Women in the 21st Century

In late February 2020, I came across a video entitled ‘Be a lady, they said’. Naturally, I was intrigued by the satirical headline and watched it. I immediately became invested and decided to further develop my personal interest in the role of women in the 21st century. Deeper research has presented me with startling realities surrounding topics such as feminism, misogyny and misandry, benevolent sexism, and the unrealistic expectations for women. Furthermore, I heave learned about impressive women and men who have devoted themselves to achieving equality of sexes. I have researched and gathered the topics surrounding women in the 21st century enclosed in this issue of ‘Women in the 21st Century’ to share a range of topics surrounding women, in the 21st century.  

Feminism: One of the most misinterpreted terms of our time

Feminism has become an area of adversarial viewpoints, especially in the 21st century. Often, the feminism movement has been misinterpreted and misunderstood as a fight against men. This notion is counterproductive to feminism’s accurate meaning as the advocacy of women’s rights based on the equality of sexes. This does not suggest that only women can be feminists, nor does it advocate for bashing men. Some movements, such as #MenAreTrash, promote misandry and eliminate feminism’s original intent. Initially, this movement intended to ‘expose and address the abuse, injustice, discrimination, and disrespect experienced by women at the hands of men, in public and behind closed doors’. While many were on board with this idea, others turned this campaign into ‘drawing attention to the systematic way men are trash’. Rather than shedding light unto injustices, hatred and assumptions were made about men. One particular tweet read, His mum used to beat him? #MenLie Women don’t beat men, women can’t beat men. If they do, a man probably deserves it anyway. #MenAreTrash #KillAllMen”. This, unfortunately, was only one of many tweets taking away from this movement’s original intent. This shift was largely fueled by women with concerning behavioral patterns identifying themselves as “feminists”. The negative view on feminists is evidently derived from the association of women comparable to these who, at their root, are not feminists at all.

 The Dangers of Impossible Expectations

Women are subject to many often unattainable expectations that threaten their emotional, physical, and mental health. Cynthia Nixon’s ‘Be a lady, they said’ explores the impossible standards set out to women, employing ominous, accelerating music and arresting images from movies, tabloids, news broadcasts, TV shows and advertisements. Many of these expectations are often hypocritical and go against each other. In one instance of the video, scripted by writer Camille Rainville, a narrator recites “Be experienced. Be sexual. Be innocent. Be dirty.” These are just four of the thousands of distressing expectations that are set out for women, which presents the ‘Double Binding’ theory. Gregory Bateson, the anthropologist that founded this theory, defined it as communicative dilemmas due to the contradiction between two or more messages. Put simply, no matter how the receiver responds, they will always make a mistake and present inevitable failure and disappointment to others. Bateson initially developed this theory to explain the psychological causes of schizophrenia, but it describes the impact of unattainable standards for women disturbingly well. Women generally being subject to the same theories as schizophrenic individuals evidently displays the dangers of the presence of these expectations. Knowing this, it is no surprise that rising levels of “body dissatisfaction” have driven unprecedented levels of mental turmoil in young women, that “emotional problems in young girls have been significantly, and very worryingly, on the rise over the past few years,” or that “hospital admissions for self-harm are up by two-thirds among girls.” These are unavoidable outcomes of the pressures placed upon women and young girls. These unattainable societal expectations present severe dangers which can only be reversed through eliminating these unrealistic standards. Let girls be GIRLS, not objects.

How Benevolent Sexism hurts us all

Gender roles have been present for as long as humans have existed. Outlining how people are expected to act, speak, dress, groom and conduct themselves based on our assigned sex, gender roles are inaccurate and exaggerated. As a society, it has become painfully clear that it is ignorant to hold people of any gender to this generalization. While these actions are traditionally and simplistically categorized as “stereotyping”, the theory of benevolent or ambivalent sexism (“benevolent sexism”) is more modern and precise. This theory generally refers to attitudes that view women and men in stereotypical roles but feel “positive” or even complimentary in nature. Benevolent sexism, at the root, is an idealization of traditional gender roles. Specifically, ‘women are said to be “naturally” more kind, emotional, and compassionate, while men are “naturally” more rational, less emotional, and tougher mentally and physically.’ These descriptors seem like compliments, but many people are blind to the damage they generate. How would compliments hurt us? They habitually suggest that women are sensitive and weak and men are emotionless, generating a damaging offensive stereotype. I take pride in being strong-willed and independent, and I have worked very hard to maintain that. I never understood why I committed to this portrayal of myself until researching benevolent sexism. My association with these stereotypes solely because I am female have pushed me to prove otherwise. Contrarily, we cannot realistically hold men to the high standard set out for them, as the inability to express oneself oppresses internal feelings and silences authentic reactions and interactions. Hence, society’s constant need for individuals to counter the stereotypes set out for them fuels a very dangerous cycle for future generations. Ultimately, women and men should be free of stereotypical expectations based on their gender and regarded as individuals. Gender has nothing to do with how one should act, feel, or present themselves. 

 The Root Problem: Misogyny and Misandry

A consistent theme underlying each of the previous topics is the expectation that women should hate men, and men should hate women. These two ideas are better known as misogyny and misandry:

mi·sog·y·ny /məˈsäjənē/ noun

dislike of, contempt for, or ingrained prejudice against women.

mis·an·dry /miˈsandrē/ noun

dislike of, contempt for, or ingrained prejudice against men.

Evidently, these are the root cause of all the matters presented in this issue. Many of these matters would be solved if not for the underlying base of hate for the opposite gender. Hate has caused a lot of problems in this world, but it has not yet solved one. The elimination of hate is the start to eliminating all these problems. Yes, it’s really that simple.

Written by Jenna Gulizia. Jenna is pursuing her International Bachelor of Business Administration at the Schulich School of Business, interested in pursuing a career in law.

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