This subject is about the importance of women in our society and the way they contribute to its development. In the past many traditions portrayed women as being less important than men and that is why they had many restrictions such as : little right to education, they were prohibited to vote or to detain political functions, and even they were denied the chance to have a job. The only thing they were supposed to do was the children rearing and house keeping.
There was no country in the world in which women’s quality of life was equal to that of men according to the health status, education opportunities, employment, and political rights. And when they were employed, they were offered a job only in a restricted range of fields having a low pay and being treated with low respect. This situation was determined by sexual discrimination and harassment. They are also confronted with wage discrimination and with long hours of unpaid labor.
Although some countries allowed women to vote, some still had not done so. And there were many informal obstacles that impeached women participation in political life. Almost everywhere, there were a small number of women representing the government.
But regarding women as mothers, they play an important role because even if men considered this an easy task, it was no as easy as it seemed. A mother had to be aware of every movement of her child, she had to offer the child healthy food and finally to give the child a good education. The first years of life are very important and they are the basis of the future man. Children were very much bound to their mothers, and their fathers, because of the lack of time were most of the time only some strangers whom they feared. The authority was detained by the father who did not only punish the children but he also had violent reactions.
Nowadays things have changed radically. The Bill of Rights stipulates that all men are equal, and women are given other opportunities. They can attend school and even higher education, can vote and detain political functions, and they must have a workplace where men treat them with respect. More and more women are independent, and they place career as being one of their priorities. The role of a mother is still very important, but it is not their main occupation. It can be said that even the way they grow up their children has changed. If in the past the father was the “head” of the family, nowadays the roles are divided.
It is an interesting subject to debate because it includes differences of an old society, the traces this has left and the way things have developed.
1. Feminist views
1.1 Women, Human Beings
“Human beings are not by nature kings, or nobles, or courtiers, or rich. All are born naked and poor. All are subject to the miseries of life, to frustrations, to ills, to needs, to pains of every kind. Finally, all are condemned to death. That is what the human being really is.” Jean- Jacques Rousseau, Emile, Book IV.
Therefore a human being is either a man or a woman. There is only a distinction between “genders”. Starting from this idea it can be said that every person is constituted by certain traits, which characterize them as “human”, no matter what culture they belong to. These traits include the fact of mortality, the body needs for food and drink, shelter, mobility, the cognitive capacities, affiliation and concern for others etc. It also must be taken into consideration the premise that there is a common humanity that is recognized across the centuries and continents, and which aims to articulate a set of associated functions and abilities. The real difference that can be made consists on the forms of activity, of deeds and beings that constitute the human way of life and distinguish them from animals and plants.
There are some essential things for an entity to be categorized as a person:
autonomy, self-respect, sense of fulfillment and achievement. The autonomy of a person involves freedom of choice, of opinion and of any discrimination. Everyone should follow his own interior voice, interests according to their capacities.
The interaction with others, the way in which one is perceived and accepted into a group plays an important role. Every person needs to belong to a certain social environment and the relationships they experience influence their way of being.
1.1.2 Self autonomy
Self-respect, is an essential requirement of personhood which involves the sense of dignity, consciousness of autonomy and worth. It also involves consciousness of one’s capacities and rights, and more importantly, commitment to one’s responsibilities. A self-respecting person has a sober assessment of his/her place in the context of life and the world.
The role as mother also develops a range of self-esteem because it gives a new sense to life. It makes a woman feel more responsible with her acts and it also provides her a different importance in society and makes her more mature in a way by becoming a “real woman” at last. Having a child can bring greater vitality, fun and humour, as providing her with a new insight into the world.
In the past centuries almost all women saw the world through the male eyes, they occupied subordinate and inferior positions and were conditioned to limit their own life goals and self-esteem. But nowadays things have changed a lot and women don’t need a man to survive. They can manage very well, they are independent because they have a job which can provide them the chance to buy whatever they like and to live without a man’s support. Work is a vital part of everyone’s life, it intensifies confidence and self-esteem. It makes people, in general, feel complete.
The way women look is an extra concern and influences the way they feel. They want to be beautiful and that is why they keep diets, do sport, go to spas, use expensive cosmetics, appeal to surgery and are careful what they put on them.
Therefore self autonomy is guided by the principles of freedom and includes a series of civil liberties. Every person is free to make their own decisions and to center their deeds according to their necessities and free wills. An autonomous person lives in accordance with the dictates of reason, which is directly linked to morality. Autonomy is neutral, being placed between good and evil and the real challenge is to know what is the right way to follow, of course after passing some obstacles.
