In the debate about gender, facts and theories are often mixed up. Although it ignites passion on both sides, you have to be aware that all sides are based on theories which have been strengthened by fact. Does that mean either side is more or less legitimate? No, to say that would be doing a disservice to whatever side you happen to have come down on. What I will say, however, is that the side of continued female inequality has much more history and many more facts to back it up.
The foundation of male privilege had its roots set thousands of years ago, not because of science or evolution, but because of a misunderstanding of differences. Fast-forward to Europe in the process of industrialization, and this inequality becomes painfully obvious and worse, painfully modern. Before industrialization, men were farmers and fishermen, they saw the fruits of their labor every day and at the end of the season had tangible evidence that their work paid off. They could hold produce in their hands, knowing that it was going to feed someone. Women were involved in this process, and while it was definitely not a system based on equality, the inequality was not so glaring as it was later.
When huge factories took over farming towns, men who went to work lost the ability to see the tangible fruits of their own labor; they were no longer the masters of their workspace because they had to answer directly to a boss or a supervisor. The government knew this, and they knew that stripping men of their masculinity at work was going to cause problems so instead; they strengthened their masculinity and authority in the home. What did this mean for women? It meant state intervention in their lives. It meant that while the state was talking about the strong man, head of the house, king of the family, his subordinate was his wife.
Let’s jump ahead again, today we have phrases like “man of the house” that we throw around like it’s nothing. The man of the house has to take care of the family because he is the king. No one would dare come into the domain of the man and tell him what he could or could not do with his body. No one would offer him money to have a child, and no, I’m not referring to surrogacy here, I’m talking about that “baby bonuses” check that the government might give you once you have a baby because you have contributed a statistic for their census. No government official is coming down on a man and telling him that he does not have the right to his own body the way that abortion and birth control laws do to women. Women are still largely considered to be vessels of childbearing by an outdated government who is certainly not interested in promoting female equality. The structures and issues that existed in industrial England exist today; how do you tell a working class man that he still has self worth? How do you quell tension and unrest? You do it by providing him with a subordinate.
Men and women deserve equal footing; how can you blame a man for believing that he deserves this or that when his government and his society has told him since he was a child that he is better, stronger, faster and more important? You cannot, because it is not his fault. He as an individual is not at fault for the opinions passed down to him in a long line of men wishing to regain the masculinity that they lost when they started answering to a boss in a factory. His attitude will not change, and that’s not his fault.
So what do we do?
We change the attitude of his sons and daughters, tell them that they are equal. Do away with words like “bossy” for assertive little girls, stop telling them that men are better at math and science because their brains are wired differently. Real or not, these statistics are harmful and never helpful. They give little boys superiority complexes and little girls inferiority complexes based on a fight that they have no influence in, but plenty at stake. Let’s start telling our daughters and sons, our nieces and nephews, our students, our friends that they are equal. Show it in school, show it with their friends, show it in the media. Let them be equal. Let them learn that they do not have to repeat the mistakes of their mothers and fathers. Let them be equal.