The book “Invisible Women” opened my eyes to a world designed for men and biased against women. It was shocking, not because I haven’t experienced first-hand some of these biases, but because they’re so much more ingrained and systematic than I had thought.
Well, awareness is the first step towards real changes.
Here are 6 outdated and sexist ideas or standards about the roles and values of women in modern society:
1. Women can’t be happy without men
It’s a common cultural message that women need a man and a marriage more than men, and so they often have to try to manipulate or pressure their male partner to marry them.
This sexist myth could be broken down into two parts:
Women need men to be happy.
Women need marriage more than men.
Let’s address them one by one.
Do women need men to be happy?
Although there are many studies showing different benefits of marriage, including happiness, they are all correlational, not causal.
Moreover, a study with tens of thousands of people in Germany showed that the participants were happier after the wedding, but within about a year, the level of happiness is not different from before the marriage.
It means that marriage itself doesn’t bring more happiness in the long run. That happiness comes from each individual. If you’re happy and satisfied with your own life when you’re single, then you’ll be happy when entering a relationship or a marriage.
In my opinion, the people who benefit from marriage are already happy on their own. They often look to marriage as a way to share the good things in their lives instead of expecting it to save them or fill their void.
Do women need marriage more than men?
If you look up online, there are a lot of scientific research showing that men actually benefit more from marriage.
Married men have better health, have a lower risk of diseases, and live longer than unmarried men. Also, the married men are often seen as responsible and mature, which helps them advance in the workplace.
Meanwhile, women do not enjoy as many health benefits as men do. Especially, they can suffer long term complications from childbirth if they choose to have children.
From a cultural perspective, married men can help continue the family line, like in Vietnam, whereas women with children cannot easily depend on their children to worship their own ancestors because they have to serve their in-laws.
From an evolutionary perspective, monogamy also serves men more than women. More specifically, it helps men decrease competition and safeguard their partners and offsprings.
In short, women do not need marriage more than men. If anything, men should try harder to get the commitment from women, not vice versa.
2. Women are cheated on because they’re not good enough
There’s a bad tendency to blame women for their male partner’s cheating — for example, people would say the wife or girlfriend was overly controlled, too strong, didn’t make the man feel manly so he cheated, or it’s the other woman’s fault to seduce a taken man.
This is victim-blaming, plain and simple.
Cheating is a product of nature.
For example, when there’s an issue in the relationship, you have a choice to communicate with your partner and solve the issue together. If it cannot be resolved, then you break up.
I believe that mature, decent people do it this way instead of cheating.
There’s no denying that a woman can have qualities or act in ways that negatively affect a relationship and lead to its breakdown, but this is also true for men. It’s unfair to only focus on the woman and assume that the man is passive or a victim.
After all, when a relationship is broken, it’s unlikely to be the fault of only one person. Both sides should take responsibility and draw lessons for themselves. In the case of betrayal, perhaps the biggest lesson for a woman is not to blame themselves.
3. A woman has to get married or give birth to fulfill their duties with the family
In many Asian countries, it’s assumed that women only get married or give birth to fulfill their duties with the family.
As a result, fertile but unmarried women or those who do not intend to have children are sometimes considered not filial (or having no respect for their parents.)
Why is this happening?
Firstly, this is a social norm in many Asian countries. If anyone does differently, it will be judged by outsiders who look down on not only the woman but also her family.
Secondly, Asian societies value families, so everyone is encouraged to get married and have many children. In Vietnam, the government even provided financial incentives for people to get married by 30 and have two children by 35.
Thirdly, Asian parents often think their daughters are vulnerable — they’re worried that when they’re gone, no one is going to take care of them, so it is best for these women to get married and have children.
It’s not fair to say that unmarried women are not filial based on their relationship status; they can show their gratitude towards their parents in ways that have nothing to do with marriage and children.
For example, they study well and get a good job so that they can take care of themselves and don’t have to rely on the parents’ support or they visit their parents and provide for them when they’re older.
