rhetoric towards equal rights is not something to dismiss.
Equal rights are to be achieved by addressing major inequalities once considered the norm. We must point out what, hopefully one day, will be deemed unacceptable without hesitation. At the time of the Suffragettes, women were undeniably expected to be the primary caregivers, required to look after children and the elderly while the man took care of the rest. Such given roles are slowly but certainly being turned on their head as the stigma towards paternity leave shrinks and women defy the mould given to them. One can look at the emergence of the Women’s Equality Party as ample evidence for a new era of equality. Sophie Walker, leader of the party, won 251,775 votes in the London Mayoral Election. With both first and second rounds counted, that’s one in 20 of every person who voted. Such a rise in organisations and movements has meant feminism has become less of a dirty word, something that could not be said less than a decade ago.
It certainly isn’t all about women, either, as campaigns for culture change to tackle outdated stereotypes of masculinity that prevent men seeking help are also on the rise. Since the charity Calm was founded, awareness of male suicide has trebled. Men are talking more, helping to break down dangerous structures and expectations of both genders. It’s important to remember that equality can only ever be achieved with the inclusion of players from all teams.
So, while there is certainly a long way to go, it is true that the long-term trend is pointing towards gender equality. To fight for equality is to challenge conventions and norms deeply rooted in a systematically patriarchal structure. But like the Suffragettes proved, persistence and solidarity are the key ingredients to progress. The more we talk, the more we fight, and the more we change.
Image: Sofia Thuru