Gerald Earlys Conception of Double Consciousness and Women rights Essay

More and more women are entering organizations, both public and private, assuming occupations and positions of authority once thought to be exclusively male domains (Eisenberg and Ruthsdotter, 1998). Of the recently estimated world population, almost half constitute women. Presently, among those who would qualify for legal employment, given age distribution, women represent more than 40 percent of the total workforce.

“On a global scale, women cultivate more than half of all the food that is grown. In sub-Saharan Africa and the Caribbean, they produce up to 80 percent of basic foodstuffs. In Asia, they account for around 50 percent of food production. In Latin America, they are mainly engaged in subsistence farming, horticulture, poultry and raising small livestock.” Yet these women often get little recognition for that. In fact, many go unpaid. It is very difficult for these women to get the financial resources required to buy equipment etc, as many societies still do not accept, or realize, that there is a change in the “traditional” roles (Inter Press Service in Women’s Rights, 2006)

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The world has witnessed the rise of women in different areas of activity including those dominated by men. However, though the law states that men and women are equal, the fact is that stereotypical thinking, some treatments and practices affect and limit the function of women as significant contributors in nation building and development.

Women are a potential workforce, if properly harnessed that can contribute significantly to development. Though they are advancing to bigger roles and important tasks, very few are seen to reach the top positions due to perceived inequalities that hinder their advancement.

It is important to note that during pre-industrial society, men and women, old and young each had their own place and tasks to accomplish. Men tended the land, provided for the family’s economic needs, and practiced male prerogative in domestic and political affairs. Women on the other hand held no formal positions in the political administration of local affairs. They were mainly housewives who maintained the household and performed the bulk of reproductive tasks. They were engaged in domestic and personal services work, waiting and serving their husbands. The skills they obtained were skills that were merely extensions of their household chores (Beck-Gernsheim, 2002:88-89).

As a result of changes in education, occupation, family cycle, and legal system, among others, the women no longer relied on men as providers. Thus the birth of the women’s movement calling for women’s right to equality (Beck-Gernsheim, 2002:90).

Most individuals consider the status of women as a non-issue since both genders believe that women already enjoy status equal to that of men. There however, exists some formal and informal discrimination against women and that “inequality between women and men can take very many different forms” (Sen, 2001). Examples include that related to mortality. As Sen (2001) puts it, “inequality between women and men directly involves matters of life and death, and takes the brutal form of unusually high mortality rates of women and a consequent preponderance of men in the total population”. What with the bias in access to reproductive health and nutrition among men and women? As women perform much of the bulk of the reproductive tasks, mortality inequality has been observed extensively in North Africa and in Asia, including China and South Asia (Sen, 2001).

There are various forms that gender inequality can take. Another form of inequality that may not be apparent to many is that relating to natality. This is because if we were to ask parents, if they were given a choice about the gender of their firstborn or newborn, would they prefer or want the newborn to be a girl or a boy? Gender inequality can manifest itself in the form of parents wanting a specific gender for their newborn. With respect to the professions, inequality too, exists. Other forms where inequality is observed include basic access to facilities; special opportunities; ownership; and household (Sen, 2001).

Despite these perceived inequalities, women have continued to become more visible in various professions and work activity but still at varying levels of participation. Could it be because of stereotypical perceptions – constructs involving emotionality, perhaps – that hinder women in their advancement to the topmost positions of the professions? Women were often viewed as weak because of their “emotionality”. Referring to Gerald Early’s (1992) essay, “It is this death, as well as the institutionalization of his mother – who suffered a breakdown as the result of her husband’s murder and her struggle to support her family on welfare…”

Hurlock (1978) stated that women are assumed to be more emotional than men. A stereotype of males is that they have greater emotional control than females. Thus construct labels more frequently associated with males with respect to emotionality reflect women as more emotional.

If it were not because of emotionality, could it be because of so called performance constructs that women are blocked from reaching the top? “Indeed, I was once keenly fond of Malcolm X. I first saw Malcolm on television in 1963, when I was a ten-year-old boy living in Philadelphia; three years later Malcolm, by now dead if not forgotten, left an indelible mark on my life. That year my oldest sister, then a college student, joined the local chapter of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC)…” (Early, 1992). As in the case of Malcolm’s oldest sister, this quote from Early (1992) intrinsically shows that women tend to move towards issues and systems that are non-violent, which is a good thing since the construct label “violent” is most often attributed to men.

The women’s rights movements have brought about many changes in history and still continue to bring about more change. In a study conducted in 1972, 26% of men and women said they would not vote for a woman for president. In 1996, that sentiment had plummeted to just over 5% for women and to 8% for men (Eisenberg and Ruthsdotter, 1998).

It is true that so much has changed and many believe that more is about to change especially thoughts that women will not be able to reach topmost ranks or statuses of importance, especially that regarding leadership of the state. In the words of Early (1992), “Although generational conflict exists in many societies, it has a long and particularly intense history… Each new generation views its elders with suspicion, thinking them failures who compromised and accommodated themselves in order to survive among the whites. And each generation, in some way, wishes to free itself from the generation that produced it.”

