In the late 19th and early 20th century,
many women across the world especially in the United Kingdom and the USA took action as suffragettes in order to end male oppression. For the longest time, women had been expected to be obedient and serve their male counterparts without any rational reason just so that dogmas and traditions could be maintained. As with any revolution, those brave enough to stand up against the status quo had to face serious consequences including imprisonment. However, due to the courageous struggles of the suffragettes women today enjoy the kind of freedom that we now take for granted. We are made to believe that inequality between men and women is but a memory of the past. However, despite equality on the legal level, women today are still not as equal on a day to day basis. Sure, no one would deny that women are still struggling in countries such as India or the Congo, but are our societies – particularly the United States and Germany – really prime examples of female equality?
Jobs, income, and leadership
In the United States as well as in Germany, women in many cases still get paid less for the same work despite equal qualifications. Moreover, it is obvious that both genders are not represented equally when it comes to top politicians or managers. About 50 percent of all inhabitants are women – so why are they represented predominantly by men? There is no good reason to believe that women would be worse politicians – in fact, many evaluate the time in office of Germany’s chancellor Angela Merkel as very successful. In the United States, Hillary Clinton is a very respected and influential politician, to name only two. The same is probably true for management positions. With that being said, it goes beyond reason why women should get paid less for doing the same work. It is noteworthy that the lack of qualified employees is a very dominant topic in Germany due to demographic changes. Paradoxically, many (men) would prefer if women again fulfilled their status as housewives who stayed home and raised children. Millions of qualified employees are out of reach of the job market due to this train of thought. By nature, men are not able to give birth. However, why are we still telling our women that they should do so just because they can, jeopardizing their careers and aspirations? A decreasing population is not the end of the world even though we are taught that everything but growth is a disaster. However, tackling this fallacy is beyond the reach of this article.
Women do not only have to face disadvantages on the job market but are also more likely to be poor, especially as a single parent. The obvious reason is that, as mentioned above, even if they work as hard as men, they will receive less pay. Another obvious reason is that in most cases children who are raised by a single parent grow up with their mothers who then rely on financial support from the father. Even though the law is clear regarding this obligation, there is a fine but crucial difference between the assumption of payment and actually paying. If the father is not able to finance his child, there is little the mother can do. If the father is unwilling to pay, many women are deterred by a court procedure and hence do not get what would be rightfully theirs. Another crucial problem is that single mothers who cannot afford or find day care opportunity for their child cannot go to work full time and are thus at a higher risk of poverty.
Health care and pregnancy
Especially in the United States being poor equals limited access to state of the art health care. Thus, women are not only more likely to be poor, but also less likely to receive the best health care possible. Also, what is usually forgotten is that a pregnancy can be very dangerous for women. We expect our women to give birth due to our unstoppable desire to reproduce and willfully deny that risks are involved:
“Last month a report by Save the Children suggested that America is one of the worst places to be a mother among rich countries, pointing to what it said were one of the highest maternal mortality rates and worst breastfeeding environments among developed countries.
According to World Health Organization statistics used in Save The Children’s 2012 Mother’s Index, the lifetime risk of a woman in the United States to die from a pregnancy-related or birth-related cause stands at 1 in 2,100. Only three other countries categorized as “more developed nations” by Save the Children, rank lower: Albania, Moldova and Russia.
“On most of the health indicators, whether it’s maternal mortality, child mortality or life expectancy, the U.S. does much worse than you would expect,” said Patrick Watt, global campaign and advocacy director for Save the Children. “The U.S. spends a lot on health as a percentage of G.D.P. but is very inefficient in translating that into health gains.”
Sure, objectively those numbers are still not alarming, but if a drug caused equal damage it would be removed from the market. What is more, especially in the United States religious fundamentalists keep their “Pro Life” campaign going, deeming abortions as murder and sin. It should alarm us that certain people want to tell all women what they can and what they cannot do with their own body. Whether they like it or not, until the baby is born, it is the mother’s body – and her health. Nobody should have the right to forbid her to decide what is best for her.
Another source related to the United States says:
“The rate of severe complications during and after delivery have also doubled in the last decade, according to a 2012 federal study. Near-misses, where a woman nearly dies, increased by 27 percent.
That means each year in the U.S., about 700 women die of pregnancy-related complications and 52,000 experience emergencies such as acute renal failure, shock, respiratory distress, aneurysms and heart surgery. An additional 34,000 barely avoid death.”
