Human rights activist and ‘First Lady of the World’, Eleanor Roosevelt, once said, ‘Women must learn to play the game as men do.’ With her advocacies and sharp mind in tow, she called on other women to participate in her activities to push women forward in politics, society, and the economy. As a prominent figure in the women's empowerment movement during her time, Eleanor was determined to be heard.
Decades after her passing, her legacy still shines in the people who campaign for gender equality. Historians may argue about whether Roosevelt was to be considered a feminist but the foundation she laid for the women today remain strong propellers for movements surrounding equality issues.
That said, not all efforts to break gender boundaries are final. People today still argue for equal pay and fair opportunities between men and women. However, that doesn’t mean we haven’t seen significant changes in the past hundred years.
Gender boundaries: what is it exactly?
Many can argue about how close or far we’ve come to closing the gender gap in employment. Women today enjoy work opportunities in a myriad of industries that women back then could only dream of applying to. For as long as we can remember, gender boundaries set apart women and men of equally qualifying credentials into jobs or industries that socially fit them.
For example, women in history were confined to private matters or menial work. Access to education and prominent professions like medicine and law were denied. Although women were eventually given access to higher education, the movement did not apply on a global scale and was only granted after much debate.
Over the years, the segregation between men and women in the workforce was argued to be unintentional. Many believed that women are more likely to drop out of work commitments to shift their focus on family matters. Promotions were often given to men due to the likelihood of women leaving their respective companies.
It’s not surprising to derive that the idea of gender boundaries, as a social construction, is more conceptual than we think.
What has changed?
The Industrial Revolution was a turning point for women in the workforce. The era saw a slight change in the labour landscape, permitting women to work outside of their homes. Although they were given work to do, the conditions were rather poor and working women were paid much less than men for the same tasks.
The 20th century, however, showed a different perspective of gender boundaries. During this time, women were seen as symbols of innocence and were in charge of keeping the family’s moral compass intact. This led to the pressure for men to support their families financially at all costs.
Despite that, education became more accessible to women who strived for an education. Women participation in several occupations increased in number, albeit gradually, such as in the fields of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) and their respective industries that are notoriously dominated by males.
Current statistics can tell us that, while there is change ongoing, we can do more than that.
Pushing gender boundaries today
With the pandemic keeping every qualified woman at home, changes in plans, careers, relationships, and even family dynamics are inevitable. More than ever, people are taking this time to make more careful and compassionate decisions, setting apart differences to make way for more impactful contributions to those struggling to survive the pandemic.
Today, more women are forging their own paths in business and politics. We’ve witnessed many firsts earned by women come into the spotlight. Gender-specific activities and norms are being challenged and all the more must we understand the importance of equality and fostering an enabling environment for women in a time like this.
In the grander scheme of things, gender boundaries are still present. There is still a significant need to push them; a need to create better and expanded possibilities for young and qualified women. Success doesn’t discriminate and empowerment is fundamental to the approaches in gender equality.
Many women had to stand up in order for others to run. Now, it’s time we push harder.
How do you push gender boundaries in your homes? Let us know!