One-Way Gender Equality

Cover of "Global Woman: Nannies, Maids, a...

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by Glenn Soenvisen

Gender equality is indeed important in these post-modern times. Women should have the same wages as men if their job is the same; salaries for women-dominated work should be equal to that of men-dominated work; women should have equal opportunity to participate in the society and workforce. At least in the First World, few would dispute that this should be an inherent right of women, and they are right to do so. However, why is it that gender equality is almost always about women gaining the rights of men? We hardly ever hear about the fight for men to have parental leave, or for working in traditional women’s occupations without prejudice. In a sense, we can say that the ongoing contemporary gender “equality” aims to make women into traditional men instead of making a neuter gender of both men and women, which is the actual goal we aim for. This has consequences both nationally and internationally.

When speaking about the First World, we can say that as a result of the above-mentioned one-way gender equalization we undermine some essential human qualities. Ehrenreich and Hochschild’s “Global Woman” puts it this way:

“It is as if the wealthy parts of the world are running short on precious emotional… resources and have to turn to poorer regions for fresh supplies.”

While women are taking advantage of their retrieved inherent rights, that is, taking higher education, entering the men-dominated workforce, living freely and independently and more, who is going to take care of the house, children and elderly population? Fewer women do, and there’s no significant increase among men either. Furthermore, family relationships may be difficult to retain since the prevailing thought seems to be that one of the two in a relationship must relinquish their inherited rights to stay at home and keep the family going. For a woman it is easier to relinquish her rights because that’s the way it has been, but she doesn’t always want to, and now she increasingly doesn’t have to. For the man it’s hard to do because the system and society doesn’t always allow him – and if he doesn’t want to it’s no problem, because that’s the way it has been. In such a way carework has become an “either/or-”situation; there is no neuter gender role where it can be “both/and.”

However, this does not mean that we do not want relationships, so we turn to nannies and maids, and we pay for their love and care. For this to work though, these people have to earn less than their employers, as is only logical. For the native people who have the opportunity for higher salaries it is not so tempting maybe, but for people living in poorer countries this is a goldmine. The women in the Philippines have noticed this, so in order to support their families many leave their children and husband behind and go abroad to do the care work we in the First World don’t have time for, or rather, no room for. In fact, the women are so many that the Philippines government itself relies to a great deal on the remittances they send home. All the same, there is still a negative pattern to be seen here: nannies and maids earn less than their employers, and the remittances to their family back in the Philippines are even less (after all, the careworkers abroad have to spend money to take care of themselves in the country where they’re working), and the family uses the said remittance to buy food and other necessities in shops where it’s employees earn even less. It’s a downward spiral.

In short, as a result of a one-way gender equalization, namely making women into men, we have not only estranged ourselves from essential human qualities such as love and care, we also help to make a transnational network which might not be very beneficial in the long run. True, it looks quite beneficial on the surface: women in the Philippines take on a male breadwinner role by doing traditional women’s work abroad, and they support their family as well as their country’s economy. Underneath, however, lies the truth that we are only moving the problems around, we are not solving them: firstly, the Philippines becomes a factory sending out careworkers, women who gives love to our children and money to theirs. Secondly, while the care workers abroad might be breadwinners, the gender roles in the home country are likely to remain the same. Lastly, The First World outsources human values so that its people can be free and work like machines, because that’s the traditional man’s role, today’s gender equality. From an economical perspective this might be beneficial, but from an emotional one it’s disastrous.

References

Ehrenreich, Barbara, and Arlie Russell Hochschild, ed. 2002. Global Woman: Nannies, Maids, and Sex Workers in the New Economy. New York: Metropolitan.

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