Let me just say, to begin, that I am a sincere and wholehearted believer in equality in any, and every, form; sexism, racism, elitism and any other form of prejudice or discrimination are all things that we could all do without. Yet it is difficult sometimes in everyday society to ignore some of these topics; certainly since I began my time at university these issues have, for whatever reason, become a prevalent discourse not only in study but in everyday life too. In particular, this week, I am going to look at gender, its implications and what this means in young person’s modern world.
First we have to consider the topic objectively; from a scientific and biological standpoint it has to be acknowledged that there are differences between males and females. The primary difference, of course, is a difference on a cellular level – basically the Y chromosome. But beyond this minute detail there are general, and for the most part obvious, differences: on average men tend to be taller and with more muscle mass than women, on average women are able to give birth whereas men are not, and on average there is a difference in hair growth, both in location and general ability. Furthermore, mentally speaking: it has been found that the average women is able to communicate better than the average man, in general, studies show that women have a higher capacity to express emotion, most men tend to be better judges of spatial awareness than their female counterparts, and finally, to put to bed a long disputed and often quoted anomaly: there is very little difference, or at least no consistent evidence suggesting either way, that women are any better at multi-tasking than men are. So there it is; these examples do not, of course, account for the entire spectrum of gender differentiation but in them there is a clear indicator that, for whatever reason, men and women are engineered biologically, physically and mentally different.
So, are there any implications that come along with these differences? Well, of course there are. In 2011 it was found that, in the EU, on average the difference between male and female pay rates was 16% in favour of the men; in the US, an article published in September of this year by Forbes Magazine, found that there was an average discrepancy of 23 cents between genders – which is to say that, for every dollar earned by a male, a woman in the same job would earn 77 cents. Naturally we knew about these differences, but for the most part people do not know the exact figures and statistics; but what is known is that, despite laws and legislation working toward a contrary, there is still some unshakable inequality between gender salaries. So, perhaps we should try and explain some of these differences? For the most part we can probably assume that the current state of salary discrimination is a remnant of our previously and inherently sexist tradition of industry; historically speaking it is no secret at all that there have been vast injustices carried out by men against women, and certainly many of these injustices were taking place well into the last century and, as evidenced in the salary statistics above, the unfortunate truth is that some still take place to this day. Taking this into account then what we have to wonder is whether there is any logical or rational basis for this clear-cut and barely hidden discrimination still carrying on today.
…boys like blue and girls like pink because in most cases we are taught, from birth, that this is the norm…
It has been found that as humans we are characterised to a vast extent by the surroundings that we find ourselves in; sociological research will tell you that gender is in fact a social construct; our nature, or what makes us male or female, is defined by our personal experiences – in the very simplest terms: boys like blue and girls like pink because in most cases we are taught, from birth, that this is the norm. To retain basic terms, the difference between gender and sex is that, as mentioned above, gender is a socially constructed and given concept, whereas our sex is a biologically inherent quality that, without scientific intervention, cannot be affected by experience. So why should gender matter when it comes to getting and doing jobs? Well, it shouldn’t.
Bear in mind that all that you have read so far is being written in general terms, and with the genuine statistics taken into account and then ask yourself a question: if you were an employer seeking to hire an employee to lift a lot of heavy objects, then would you more likely to hire a man or a woman? Conversely, if you were an employer looking to hire a person for the purpose of communicating and expressing themselves, then would you more likely to hire a man or a woman? Now, my point here is not at all that I believe in all cases that women and men are better or worse at certain tasks – I have no doubt, for example, that many women are stronger than I am, and I would like to think that I might be a better communicator than some women – but my point here is that, in general terms, these differences will sometimes be relevant in cases of employment and indeed life in general. In all cases people should be judged by their individual merit, but equally, in the majority of cases, these merits can fall within the parameters of biologically or socially constructed definition.
…what does gender mean to you?
All of the things that I have mentioned so far do, of course, play a massive part in modern society and I have tried to remain objective and, to the best of my ability and knowledge, within the realms of scientific and statistical fact. But perhaps what has become clear to me in writing this, as it may have done reading it, is that when it comes to gender what matters most is always going to be individual experience – what does gender mean to you?
For myself gender was not an issue when I was growing up; as with many things, as a child, we take the world around us at face value – it did not matter to me that, in all of my years in primary school, I had only one male teacher, and I didn’t even know that, statistically speaking, boys were outperformed by girls in the classroom – that is just the way it was, and those things never mattered to me, so it was only really when I reached sixth form that I really began to understand some of the differences between the treatment and statistics concerned with gender in society. I was introduced to gender theories through sociology, and I encountered gender issues in literature, and then at university. But even so, I, like most people, cannot wholly fathom the utterly diverse and complex nature of gender in modern society.
…no collection of theories, can ultimately explain or define gender…
I began this article by stating that I do not in any way support sexism or any other form of discrimination and I hope that this has been apparent in my writing. My goal within this article was to try and get to grips with the phenomenon of gender discrimination, but with all that is written I still do not believe that this is something that I can do. No single theory, or indeed no collection of theories, can ultimately explain or define gender and so I am, perhaps, forced to accept that we, as humans, may never fully comprehend it. Perhaps then the most thing to take from this article is the eternally relevant nature of individualism – judge people, that’s up to you, but do not let that judgement be founded on or led by any assumed merit or attribute; in all cases first consider the individual, and then only base your judgements on the things that you know to be true regardless of sex, age, race or culture.