1.2 The eternal conflict
It is well known that God first created man, and only after that He gave him a wife in order to multiply and to have ancestors. Because the man was first, he is considered to be the head of the family. But this headship does not mean that woman has no rights or that she is a second class citizen. On the contrary, God told the husband to love his wife and to become a single soul together with her. This headship issue is an issue of order, not of who is better or more important.
Men and women are only different. They differ from the point of view of their physical appearance, ethics, behaviors, dispositions, needs etc. A man is not good or bad because he is a man. Similarly a woman is not good or bad simply because she is a woman. In other words all are subjected to mistakes.
The respect to which women are different from men is important, namely because women can give birth to children, and men can not do it. This is one case in which “natural capacities” are concerned. Therefore women, having a special feature of motherhood, have the right to get special facilities to help them perform their duties as mothers without affecting their rights and responsibilities elsewhere. To perform this parental duty men also must be present in order to offer help when it comes to the child’s education. In ethical and political theories, the family is often viewed as an inappropriate place for showing one’s superiority, but a place for love, altruism and shared interests. If children see that sex difference is the occasion for different treatment, they could be affected in their personal and moral development. They are likely to learn injustice, by absorbing the messages, and by observing that their parents don’t treat each other with respect. There is a need for attention to be paid in order to avoid that the children take as a negative example the way in which their parents behave and repeat it when they grow up.
Empirical research in recent years has brought out clearly that women occupied lower positions than men in traditional economic and social arrangements. Thus there is a wide gap between men’s and women’s recorded and perceived economic participation. All the work women did such as rearing children, cleaning and maintaining the household, caring for the old and sick, and contributing in various ways to men’s work, does not count as work, even if it is crucial for the survival.
A first context related to notions of legitimacy and correctness is that of the gender inequalities. In a family, between women and men, or girls and boys these inequalities should be accepted as “natural”, by lining out an interesting contrast among different members.
On the labor market, for example there should be rather a matter of position than of streakiness. Sometimes a man can be the manager, but a woman can occupy the same function too, in different contexts. To avoid the problem of conflict everyone must pursue the same objectives, as a result of which there will not be a disharmony of interests but a wish to collaborate in the best conditions.
2. Women’s equality
2.1 Gender discrimination
The concept of “equality” has been at the centre of any feminist movement. It was long been obvious that women, as a class, have remained in a state of subjugation and inferiority. They can be considered as an auxiliary of men, most of their duties being orientated towards their husbands who are frequently mentioned as their lord and master. In the Muslim countries, for example, women are given different rights regarding marriage, divorce, civil rights, legal status, dress code, and education. The marriage is arranged by the family together with the future husband. The future bride does not marry in the most cases from love, her wedding being a business for the rest of the family, because the man has to buy her from his father. In a case of a divorce, the children remain with their fathers and there are cases in which women are forbidden to see or visit them. It is a cruelty, because between mothers and children is a strong relationship in which the father shouldn’t interfere. They are not allowed to remain alone with a man if they are married, but men are allowed to have more than a wife.
The employment of women varies over fields on Islamic laws. Even when women have the right to work and are educated, women’s job opportunities are in practice unequal to those of men. They have limited opportunities to work in the private sector because they are expected to put their role in family first, which causes men to be seen as more reliable in the long term. While many work outside home in responsible positions, the law continues to treat them as minors. Specific fields of work clearly point out that women and children below 16 are restricted. The presumption is that women are less able to protect themselves, or that men are better able to resist in hard conditions of work.
The status of women on testimony is disputed. Some jurists held that certain types of testimony by women will not be accepted. In other cases, the testimony of two women can equal that of one man. The reason for this disparity has been explained in various manners, including women’s lack of intelligence, women’s temperament and sphere of interest.
In the other moderate nations there is no legal restriction regarding the right of women to employment, equal wages and protection before the law. But even in these places women can face the same “treatment” from men. But to start surpassing this mentality, and to become men’s equals at the workplace and politics, women have to go beyond the humble image that was assigned to them in the past. Both men and women should accept each other.