According to the World Health Organization, the problem of maternal mortality is a massive one on a global scale:
“Every minute, at least one woman dies from complications related to pregnancy or childbirth – that means 529 000 women a year. In addition, for every woman who dies in childbirth, around 20 more suffer injury, infection or disease – approximately 10 million women each year.”
In many countries around the world, girls are either not allowed or not able to go to school, trapping them in a circle of poverty and dependence. In the United States as well as in Germany, no signs of unequal access to education are noticeable regarding high school or college. However, as with jobs, women make it rarely to the top. There are plenty of female teachers, but only very few run a school. Many women get their Masters or PhD, but most high-ranking professors are male. The Nobel Prize is usually awarded to men despite the good work that is performed by female scientists. Still, some families even tell their daughters that they should look for a man that is a good provider – instead of becoming a good provider herself. The price of sticking to these medieval dogmas is that many women – no matter how educated they are – live a life full of submissiveness. They could achieve much more but instead are pushed into being (or choose to be) second to their husbands. Only women in that situation can know what it feels like to be an intellectually superior slave. If the man is working and the woman stays home, nobody even cares. If it is the other way round, people get suspicious. Even today we are told that it is below a man’s dignity to be ranked lower than his wife income wise. This attitude should be considered as what it is: an insult to any educated, independent woman.
In addition to the aforementioned fact that most politicians are male, we must not forget that equal rights are a rather new achievement for our societies before we criticize other countries and customs. Less than a hundred years ago women in Germany as well as in the United States were not even allowed to vote. When Europe lay in ruins after World War I many men had fallen and didn’t return to their families. More importantly, the whole society had changed. Since most men had to serve and die for imperialistic megalomania, their women stayed at home, were forced to take over the economy and agriculture – and finally after years of war realized that they could do pretty much anything their husbands could. When the war was over and the remaining soldiers returned to their homes, they demanded obedience from their family as they had done in the past. But their wives had grown more confident for the right reasons. They had just experienced that they could be as valuable for the society as anyone else and therefore deserved the same rights and independence. Subsequently, in the years following World War I they achieved just that: in Germany as well as in the USA women were granted the right to vote, an achievement which fundamentally went against rusty dogmas and which cannot be understated. Women still had to deal with injustice and inequality for a few more decades – but a first crucial step was made. Unfortunately, the story was not the same for all women around the world. Again, we do not have to look very far to find exceptions. In Switzerland, a wealthy and well developed country, women gained the right to vote in 1971 proving that wealth doesn’t equal progressive politics (which is further visualized by rich states in the gulf region that lack equal rights completely).
As well as suicide bombings, honor killings are not justified by Islam for most believers. However, it seems to be obvious that a certain relationship exists. The murderers in this case might not rely on their religion for their acts, but the idea of female submissiveness and the maintenance of ancient traditions and codes of behavior might lead to the necessary mindset. For example, in Islam women are supposed to cover themselves. The justification is that men are weak and women have to avoid tempting them by all means, thus covering their beauty and all parts of the body that might be arousing. From an objective point of view, this dogma strengthens the male’s power over the female. The woman has to obey – if she doesn’t do so and a man would “make a mistake” by getting aroused, it wouldn’t even be his fault but hers. This mindset can be found in our societies as well. Some people tend to say that women who dress too revealingly make a mistake. As sick as it is, but if a woman is raped even our societies tell her that she could have avoided it. Even if she was passed out drunk, the mistake – and the crime – was committed by a man and was not her fault! In a free society like ours, it doesn’t matter what clothes she wore or if she was even naked. Raping someone is a despicable crime and trying to take even a bit of guilt away from the rapist is an obvious sign that we are still very far away from the status of true gender equality.
In Germany cases of honor killings are usually related to families with migratory backgrounds (for example Turks, Germany`s biggest minority). What usually happens is that brothers, fathers, or other male relatives strongly disagree with the lifestyle of a woman in the family. If she, as her relatives would call it, brings shame on the family – even though she is just doing what all other girls her age do for example having sex before marriage or even less –, the men might decide that the only way of restoring honor to the family would be to kill her. The job is usually done by close male relatives such as brothers. It is a shame that such things happen to begin with, but it seems to be even more of a shame that they happen in Germany or the United States. One would hope that a woman growing up in our countries would not have to fear making independent choices.