Apparently, conflict is still present as to women and their role in nation-building and leadership. But in the history of nation-building and leadership dominated by men, women have contributed much for the progress of one’s nation.

Substantial barriers to the full equality of America’s women still remain before our freedom as a Nation can be called complete. But the Women’s Rights Movement has clearly been successful in irrevocably changing the circumstances and hopes of women. The remaining injustices are being tackled daily in the courts and conference rooms, the homes and organizations, workplaces and playing fields of America. (Bonnie Eisenberg and Mary Ruthsdotter, the National Women’s History Project. 1998. http://www.legacy98.org/move-hist.html)

Each new generation as Malcolm contemplates, tend to view the present leaders “with suspicion, thinking that” their actions were failures that compromised many in order to survive. If women were to lead, would the results be the same?

Yet Early (1992) relates,

To today’s young, middle-class blacks in particular, Malcolm’s espousal of all-blackness — the idea that everything black is inherently good and that blacks must purge themselves of “white contaminants” — may be especially crucial; it is certainly more important than it was to my generation. These young people have grown up, by and large, in an integrated world. Most of the black students who attend the standard prestigious, private, research-oriented university are the offspring of either black professional parents or a mixed marriage, have lived most of their lives in mixed or largely white neighborhoods, and have attended white prep schools or predominantly white public schools. When they arrive at a university that has an African or Afro-American studies program, these students expect to find, for the first time in their lives, an all-black community, one that they have never experienced in the secular world, a sort of intellectual “nation within a nation,” to borrow W. E. B. Du Bois’s term. There they can be their “true” black selves. Yet in many ways these black students share fundamentally the same values – a belief in upward mobility and the rewards of hard work – as the whites who surround them. These students are wholly neither inside nor outside of the American mainstream, and they are unsure whether any ideal form of integration exists. But, like Malcolm, they wish to rid themselves of their feelings of ambiguity, their sense of the precariousness of their belonging. For many of them (and they are not entirely unjustified in feeling this way) integration is the badge of degradation and dishonor, of shame and inferiority, that segregation was for my generation.

In relation to the above text, a survey was made in 1996 and asked, “Do you think of yourself as a feminist or not? Twelve percent of men and 29% of women responded “yes.” Among women, there was no significant difference among age groups; interestingly, women in their fifties and seventy and older were most likely to identify themselves as feminists while those in their thirties and sixties were least likely to do so. Women with four or more years of college were about 40 percent more likely to think of themselves as feminists than those with less education. This relationship, however, varies by race: While increasing education is associated with increasing identification among white women, among African American women the greatest identification was among the least educated (40% of black women who did not graduate from high school considered themselves feminists, as opposed to 19% of white women; among women with four or more years of college, 38% of whites compared to 27% blacks thought of themselves as feminists) (Gender and Society, http://www.trinity.edu/~mkearl/methods.html). Women today especially want to rid themselves of the vagueness of their identity and stand in all areas of activity where men dominated. Both men and women now have a stand as to whether they are feminists or not – whether they would stand for women’s rights or not, and the numbers are increasing. Women are all the more beginning to think that they are just as equal as men in terms of skills, talents and all other spheres and that they can indeed contribute to development.  Furthermore, as Early (1992) conveys, “Despite the unrealistic romanticism of Malcolm’s back-to-Africa preachings, he offers an important message for today’s young blacks: that blacks are, indeed, as Du Bois argues, a people of “double-consciousness”; that both blackness and Americanness are real options, each having meaning only when measured against the other.” Women cannot think about their equality with men and global well being without thinking about what it means to be a woman. Men and women may only achieve their sense of identity and place in the world if they are able to understand global wellbeing.

References

Beck-Gernsheim, Elisabeth. (2002). “On the Way to a Post-Familial Family: From a Community of Need to Elective Affinities.” Pp. 85-100 in Individualization: Institutionalized Individualism and Its Social and Political Consequences, edited by Ulrich Beck and Elisabeth Beck-Gernsheim. London: Sage Publications.

Early, G. (1992). “Their Malcolm, My Problem.” Retrieved February 5, 2007 from http://faculty.smu.edu/jdbradle/Earlytext.asp

Eisenberg, B and Ruthsdotter, M. (1998). National Women’s History Project. Retrieved February 5, 2007 from http://www.legacy98.org/move-hist.html

Gender and Society. Retrieved February 5, 2007 from http://www.trinity.edu/~mkearl/methods.html

Hurlock, E. B. (1978). Child Development. 6th ed. New York: McGraw Hill Book Co.

Sen, A. (2001). “Many Faces of Gender Inequality” Frontline, Volume 18 – Issue 22. Retrieved February 5, 2007 from http://www.hinduonnet.com/fline/fl1822

Women’s Rights. (13 December 2006). Retrieved February 5, 2007 from http://www.globalissues.org

 

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