2.2 Gender discrimination in China and Mexico
Another example concerning inequality between men and women can be seen in countries such as China. The problems that women were confronted with were the same everywhere. The revolution helped to raise the status of women. The legislation like the Marriage Law of the 1950 did not only reveal the most extreme forms of female subordination and repression, such as prostitution, concubinage, selling of women and children, but it also gave women the opportunity to make their own marital decisions. Their life was no longer restricted to the home, and they joined the agricultural and industrial work forces. Education, which was denied to women in traditional China, has become more accessible. But the education system had first given priority to men, and illiterate schools had been mainly attended by female. Many companies refused to hire female graduates from universities because their parenting responsibilities may impede business. They were also permitted to enter in the area of politics. However, many of them had lower-paid and less challenging jobs, the leadership positions being dominated by men.
The Chinese women were told to be “free”, but they were discouraged when they expressed their opinions. Growing up in the shadow of the Chinese morality, they were becoming accustomed with a certain degree of inferiority. Many of them got used with the idea that they are not accepted on the labor market. This mentality leads them to set low standards of life.
The situation of women in Mexico is almost the same, but they are not forbidden to participate in different spheres of public life. However they suffer from inequality and injustice. Statistics on education and employment reflect that even women had the same rights as men to be actively involved in all fields of activity their actual participation is limited.
Regarding education, 15 % of the female population is illiterate and from the rest only 38% attended a High School. Because of this issue they are denied the opportunity to work as a qualified worker. If they managed to get a job they were paid less than man for doing the same thing. The little money they got, was for the family subsistence, and except for some privileged cases, when they had been responsible for the young children even if she had an outside job. There were cases when another woman, member of the family is employed as a domestic worker who did the house keeping.
Traditional women nowadays seem to accept the unjust social arrangement in which those women had lived before and take action in order to change this situation. Even if they accept the old cultural rules and respect them, they want to be independent, to work freely and to be accepted as equals to men from all points of view. Now there is no argument, no “principle of difference” for denying women the freedom to function in all fields of activity. The need to survive and the fact that men could no longer gain enough to support his family helped women to abolish the traditional division of work according to gender. Women are more educated, many of them graduated one or even two universities. There is no reasonable matter that could be invoked to justify that men are more capable than women.
The government also helps widows and single mothers and the fact that they have to grow up their children it is not an impeachment to get a good paid working place. Many of them can leave their children with their close relatives who look after them without expecting any payment. Employment makes women to improve their status within the family and enables them to have a better treatment from the part of men.
2.3 Migrant women
Many women from all over the world needed to move from their home countries as part of global division of labor which was underpinned by colonial exploitation. Some came as migrants in their own right, while others came as the daughters, wives and mothers of migrant men. All of them met the institutionalized racism of the state in which they had gone. They occupied some specific locations in time and space such as America, England, Italy, Germany coming from Asia and Africa. For many of women coming to these places meant their first encounter with paid work outside home, in domains such as manufacturing or in the state sector, where they were low paid. Even if they expected to have a better life, they encountered a lot of difficulties, serving an economy designed for the metropolitan centers. It was very clear that minority family workers find themselves at the periphery and part-time jobs were never for them.
The life of migrant families is in many ways distinct from the life of the others. Each year migrant families travel to remote parts of the country seeking employment on the labor market to work under bad and hazardous conditions. For example those who arrived in United States were born outside it and many had and continued to have difficulties speaking English. Due to the extreme economic conditions of migrant life, children must often take a job and family responsibilities at a young age, sometimes to the detriment of school attendance. The cost of migrating is high and is common for migrants to arrive at a new destination with little or no money or food. Living conditions are cramped such as a camp housing units consisted of one small room for each family that serves for cooking, eating and sleeping.
Regarding their health even minorities have the same heath problems like the others, they use fewer health services and suffer more from diseases, disabilities and an early death.
Nowadays there are organizations such as MRI whose mission is to advocate for the respect, protection and fulfillment of a full range of human rights of migrants around the world and to foster unity and the inclusion of migrants in all fields.
2.4 Black women
Black history is very wide and during the time it has served whites as an antidote for racism indoctrination. Blacks and whites are two separate cultures, with separate traditions and diametrically opposed past experiences. Black women have been denied important implications in the history because they were profoundly affected by having to see the world through male eyes, as the majority of women did in the past, including the white women, too. They were also conditioned to limit their own life goals, being doubly victimized by scholarly neglecting and racist conceptions. Belonging to two groups which have traditionally been treated as inferiors – blacks and women- they have been almost invisible. They have always been more conscious of race oppression and sex discrimination, being subjected to all the restrictions against Blacks and against women. In no area of life they haven’t ever been permitted to attain higher status than white females.
