Female equality – How far have we really come?

As soon as you turn the final page of Mary Wollstonecraft’s “A Vindication of the Rights of Woman” (1792), you realise the fundamental impact of the text on the perception of females in contemporary society. Throughout the text, Wollstonecraft vehemently denies male superiority in anything other than the physical capacity. Consequently, she proposes that females should steer away from the feckless reliance they have vis-à-vis males, and develop the use of reason, as a capacity that is shared between the sexes, but only males seem to utilise. Wollstonecraft depicts females as weak, who define their existence around male pleasures, and encourages a challenge to the conventions and traditions that retain this status-quo, which offers the context for her written feud with Edmund Burke. Nevertheless, the final product is a text that sets out to convince the large majority of society (mainly males) who believe in this status-quo that to allow females to cultivate their reason will allow them to become better wives. It is unclear whether Wollstonecraft used this claim to build the initial foundations for what would be greater female development at a later stage, or whether she still, though releasing a few chains, continued to place the female in the shackles of a gendered identity. The point to acknowledge at this stage is that this text provided one of the first written documents advocating female emancipation, and therefore one of the first written documents of the Feminist ideology. However for many who developed this ideology further, the huffs and puffs of Patriarchy were always going to be too strong for the residence of Wollstonecraft. She had no hairs on her chin.

Consequently, later Feminist strands, such as Radical Feminism, have critiqued Liberal feminists (which seemingly includes Wollstonecraft) who believe female emancipation can be achieved by her greater access to the public sphere. Indeed for Radical Feminists, this reductionist focus limits female emancipation, ignoring the entrenched oppression that spews from the private, domestic sphere of the home, where Patriarchy swallows females’ whole and spits them out as reconfigured, subordinate figures to the almighty man, rendering the prospect of equality in the public sphere wholly unsatisfying. Yet, despite this waft of Feminism that ever so frequently enters public debates, how far have females really come in terms of achieving equality I hear you murmur. Not very, from my perspective.

Females don’t have to be exposed bare in every magazine and newspaper cover for it to be suggested that they are treated in a derogatory manner to males, though in certain magazines and newspapers which you could mistake for a planet, or a packet of Kenyon Produce the disparity in how the sexes are depicted is often clear, and insulting to the intelligence to both sexes. I’m sure the vast majority of females do not care for the candidates of the national breast competition in the upcoming 2015 election. I am also convinced that the vast majority of males are not as idiotic so as to consider this the main occupation that females have or desire. As a consequence of the latter attitude becoming a norm, it is clear females have progressed in their search for equality. However, they are still often enclosed within the gendered walls of Room 201 in Losing Weight Building, and Room 205 in How Can I Look Attractive Complex. The female existence remains fenced within serving male desires and being treated as a ‘lady’, despite the powerful rejections to this subordination by Wollstonecraft over two centuries ago.

Where do we go from this is the next question I hear you mumble. This, unlike your prior question, remains unclear. Females have undoubtedly secured major advances in securing equality in both the public and private spheres. However, without claiming the superiority of Western society, it is apparent that many of these improvements have occurred in the West. Where elsewhere in the world females remain heavily restricted in the activities they can do and the attitudes they can form, many females in the West have the autonomy and freedoms (legally at least) to choose these themselves, which potentially forms the basis of greater equality between the sexes. However, the truth remains that this is seldom the case.

As noted earlier, females are still indoctrinated by the domineering Patriarchal forces that serving males remains part of their role, and thus the burden of the private sphere would account for the severe lack of representation of females in national legislatures and judiciaries for instance. In sum, it is clear that female autonomy has advanced, yet the decision to use this autonomy to challenge existing structures and secure the emancipation and equality for the female remains aloof. However, what is clear now is that females are seen as ‘women’, rather than as one ‘woman’ as Wollstonecraft weaves into her famed title. As a result, females are viewed as having individual differences between them that facilitates the creation of distinct characters devoid of a universal gender role that weakens them all. Females are capable of individual identities, yet they are still not viewed, and do not exist as individuals. They remain trapped within their gendered role, and whilst they have adapted more advanced searching techniques in the past two centuries, they are no closer than Wollstonecraft to finding the key to emancipation and equality that continues to elude them.