Many people argue that the period between 1960 and today brought about much progress for women’s rights and led to what is seen today as increased gender equality. Don’t get me wrong, there is no doubt that women today enjoy more representation in the workforce, greater control over reproduction through access to birth control and other contraceptives, and increased visibility in politics, among other things.
But let’s look at the example of women entering the workforce in greater numbers. This is a positive change, allowing women to enter into important fields such as engineering, medicine, law, and many others. One would think that this flood of women into professional positions would necessitate an equal or at least partial exodus of men from the workforce. Otherwise, who then will raise the next generation of children in our country? Studies show, however, that men have not been leaving the workforce to take care of children in numbers proportionate to the amount of women entering it. This demonstrates men’s unwillingness to participate in the act of child rearing, which has historically been understood as women’s work. Activities and characteristics associated with the female sex are is still devalued in our culture, preventing us from making significant progress toward gender equity.
All of the so-called advances toward gender equality that have taken place over the past few decades involve women taking on more “masculine” activities and characteristics. Women are accorded more respect in our society when they blur the lines of gender; men, however, are typically disrespected when they take on more feminine identities. Picture men who wear dresses, for example, or work as male nurses. Do these men earn more respect in your mind, or less? I think, for the vast majority of the population, the answer is an automatic “less”. In order for true gender equality to be reached, however, a two-way street must be opened up, allowing both men and women to move back and forth across gender boundaries.
In other words, it will take an effort from both sides if our society is to reach a place of equality in terms of gender. This means men will have to be given the freedom to act like women, just as women have been given the freedom to act like men. So next time you see a man wearing short shorts or makeup, don’t hate. Take a second to think about the broader implications this has in terms of breaking down gender barriers.