Additionally, because of the slavery system they were sexually exploited by white men through rape or enforced sexual services. These sexual abuses, which were characteristic to the colonizers on the conquered groups, functioned actually to fasten the badge of inferiority of the slavery societies of black people. The black men were deprived of the power and right to protect their women from white men. So, the poor black women had no support, they could not rely for protection in any part.
Black women had an ambiguous role in relation to white society. They were allowed to serve white families by nursing and raising white children, cleaning their houses and attending sick people. Their wages were the lowest of all including white women. Black women were also deprived of the ballot until 1920 even if poor black men could vote.
But the status of black women can be seen from two different viewpoints: as members of a larger society and within their own group. When they are taken into consideration among Blacks, they had higher status within their group than white women in their society. This paradox is the direct result of white society to black one, the result of the fact that the lowest jobs in white society are reserved for black women. For black females this means that they were trained since childhood to become workers in order to survive. They knew that they had to work even they were married or single. Work to them, unlike to white women is not a liberating goal, but rather an imposed necessity for survival. More than that, they can often find a job while black men cannot do that. Black women’s aim throughout history has been for the survival of her family and of her race. Until the past decade, the access to professional jobs was closed on black women due to discrimination, they were trained only for lower position jobs or for a life of domestic work. Thus they were given smaller chances to complete their studies, than black men, who even with a college degree could hardly find a good working place because of the race discrimination.
Black women showed the pride and the strength of people who had endured great oppression. This gave them a sense of their function in the world and a strong confidence in their values. Their liberation has depended on the liberation of the race and the improvement of the life of the black community.
This slavery pattern was carried out a long time and only recently was abolished and Blacks were given equal rights to those of whites. But even nowadays they seem to bear the old trace of their ancestors and not everyone regards this society as one with the same opportunities. There still are some obstacles they have to surpass such as the unkindness of many white people and the difficulty to be accepted as normal.
In any case it is necessary to recognize that there is a female aspect to all histories, that women were there and that their contributions were different from those of men, regardless of the color of their skin.
2.4.1 The system of slavery
Slavery resisted in practice from its inception in the United States in the early 1600s to its end, in the middle of 1800s. This formed a separate and distinct culture which bound both master and slave in a complex and interdependent relationship. The slavery system was above all a labour system, designed to extract the profit of unwilling and dependent subjects. The essence of it was that the slave was legally a piece of property to be bought and sold at the master’s will. He had no legal rights, could not testify in his own behalf nor bear witness against a white person. As a result to this feature, a slave was subjected to the will of his master in all circumstances and his treatment depended on the personality and economic conditions of him. Most of them lived, not on large plantation, but in small isolated agricultural units or in small farms, where they were in close daily contact with their owners. However they lived under the worst conditions, having little clothing and one pair of shoes that had to last them a very long period, depending on the master’s will. They slept in a single room on a bad made from straw and old rags.
They ate two meals a day, being provided no table; each took their own plate or a tin pan and an iron spoon and held it in the hand or on the lap. As a general rule, no lights, no firewood, no towels, no soap, no furniture were provided to them.
Source material about black women as slaves did not reveal much about their lives and feelings. In general, the life of black women under slavery was in every respect more difficult and restricted than that of the men. Their work and duties were the same as that of the men, such as work on the plantation, while childbearing and childrearing fell upon them as an added burden. Their affection for their children was used as means of tying them to their masters, children being always held as hostages in case of the mother’s attempted escape. The chances to escape for female slaves were fewer than those for males.
There were cases in which the severe system made them to rebel and to run away, but they were caught every time, or some of them died while trying to escape. Those who survived were punished very cruelly and imposed a more severe system of terror which could keep resistance from breaking into large-scale rebellion. Thus the harsh but tolerable system was supplemented by a terroristic system of cruelty against those slaves who dared any sign of insubordination. Most runaway slaves returned voluntary, usually driven by hunger, the absence of shelter, the vast distances to be covered, their ignorance of geography, illiteracy and general lack of knowledge. The sale of those slaves was also a common mean of punishment and discipline. Slave women took part in all aspects of resistance, from rebellion to sabotage. Many of them lived with the hope that they would be free, because they were promised that if they did their job well, they would liberate at least their children.
