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Mirror, Mirror On The Wall..., Which Gender Has It All?

"men and women are able to do the same work and think in similar ways"

"women are easy to use and most men just use them"

"there should be no differences between men and women"

"there is no sense fighting for equality. If women were created weaker, why can’t they just accept it?"

"women can’t be absolutely equal to men because of existing prejudices. But times are changing and in the new Millennium everything will be possible”

"all men are above women. It is he, not she ~ who sets the terms for love games"

"men are on earth, women are on earth – deal with it!"

"they are both humans, but men believe that they are better"

Quotes from young people on Attitudes to Men, Women and Sex, Living for Tomorrow questionnaire [1999]

‘Girls or boys, we are the same!’, we said angrily when boys from the school-next-door try to pick a quarrel with us. They don’t always do it and we can be best of friends. But at times, when we argue about differences between girls and boys, we are belittled, ridiculed and annoyed. It’s so UNFAIR!

“Now wait a minute. When you girls demand what we have or do, you claim ‘we are equal’. But when you girls want special treatment, you pledge ‘oh! Please understand, we are different!’ Make-up your mind, girls! What do you want?”

Once a boyfriend asked, ‘If you believe in gender equality, why is it that when I send my best friend home, I don’t have to wait for him to get into his house but you insist that I see you to your door?’. He was not confrontational but confused. ‘Well, I supposed if you don’t wait, the worst thing that can happen is he might be robbed. But I might be robbed and raped’. He was very receptive and from then onwards, he preached this rationale to his friends.

When we are born, we are called a boy or a girl according to our sexual organs. At that point, we know nothing about how to behave or what is it like to be a ‘boy’ or ‘girl’. We have many similarities and a few differences. We share equal talents, characteristics, strengths and hopes for the future but sometimes we will receive unequal or negative treatments for being a boy or a girl.

We develop into men and women in the society, influenced by a complex interaction of social expectations, cultural, economic and even political factors. Messages we receive from family, friends, schools, media and society can significantly determine what are the appropriate needs of girls and boys, women and men, how we should behave, what roles we should assume, what responsibilities we should undertake, how we should be treated and how to treat the other sex. The different interactions and experiences also influence feelings of girls as girls and boys as boys.

At times in life, however men and women experience different things because of their bodies (like women giving birth and breastfeeding). These unique roles are specific reproductive functions for either women or men.

But at other times, most of what men and women do everyday is because of tradition beliefs about what a man or woman “IS” or “SHOULD BE”. However, these traditions are always changing and can be perceived differently in different cultures and societies. It is difficult to define gender equality between men and women. But equality matters when it comes to sharing of responsibility for sexual safety, health and well-being as well as an enriching family life.

We are also strongly influenced by ideas of ‘masculinity’ and ‘femininity’ that circulate in our society, especially by the media. Very often, images of women and men portrayed in media tend to be stereotypical. Women are expected to be passive, subservient and skimpily dressed, emphasizing their role as sex objects and reinforcing stereotype that physical attractiveness is the main desirable quality for women. Men however, are usually associated with qualities such as a leader, successful, wealthy, stylish, elegant and superior.

Ideas of ‘male’ and ‘female’ jobs have also developed across time, also influenced by social conditions, by traditions and culture. Different professions may require different physical and mental capacities and acquired skills, but these capacities and skills do not always depend on one being a male or a female.

'My sister wants to be a mechanic' 'My father is a secretary'

It often happens that the one who has or earns more money, has the decision-making power. An ideal situation would be shared responsibility and mutual respect in a relationship where both partners consult each other and together make decisions for the benefit of each other.

Back to our daily lives and reality, it is not always easy to practise gender equality and achieve equity. Personally I have yet to solve the puzzle or be fair to men totally. I do realise that I still wish to preserve my privileges as a young woman and I am not completely comfortable when guys lay claim to equity. But I must say that I am more careful now with my requests and demands. Above all, I am happy to admit that I am striving to be more sensitive to the males, too.

What about you?

1. FFPAM – Reproductive Health of Adolescents Module, Trainer’s Guide
2. How to bridge the gap between us? – Booklet by Estonian and Russian Teenagers

Mae Tan Siew Mann, Community Education Officer

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