“That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind”. These are the words said by American Astronaut Neil Armstrong as he stepped his left foot on the moon, becoming the first-ever human to do so.
This indeed was a huge achievement. But breaking down Neil Armstrong’s declaration could give anyone a deeper insight into the perceptions of people at the time.
The term “mankind”, when taken literally refers to the collective men. Landing on the moon was one small step for men and a giant leap for mankind.
Kalpana Chawla, the first Indian-origin woman to go into space was only aged 7 at the time. If she took Neil Armstrong’s quote by its literal meaning, perhaps she’d never be an astronaut and achieve the posthumous immortality she has today due to her achievements.
This isn’t a complaint about Neil Armstrong’s declaration. But an example that gives us an understanding of how women were looked upon at the time.
If there’s a term called “mankind”, I suppose a ‘womankind” should exist as well. Guess what? It does exist. I had to look up the word in Google to get this knowledge. Nobody uses the word “womankind” so frequently as they use mankind, and nobody is to be blamed for it. Given society’s past stereotypes, these things are totally understandable.
Now let me get closer to my point.
The International Women’s Day on the 8th of March each year has been celebrated since the year 1917. It started with a few countries and was eventually declared as an international event after the United Nations began celebrating the day since 1975.
I won’t bore you with another history lesson. My point is- with each year of celebrating Women’s day, we’re growing closer to reversing the ill-effects of the terrible stereotypes about us. We’re being recognized, understood, and seen as equal to men in fields where we never thought we could step a foot in. All this is happening today as I write this. I’m glad.
The hope the day is close when I hear the term “mankind’ not used to denote the entire human race, but used in its perfect literal sense- to describe the collective “men”, only men.
On the surface, such minor things might seem to be too unimportant to be addressed. But droplets of water make up a sea, and this sea that we women live in used to be way more contaminated before. The feminist movement, our voices, our actions, and our influence is only cleaning up everything. Evaporating the toxic droplets to make way for a purified ocean!
I positively believe that each year, women are being more recognized, and are being more rewarded than ever before. I believe that the new generation of women will be ones who make a lasting impact on the future. Not to say that women never made an impact, but no women are as recognized as say, a Mahatma Gandhi, Socrates, Einstein, or a Steve Jobs of today. But I hope they will in the future.
The month of March celebrates women in all ways possible. Here, I want to celebrate this day by giving you a look at a few of the common stuff we’re doing today that we were never allowed to do years ago, things where we’re not given equal privilege even now and why empowering women is as important as it ever was even today.
Things women were not allowed to in the past
While there were myriad privileges that were stripped away from women in the past. I’ll mention three things among them that every woman in the present day can relate to.
Women were not allowed to open Bank Accounts until 1975
In most western countries, especially the British-controlled states, women were not allowed to open a Bank Account in their own name. If you were a single woman living in a western country before 1975, you would not be allowed to apply for a credit card or a loan with your own. If you asked for such privileges, then a banker would tell you to call your Dad and get his signature.
Working women at the time were also denied mortgages unless they got a signature from a “male” guarantor. While all that has changed in the present day, research from almost a decade ago in 2011 by the Institute for Public Policy Research revealed shocking evidence of discrimination against businesswomen.
Women were not allowed their own Passport until the 1930s
If you were a married woman living in the 1930s (in the US/UK), then you’d have never been allowed to travel to another country without the company of your husband. You weren’t even allowed a passport in your name! Then how could women travel even with their husbands when they don’t have a passport at all? Well, your dear husband’s password would have the words “accompanied by his wife” checked for when you’d be on a trip with him.
There were two reasons why giving the right to women to have a passport in their own name was never considered. First, most countries in the 1930s didn’t require a passport for foreigners to enter, so most couples never went through the trouble of having it made for them. Second, the thought of a woman traveling alone was scary at the time, really scary! Nobody thought that such gentle, soft souls like us could ever travel without a man for protection!
But things changed in 1937 after the Passport Division in the US allowed women to have their name on a passport, that only belonged to them.
Women were largely Illiterate in India in the 1950s
After our independence, the newly formed constitution gave women equal consideration as a citizen of the country and gave equal rights in most cases. But this constitution didn’t change the mindset of people at the time.
If you were a woman living in India in 1951, chances are that you would, or perhaps would not be among the only 8.6% literate women in the country at the time.
Although the constitution gave us the rights of being a citizen, our responsibilities were only considered to be that of a housewife.
