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