When will the fight be over?

Hundreds of thousands march during the Women’s March in Washington, DC, January 21, 2017. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Bryan Woolston

Centuries of women have been trying to uproot the misogyny ridden foundation of society, picking up their pitchforks and taking to the streets in demand for basic human rights, individual freedoms and a level playing field.

Though we have better education and more freedoms than once allowed to women, have the battles waged against gender inequality been won?

I think it would be easier for women if there was a simple answer but, unfortunately, a woman’s experience is anything but simple.

Each generation faces different challenges as society adapts. Our grandmother’s generation were simply fighting to be heard in a world where women were supposed to be silent and reserved. They achieved their goal with the suffrage movement.

Likewise, women from our mother’s generation took up a different fight to be seen and gain representation. Through them, women’s numbers in the workforce increased tenfold.

If you ask both generations, women today have it much easier, see many more opportunities, and are progressing quickly. However, modern age women believe more challenges and societal pressures exist today.

Jessica Clark, associate professor of classics at Florida State University believes, “We’ve yet to achieve gender equality or parity equality.”

It would be inconsiderate to say the advances made by previous generations of women were not enough, but as society progresses so do our demands.

Yes, women today are seen in positions of power and have platforms for which they can vouch for themselves, but does this mean anything if they still lack basic tenets like respect, appreciation, freedom to make decisions and a general belief that they do not belong in certain spaces?

These discrepancies perpetuate false narratives and stereotypes about the woman’s experience and hold women back from achieving more.

The stereotype that women can not successfully operate in higher positions, along with societal gender norms in the home, are one of the reasons women still do not receive wages on scale equal to that of their male counterparts.

“[There] still seems to be a prevailing belief that women are mothers and women want to be mothers,” said Clark.

At the same time, we are still fighting battles our parents and grandparents were fighting for.

Sexual violence and abuse against women is like a genetic trait that is passed down through each generation, no matter the ethnicity. 

The World Health Organization states one in three women fall victim to some form of physical or sexual violence by a significant other, or sexual violence from someone outside of a relationship.

Another quarter of women between the ages of 15 and 24 that have experienced a relationship would have undergone some form of sexual violence by a partner by their mid-twenties. 

In other words, everyone knows at least one woman — probably more — that has experienced a sexual assault.

It is hard to measure whether the collective efforts of women have amounted to anything when old obstacles currently threaten our ability to live while new barriers continue to present themselves by the day. 

“Not only are women not able to claim their rights, but when they attempt to, it seems as if the law is not on their side,” Clark said.

Many men will try to justify violence towards women by blaming a woman’s body type, fashion choices or mere existence in a particular space. 

When women do speak up and demand justice, they are frequently disregarded. National surveys suggest less than two percent of reported sexual assault cases lead to a conviction.

Men in government also constantly degrade and disenfranchise women when they create insulting and insensitive legislation.

At least sixteen states have created laws that restrict a woman of her sexual and reproductive rights and limit a woman’s ability to make basic decisions. Many more states are trying to pass legislation that would aim to reverse legal measures hundreds of women fight tirelessly to attain.

Why, through every period in history, have women been reduced to nothing but their anatomy? And, why does it seem like there is a trade off for women to get rights and protections?

Part of the problem could lie on women. You could ask one thousand women what an equal world looks like and get one thousand different answers.

There are women today who say gender roles prevent us from equality, while others believe tasks like taking out the trash is an inherently male chore. In the same way, some say they want similar opportunities men are allowed, but if someone suggests women should be drafted to go to war this ideology falls flat.

By this standard, it seems what women want is empathy and understanding more than equality.

Still, it is difficult to expect men to treat women equally when women don’t even know what that looks like to them.

Furthermore, it is hard to define equality when the meaning is constantly changing.

If we look at society through the lens of trying to keep up with the requests and demands of each generation of women, can we honestly say society is so far behind with granting women what it believes is equality?

At the same time, is it realistic for women to expect society to be ready, or quick, to support equality in all aspects when there is no precedent?

As frustrating as it may be, women have to accept that the current constructs of society took centuries to create and will probably take twice as long to undo. Trying to enforce new social norms will, naturally, meet a lot of pushback from men.

“A lot of behaviors are normalized that are not normal,” said Clark.

Women should not be discouraged in their fight, but rethink their strategy of attaining what they want. 

Though using former generations of women as an example is wise, Millennials and Generation Z women taking up the fight need to change their approach. If women are to further themselves in this chess game of equality, they must start enlisting men in their battles.

Clark thinks that the slow, but calculated tactics used by older groups of women “has done as much as it’s going to” and believes male participation is essential going forward.

“I think [men] have an obligation to speak up when they see things or hear things or read things from their peers [that are negative to women],” Clark said. “If they have assumptions that they catch themselves in, they should think about where those came from.”

Clark also noted that women do not age out of the struggle, but simply take on different roles.

“I don’t think the next round of change is going to come from women in our 30s and 40s… Young women must fight for change and it’s up to the older women to support it,” Clark said.

Do women have what they fought for? Partially, but progress has slowed and there are many battles to be won.

With the introduction of social media, the fight has gotten easier but it has also introduced a number of obstacles and created an even longer list of demands.

If society is to ever get closer to gender equality, everyone has to fight for women and they must be granted some respect, protection, space, appreciation and the freedom to make their own decisions about things that concern them.

Women are so much more than any stereotype or societal standard can suggest. Women are not just their bodies or a pretty picture to look at. They are not moving vessels of emotion ready to ignore at any given moment. They are more than a figure in the kitchen or the nurturing arms that rock a baby to sleep. 

Women are creative, passionate, powerful and independent. They are the center of every society they exist in. They wear high heels, then use them to break glass ceilings. They are the most intelligent demographic in America. They are mothers and chief executive officers. They are risk takers and game changers. Women should be whatever they choose to be. Above all, women are human.

Society will not progress without the rights and advancement of women, so men need to choose carefully what side of this ongoing war they want to be on.