Imagine spending your entire childhood dreaming big things for yourself, only to end up becoming someone’s wife at a young age and tasked with handling household chores.
While men had the freedom to choose the career of their dreams, the dreams of women were shredded under the bond of marriage.
Cases that prove the lack of women empowerment even today
Women’s empowerment has come a long way since the feminist movement. Yet there are certain situations where the need to empower women is never considered. Let’s have a look.
Women are traditionally head of the kitchen at home, yet men are considered better chefs
We have been handling Kitchen duties at homes for ages. In India, one of the strengths families look for in their ideal bahu is the ability to cook well.
But we as girls and mothers who deliver the best meals for everyone at home, as wives who delight their husband and children with awesome meals on special occasions- are not considered good enough to train ourselves and work in the commercial kitchen.
For crying out loud, cooking is one of the few things where women excel. While we are pushed to be at our best in the art of cooking at home, we’re considered incompetent when it comes to getting paid for it!
Should women cook only when they are supposed to do it for the family?
I know there is a huge difference between cooking for a family and being the chef in a commercial kitchen. As a chef, you’re supposed to handle the entire kitchen, supervise the other cooks and see to meeting the demands of customers.
Being a chef also requires leadership qualities in addition to having knowledge of the art. Are women not good leaders?
In the US, 77 percent of Chefs are male. Take this for a contrast- 72 percent of women in France are indulged in preparing meals for the family. Over 80% of women in the US are in charge of the Kitchen at home.
Yet, men have a higher privilege to cook while being paid to do so. This paradoxical scenario is the greatest highlight of how women aren’t empowered to work (and get paid) on something where they naturally excel.
Women are not paid equally as men
This is an issue prevalent across all industries of the capitalist world. Women simply aren’t considered good enough to be paid equal to men.
In the first point I mentioned, I said how women are not considered better chefs than men. Well, guess what, we are not paid as well as men either!
The average salary for a male chef in the US is $38,992 and for a woman chef, it is $27,843. An amount of $10,000 dollars is the difference between a male chef and a female chef in the US.
This isn’t just in the food industry but expands to all types of jobs in general. In the popular Monster Salary Index survey conducted by Monster in 2019, it was revealed that men earn 19% more than women in India.
Data from the UN’s International Labour Organization further gives evidence of the fact that women are paid lower than men, in almost every country of the world.
What is so ridiculous is the fact that this gender gap exists for no valid, genuine reason. Employers fear that women may leave the job when they’re pregnant, or perhaps will lack the motivation to work after marriage.
There’s nothing we could do about our pregnancy. But having an obligation to take care of the family after marriage, among many other responsibilities are bondages imposed on women by the society itself!
Men have such responsibilities too, but at the end of the day, they have better monetary resources to take care of themselves. For most women, even taking care of themselves requires dependence on men. Is this empowerment?
The Social Stigma around Menstruation still exists to this day
Even in this day and age, menstruation is considered a taboo across many parts of the world. In religious texts, women are impure when they menstruate. It is considered taboo for women to talk about menstruation in public places.
Why should we be forced to hide something that’s so natural to us?
Even after so many years of pushing women empowerment, we are yet to make men understand the pain and struggle women endure during their periods.
If this was a utopian world where men faced similar societal stigmas as a woman, they’d never be free to openly talk about how their **** hurts when hit by an object. They’d be met with stares of people if they dared attempt to urinate on a wall in case of emergencies!
But of course, this isn’t a utopian world, and everything about a man’s private parts is far away from a taboo. Things are so bad that children aren’t even educated in school about such subjects.
Menstruation not only brings days of pain to us, but it also changes our mood. But it is what makes us “women”! We should not be made to feel ashamed for being open about it!
Why Women Empowerment is so important
There are a few problems women are no longer facing in the modern world. But there are still a lot of them that bound us, and stop us from being truly free.
And to be honest, the real hindrance for this movement isn’t the male-dominated society, but the mindset shaped by past stereotypes. These stereotypes can never be changed unless we keep fighting, keep empowering ourselves in every way possible.
Our voices must never stop. They must be heard by the upcoming generations so they may stand with us, fight alongside us and wipe away the bad practices, thoughts, and stereotypes carried by the generations before us.
As a woman, it is often scary when I think about how we were treated in the past. It is scary to think that at one point in time, women had conceded defeat. We had almost accepted ourselves as slaves to “mankind”.
But all that has changed. I would be honest, this change up until now involved a few men too who understood how the dirty past could have shaped the present and the future. But this just isn’t enough. There’s a long to go until we truly empower women.