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THE OBSERVER

Women and days

This article is about people and aimed at people, as well as a call to revolt. I will not dwell on the rationality which shows how gender equality makes sense economically, nor on the justification of the origin of the endless salary gap, or how unpaid time spent taking care of the family impacts on their career and leads to lower income and lower retirement pensions for working women. All the arguments are well-known and fail to impress those who point to the progress made by way of an apology. Obviously, progress has been made. An eighty year-old woman needed her husband or her father’s signature to open a bank account and to apply for a passport, and she dare not ride a scooter, lest she broke the stale moral rules of Francoism. Undoubtedly, times have changed. But there are still many daily battles to be fought which do not concern women exclusively. This is not a gender issue, but a person issue.

To borrow someone else’s words, in the 1930s Gaziel’s “distinguished friend”, María Luz Morales, asked him this question in a reportage for El Sol: “What should women read?”. The Catalan author and journalist replied: “There is no compelling reason why women should not read the same as men”. And Gaziel noted that her question was akin to asking “What food should women eat for nourishment?”. Well, naturally, the same as men. He stated that “any differences would be individual and relative, never genetic and absolute”. A few years later, when things got out of hand and the Spanish Civil War broke out, Gaziel went into exile and it was a women, no other than María Luz Morales, who took over as editor-in-chief of La Vanguardia, Barcelona’s daily.

MEN AND DAYS

I believe that differences between men and women are largely between individuals and not merely down to gender, and that the solution for social progress will emerge from the alliance between the men and the women who are willing to share a life and avoid gender bias. Genuinely sexist women are all around us, as well as some men who find discrimination against women repulsive.
Today’s Sunday’s special goes out to the latter. The dossier features accounts by women with successful careers who have felt someone else’s demeaning gaze. Also, we go over the results of our web’s participation wall, where readers have told us about surprising situations. We intended for it to be anecdotal, though our readers’ stories are anything but. The unashamed daily expression of sexism is still shocking today. How come an engineering lecturer can ask his female pupils if they have enrolled on the course hoping to find a husband, and get away with it? How can a male political leader (and a father of twins) possibly tell a politician who is pregnant with twins that her political career is likely over? Our dossier is a good guide for civilised men who often do not understand the meaning of microsexism. For instance, when in a meeting men choose other men as their interlocutor, whilst ignoring their equally or better qualified female colleagues. Or the sexist joke that objectifies a female peer or superior to achieve cohesion among primates.
 
The experience of many women confirms that, if there is a time when equal opportunities are truly at risk, it is when a woman becomes a mother. We are all surrounded by tired women who knacker themselves in order to meet the socially expected standards, as well as their own.
 
OUR OWN CHEATS

In Rebecca Solnit’s Men Explain Things to Me  there is an interesting quote for the army of exhausted women. It is Virginia Woolf’s Professions for Women speech, in which she fiercely describes the urge to kill the Angel in the House, the ideal woman who meets everyone’s needs and expectations. “I did my best to kill her. My excuse, if I were to be had up in a court of law, would be that I acted in self-defence. Had I not killed her, she would have killed me. (…) Killing the Angel in the House was part of the occupation of a woman writer. (…) The Angel was dead; what then remained? You may say that what remained was a simple and common object — a young woman in a bedroom with an inkpot. In other words, now that she had rid herself of falsehood, that young woman had only to be herself. Ah, but what is “herself”? I mean, what is a woman? I assure you, I do not know. I do not believe that you know”.

Gender equality is in the hands of the men and women who are able to build a fairer world. The latter, though, must do their bit when due. Since power cannot be shared, they will have to take it. They will have to come down to the arena, reply assertively and avoid getting tangled up in the cobweb of stereotypes. Fight the Barbie doll which they socially carry inside.

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