2.4.2 Black slave families
Family life was almost inexistent and blacks got married at early ages, but always with the consent of their master and mistress. Even if a black woman was pregnant she had to do the same work regardless of how she felt about it. That is why babies were not born healthy and because of the harsh conditions of life many of them died of in the first weeks of life. Those who survived were sold, because masters did not want the time of the mother be taken up by attendance upon her children. As a favor she was permitted to go to see them once a year. Parents were never consulted, having little control over their own child. Every natural and social felling was violated with indifference. Some of them were kept as a possible working force for the time when they would grow up. When they were able to work, they had to accomplish any kind of duty, no matter how difficult it might be for the poor child. There are examples when they were kept in cold entries to work for many hours, in no good conditions. They had to finish the work without a lamp in the evening, they had no fire in the cold seasons. The tasks were often too hard for them and yet they were expected to work well with their cold fingers and standing up as if they were sitting in a comfortable place. They also had to take care of the white babies, even if they themselves were just kids.
It frequently happened that relatives, among slaves were separated for weeks or months, by the husband or brother being taken by the master on journey, to attend him and his horses. When they returned, the white husband could see his wife as soon as he arrived, but the black husband had to wait until the mistress gave his wife permission to go to him. The black women could be taken with the master in their journey too and many of them pretended that they were ill, in order to avoid being sold away from her husband and children. If it happened that the slaves got sick, they did not receive medical care.
Another way in which the feeling of the salves not taken into consideration and were often wounded, was by changing their names. If at the time they were brought into a family, there was another slave having the same name or if the owner did not like the name of the new comer they received another name. Many salves were grieving at having the name of their children thus changed. There had no freedom at all, because they were continuously watched. The system of espionage was the most worrying and intolerable and if they did not obey, they were whipped.
An old story shows that there was a black woman who was an exemplary worker who was both feared and respected by their masters, and who by her courage imposed some restrictions upon them. She was also the smartest black woman in that particular region and whatever she did could not be done better. She could do anything. She cooked, washed, ironed, spun, nursed and labored in the field. These skills gave her a sort of independence.
Other indulgent masters protected their slaves, especially women by allowing them to rest three of four weeks before and after they got birth. They were often not punished if they did not finish the task assigned to them. Then they could take the child with them, being helped by a little girl or boy who took care of the child while the mother was working. Where there was no such support, the baby was let under a tree or by the side of a fence, and the mother returned at intervals to nurse him.
2.4.3 The education of the Black communities
Regarding education in the Blacks’ long struggle for survival, it was always a foremost goal, both as a tool for advancement an acceptance and as a means of improving life in the black community. There were Missionary groups which were engaged in effort of educating slave children. In some regions, such as the South America, slave rebellions led to a severe legislation which forbade the education of slaves. There were also some white women who continued to teach slaves to read and write. If they were caught they went to jail, but their will to help other people made this thing not so important.
Separate schools for boys and girls, which were very common among white people, were a luxury for the black communities and only few of them could afford to go there. The only separate schools for both white and black girls before the Civil War provided instruction in sewing, knitting and the household skills.
Despite the poverty of Blacks and the severe discriminatory restrictions which dominated their lives, they managed in the post Civil War period to send their children to school. But many of them had to do sacrifices and to endure many sufferings for the sake of sending them to schools. The reality is reflected in the way that black families raise their children as to accept work or career as a natural part of their lives. This could help black women to be better prepared for the demand of a professional career just like the majority of white women. Obviously the slow promotion of black women in a profession was due to race discrimination, both in educational preparation and access to institutions of higher education.
When they were permitted to attend schools their performances were of a great value. It is not surprising that blacks, especially women’s first achievement came to prominence in the cultural fields. The black female literary tradition started with the talented Phillis Wheatley. Almost a hundred years later appeared some very talented novelists such as Jessie Fauset, Zora Neale Hurston etc. belonging to the Renaissance period.
Theatrical and musical careers were, like other professions, restricted by race barriers. Talented black actresses were confined to play only servant roles. Twentieth-century singers were imposed some restrictions because of their race and great number of them had to leave America for Europe, to develop their talents and careers. Among these was Marian Anderson, who acclaimed in Europe as one of the greatest singers in the world.
In no other cultural field has the black contribution been more influential than in music (spiritual, blues, jazz) and women played an integral part in this development. In the artistic and cultural fields, as in education and some professions, the long repressed black women has bought an explosion of talent and are today a dynamic force in the creation of a uniquely expressive black culture.
2.5 About womanhood
Black women are human beings too and they are not guilty because they were born black. They had to suffer the insults of possessing the most depreciative elements of humanity: being black and being women. They are just as strong and weak as any other women with the same level of education, training and environment. Their liberation depended on that of the race and on the improvement of the black community. There was a great debate about colored men getting their rig