One of the most common situations where men try to force their dominance onto women in our societies, and the one that upsets me the most, is rape. Let’s get it straight boys. Rape is sex without mutual consent. It doesn’t mean that she has to cry for help, it doesn’t mean that she has to struggle; if she is passed out – no matter if you have something to do with it or not – it is rape! Now, by that definition, the United States is filled with rapist (and the same might be true for Germany). Why? Because statistics say that one out of four, or 25 percent, of all female college students have been raped. 1 out of 4! If you have 1,000 women at a college, that makes 250 victims on average! But there is more:
“60% of male college students “indicated some likelihood of raping or using force in certain circumstances.”
Men in fraternities appear to engage in more non-physical coercion and use of drugs and alcohol as a sexual strategy than do independents.
Every 21 hours there is another rape on an American college campus.
90% of all campus rapes occur under the influence of alcohol.
Men are more likely than women to assume that a woman who drinks alcohol on a date is a willing sex partner. 40% of men who think this way also believe it is acceptable to force sex on an intoxicated woman.
Alcohol use at the time of the attack was found to be one of the four strongest predictors of a college woman being raped.
43% of college men admit using coercive behavior to have sex, including ignoring a woman’s protest; using physical aggression; and forcing intercourse; 15% acknowledged they had committed acquaintance rape; 11% acknowledged using physical restraint to force a woman to have sex.
College rape victims receive external physical injuries in over 47% of all rapes.
Of the college women who are raped, only 25% describe it as rape.
Of the college women who are raped, only 10% report the rape.
College women are most vulnerable to rape during the first few weeks of the freshman and sophomore years.
One in twelve college-age men admit having fulfilled the prevailing definition of rape or attempted rape, yet virtually none of these men identify themselves as rapists.
34% of completed rapes and 45% of attempted rapes take place on campus. Almost 60% of the completed campus rapes that take place on campus occur in the victim’s residence, 31% occur in another residence, and 10% occur in a fraternity.
3/4 of off-campus rapes and 7/8 of on-campus rapes involved perpetrators who were known to the victims.
78% of the men identified (as rapists) were an acquaintance, friend or boyfriend of the victims.
Most rapes occur on the weekend.”
What is wrong with us? Why aren’t we outraged by this? College life is only a snapshot of our society; it might be just as bad in other areas of our community. However, how many times a crime is committed tells you one thing about a society. How this crime is dealt with tells you even more. If 25 percent of all female college students are raped, are we facing thousands of rape trials? No, not even close! Sure, the problem is that it might be hard to prove the offense without witnesses. In addition, some women fake a rape (an offense just as despicable as actual rape since it undermines the credibility of true victims). However, what is most crucial regarding the topic and what should shame us all as part of this perverted society is the fact that most women do not even report being raped. Why? Because they are scared of how they would be treated in their community afterwards, if people called them a liar or a slut, if they claimed that it was their fault somehow, that they brought shame on their family, and so on. A good part of the girls and women of our nations are being raped – and we have nothing better to do than to belittle the problem. It couldn’t be more obvious that women are everything but equal. In a society dominated by men, crimes that are committed predominantly by men won’t be punished as harshly as necessary. Since most cases of rape are never investigated, the risk of getting caught is rather low. Under such circumstances, many men will continue to do what they are doing. I don’t know where they lost their dignity and empathy, but they obviously did. What we need is a culture of respect for the opposite gender, an honest and open relationship to our sexuality, and strong women, who will call a crime when it hits them instead of worrying about what others might think.
But maybe this culture of rape is just a recent outburst of our eroding values? I wish that were so, but I am pretty sure it is not – and I don’t believe that it will change anytime soon. Rape is as old as mankind and has been an accepted behavior in our societies for the longest time. Take a marriage for example. In the past men believed – and many still do today – that their wives duty was to be available for sex whenever he felt the desire. It didn’t matter if she was ready or not, but she couldn’t say no because if she did he might have forced or beat her. It cannot be measured how many cases of rape occurred under these circumstances (but the large number of offspring per family in the past – dangerous as it was for the women – hint to gigantic numbers). Sadly, in accordance to the law there was nothing that women could have done. In Germany, marital rape wasn’t a crime before 1997.
