“Women Hold Up Half the Sky” Mao Zedong

When I tell people that I went to an all girls’ Catholic high school, their first response is often to ask,

A photo of my class on college decision day. Note the bright maize shirt I'm sporting (and sticking out in).

A photo taken by my calc teacher and sent to my math class. This is my entire (but yes, small) graduating class on college decision day. Note the bright maize shirt I’m sporting (and sticking out in).

“All girls? Didn’t that suck?” Not really, since none of us cared what anyone thought about our appearance, making getting ready in the mornings super easy. Their second question is usually, “Is that Buzzfeed article  actually true?“ Most likely. And finally, the one question that actually matters for this post, “Does that mean you had to, like, take religion classes and stuff?!” We did. “Did that, like, totally suck?” Well, sometimes. But not most of it. “Wait, really?” Really.

While some of my religion classes (I’m looking at you, freshman year Catholic Christianity and junior year Church History!) were admittedly awful, others were actually somewhat fun and interesting. During my senior year, I

One of my projects in social justice, going towards the Malala Fund.

A picture I took and posted on social media sites. This was one of my projects in social justice, geared towards the Malala Fund.

took a social justice class as my required religion class. It was probably the best class I took in high school, even though I had to write a research paper that was due around the same time as early college applications and I often wanted to cry during and after class sometimes depending on that day’s topic. Being at an all girls’ school, one of our biggest focuses was social justice relating to women. We read Half the Sky by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn as our summer reading, and I could not believe some of what I read. I highly recommend that you read this book if you are at all interested in women’s studies or in just being a well-educated human being. There are also several documentaries from it on Netflix featuring several celebrities if you would prefer that. It honestly changed my views of the world and the way I think about a lot of situations. Mika Lavaque-Monty’s book, Equality and Excellence in Modern Meritocracy, that my poli sci class read a chapter of this week (chapter five, if you were interested) reminded me of Half the Sky because of how Mika talks about how women are viewed by society.

Mika speaks about different types of personhood and the societal norms placed on them when thinking about equality of opportunity. In doing so, he points out that, in the world of sports, being a woman is comparable to being disabled. Many people view women in sports as “silly,” and they believe the strongest, most elite female athletes are comparable to the weakest male athletes, a belief that is utterly false. Women, whether or not they face dehabilitating physical injuries, are often viewed as disabled compared to men; they are considered less than men in the athletic world.

How many times can you recall in gym class one of the following happening: boys told to “take it easy” on the girls, girls getting a head start on a run or other activity, being separated by gender and having the boys play harder or with more aggressive rules than the girls, or a teacher treating a girl as if they were fragile, like breaking a nail or being on their period would make them too weak to continue on with the class? From my times in public school (through eight grade), I remember this happening. It’s only now that I realize that this is because even the people who teach gym classes and are supposed to promote the health of all students believed that women were not capable of the same athletic feats as men.

Basically

This quote just sums up everything I feel about gender equality. Source: flickr

Half the Sky seems unrelated to this when one thinks purely about the sports aspect of it. However, when we think about “why” these views exist, Half the Sky is perfectly relatable to Mika’s book. It details the lives of women in several poverty-stricken countries, focusing on sex trafficking, forced prostitution, maternal mortality, and gender-based violence. These things happen to women because they are simply viewed as less than men, and these views are taught, even unconsciously. The same occurs to women in sports. Women are viewed as less than their equal competitors: men.

While the issues discussed in Half the Sky and Mika’s book are completely different situations, they are caused by the same flawed societal thinking. The only way that this thinking can be fixed is by educating people from a young age about the equality between genders, and teaching people that different doesn’t mean unequal. From here, women can be treated with respect and as equal competitors on the playing field. From here, women can be given power in their homes and villages. (Did you know that when women hold financial power in a household, they often do a better job than their husbands because they are focused on different things? Here is an example.)

Feminism and equality of the genders is certainly a hot topic right now, with the news being filled of things like Emma Watson’s endorsement of He for She, Malala Yousafzai’s Nobel Peace Prize win, and several celebrities who have said they are against feminism (though I would argue many of them don’t truly understand what feminism really is). The only way things can change in our society is if we start education about equality with young children, teaching them to stop gender stereotypes, which are harmful to both men and women, and to remind them that women, do indeed hold up half the sky.

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2 comments

  1. ethanmartin95 · October 26, 2014

    I completely agree that this is a problem with discrimination between genders. It’s not right that society sees women as disabled or less capable than a man. It’s ludicrous that we try to keep comparing things that shouldn’t be compared. It is not that women are less than men, they are just different. AND ITS NOT A BAD THING. I understand that this might cause an argument or debate but I am not trying to cause controversy. It is fact that men and women are different. Our physical make up is different, our emotional make up is different, and so on. We are different. The problems come when we try to compare men and women. If you try to compare the bitterness of coffee to sweetness of sugar, there will be great disappointment. However, if you let them exist on their own or even combine them and let them mix freely, you have a delicious beverage. This is the same for men and women. We don’t have to put one against the other, they can just be their own being. Your experience in gym class was not a sexist act. It was just a precaution. Women on average are 30 lbs less, 6 inches shorter, and have 30% less muscle mass than men. It’s a fact that on average, women are smaller then men. There is no reason to have a larger male compete with a smaller female. It has nothing to do with athletic capabilities. Rather it has to do with differences that make make a situation unfair. We have male and female sports because we are different physically. There would be a serious problem if we started separating non athletic events like competitions on cooking shows because that would be blatant disrespect for gender. The fact that we don’t separate everything into a male and female side should be encouraging. Men and Women are different and we need to stop comparing them. There wouldn’t be sexists if we let each exist on there own. And to be more specific, these difference only occur in sports. Everywhere else, women and men are equal and can accomplish the same thing. Women are not disabled.

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  2. acfalk2 · October 27, 2014

    I agree with you as well. There is a huge difference between men and women in every aspect. Yes, we are all humans but physically, emotionally, and mentally we are undoubtedly different. Women can equal men in different aspects of life, and they often surpass men, but the social norm will always hold that men are the superior beings. Graduating from an all girls catholic high school as well, I can completely relate to your experience. We were a school that talked about feminism at some point everyday. Each class made a point to highlight the accomplishments of women just as equally as men, if not spending more time on focusing more time on women rather than men. The word feminism was thrown around on a daily basis, but always in a positive connotation. This was my biggest “culture shock” once I left the bubble of my high school. That the word “feminism” has a very negative connotation to many people. Is this fair? There is not one right answer, but there also aren’t alot of “masculinists”. A lot of people think that feminists hate men, but we were taught the exact opposite in my extremely feminist high school. We were taught to be empowered independent women, but we were also taught to respect and appreciate men. Everyone has a different opinion based on this, and this becomes more frequent in everyday life, especially in a college setting.

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