Filial piety should be about treating your parents well and giving them the best things you can. On the other hand, marriage or childbirth is a woman’s personal life, so it must be respected by their parents and not tied to the word “filial piety.”
4. The value of a woman first lies in her appearance
It can be seen that in everyday life women are still judged by their appearance, no matter what they do.
Regardless of age, when meeting a woman for the first time, most people will have a comment about her look: “You’re so pretty”, “Your girlfriend is pretty”, “Your body is stunning.” Or worse, “Why are you so tanned?”, “Why are you so short?”, “Why are you so thin?”, “Why are you so fat?”, etc.
Most people probably don’t say these things intentionally, but the focus on women’s appearance has become so deep-seated. Meanwhile, men seem to be less likely to receive comments like that. Men will often be judged by the things they do — for example, “he’s so gallant”, “that boy behaves so well”, “he’s so capable.” How fair is this?
At the same time, the media have been objectifying women so much that no one is surprised anymore when they see article headlines that scrutinise women’s body parts as though they’re public properties. One terrible harm of objectification is that it contributes to normalising the attitudes and acts of violence against women — this needs to stop.
There’s a common saying that “There are no ugly women, only women who do not know how to beautify themselves”, but I think women and beauty should be separated, not paired. Women should be referred to by other adjectives and seen as human beings, not some beautiful things.
5. Women should not be too confident in showing their abilities even if they are good
Women who are confident in their abilities are often portrayed as “bossy” or “a b*tch.” Meanwhile, the same qualities in men are praised and celebrated.
An average woman growing up would likely have two thoughts. First, they don’t want to be associated with such women. Secondly, they don’t want to become such women.
These negative images of a successful woman can cause capable young girls to lose motivation and hide their own achievements because they do not want to be judged.
Fortunately, there are increasingly more examples of successful women in powerful positions and male-dominated fields nowadays.
This year alone, there’s Jacinda Ardern, Prime Minister of New Zealand, who effectively fought against the Covid pandemic and just won a second term, and Ms. Kamala Harris who makes history as the first woman and woman of color Vice President of the United States. Not to mention in this year’s Nobel Prize-winning list of Physics there is a female scientist.
According to a World Economic Forum report on the role of women in the labor market, there are many reasons why women do not have much presence in some high-paying occupations.
For example, negative stereotypes, unfriendly working environments for women, and the lack of examples of their predecessors and insufficient female talents to recruit into needed positions.
Women can’t be blamed for this. If an industry is all-male and the environment is created for men to thrive, how can a woman look at that and want it for herself?
The time has come for women to see their strength and demand appropriate environments for themselves instead of snuggling into a world designed only for men. Women make up half of the population after all — it doesn’t make sense that women are a niche.
6. The value of a woman goes down with age
There’s a view that women have less value as they age, while older men become more attractive.
But is that really true?
Physically, both sexes age as they get older, with reduced fertility, muscle loss, hair loss, wrinkled skin, and so on. But each sex will experience these changes at a different rate, usually slowly for a long time in men and more suddenly and over a shorter period in women.
Up to the time of menopause, there are two areas that women age faster. One is the ability to have a baby, and the second is that their skin is more wrinkled and loses its elasticity faster because women’s skin is thinner than men’s.
Having a child as mentioned earlier is one of the things that society expects women to do and, because of the biological clock, it feels like after a certain age a woman will lose a very important ability. Whereas aging skin is related to the standard of appearance we discussed earlier.
As you can see, the idea that women lose their value as they age is tied to two other sexist ideas.
None should hold any weight in today’s world because they’re all clearly skewed thinking and harmful to women.
A woman’s aging should be portrayed as normal because it is normal. In fact, for women who have careers, knowledge, and passion, the older they get, the more resourceful and happier they become, and those things add value in a variety of ways to both themselves and the people in their lives.
Feminism has paved the way for modern women, but the fight is far from over. Women today need to continue to speak up and show the world the reality of being a woman while demanding better conditions and treatment in every area of their lives.