The situation in the USA was similar. In other words, a husband could rape his wife as many times as he wanted to – and didn’t even commit a crime:
“In United States researchers estimate that 10% to 14% of married women experience rape in marriage. When researchers examined the prevalence of different types of rape, they found that marital rape accounts for approximately 25% of all rapes. Despite the prevalence of marital rape, this problem has received relatively little attention from social scientists, practitioners, the criminal justice system, and larger society as a whole. In fact, it was not until the 1970s that the society began to acknowledge that rape in marriage could even occur. Till recently, the general rule was that a husband could not be convicted of the offence of raping his wife as he is entitled to have sexual intercourse with his wife, which is implied under the contract of marriage.”
Freedom of marriage and divorce
It still seems to be true today that many women marry for status or wealth rather than for love. Hence, high divorce rates in our countries should come as no surprise. On the other hand, the increase of divorce rates can also be seen as a positive development. In the past, wives usually weren’t able to go that far even if their marriage was a living hell. Society would have ostracized them, they had no place to go, they would have left a whole bunch of children, and in many cases they wouldn’t have had money or a job due to their dependence on their husbands. Today, women are more independent and they have to fear fewer ramifications when getting divorced. However, in some cases their choice of a spouse is still not free but influenced by their parents or other relatives. On a larger scale, women are still stuck with old dogmas thanks to religion that teaches them to be an obedient wife and caring mother. It is so convenient and always has been: the husband doesn’t even have to try hard to fulfill their wife’s wishes and desires since she has to be obedient and faithful anyway. The worst kind of male dominance when it comes to weddings is of course arranged marriages which also happen in the United States. The Mormon way of life might not be in agreement with the law, but it is tolerated in certain areas. Young girls – many younger than 18 – are married to men that are much older and who have multiple wives. There you have it all: pedophilia, marital rape, polygamy, possible incest, and total disrespect for individual women. It doesn’t happen only in India, or in China, or in the Congo – it happens right here where we live.
Last but not least, another topic that should shame us to the bones is sex trafficking, especially with minors. Again, it is just too convenient to point fingers at other countries such as India that are known to have a high rate of sex trafficking, but the problem is a more universal one not far away from our doorsteps. Not only are many girls illegally “imported” to our countries for such purposes, but local women are affected alike. In Germany, prostitution is legal. However, that does not indicate that prostitutes choose freely to do what they are doing. There are many ways of coercion – or sheer desperation. Is there really no other way for men to deal with their sexual urges? And why are there so few male prostitutes? Again, it is women whose position is inferior to those of men.
Many men don’t think twice about how they are treating women. They will do whatever is necessary to build up trust even though their ultimate goal is nothing but exploitation. To name only one example, they want to get laid. If the chosen women get hurt emotionally or even physically, it doesn’t concern the men too much. On the other hand, however, if those men end up having a daughter themselves they would be outraged by such behavior regarding their little girl. This is an example of the omnipresent hypocrisy regarding women. We claim that they are treated equally and fairly, but when it comes down to it men will still try to oppress them. In this case, daddy’s little girl deserves protection and respect – when all other women do not.
Great strides have been made in our countries regarding gender equality but a lot of work still needs to be done. Education is key. We should be teaching our girls from a young age on that they never have to be second to men, that they can be independent, that they can become presidents, technicians, astronauts, scientists, CEOs etc. We have to end the still prominent notion that women are supposed to have children. They are worth no less if they decide – just like men – to choose a career over a stereotypical family or to free themselves from the burden of raising children. If you think about it, judging someone based on their reproductive success is as demeaning as it can get. Everyone is unique and deserves respect independent of the size of their families. Education is also important for boys in a way that we have to teach them to see girls as their equal and not baby making machines who are expected to give up their future to raise a family. Men can also become stay at home dads and that is just as rewarding and acceptable as a stay at home mom. Furthermore, mankind is struggling due to the ever increasing dilemma of overpopulation. The world doesn’t need more children, it needs less. Unless of course you rely on nationalistic or racist arguments claiming that Germans or Americans are better or more valuable people who are threatened by other groups. Humans have a serious problem with group mentality. We are but one species, one race. Neither gender nor ethnicity, religion or nationality, should matter when we look at ourselves as equals.
On our way towards fair societies we can start right here in our countries. Women deserve equal pay, equal respect and protection, equal trust, equal education, equal career chances, and so on. Most importantly, we have to eradicate the medieval dogma that women are inferior to men in any way. Only when justice is served shall we dare to mention again that women are truly equal.