On October 3rd, 2017 at the Pennsylvania Conference for Women, American show runner, producer, and screenwriter Shonda Rhimes posed a telling question to her former first lady Michelle Obama: “Do you think…that women in general have less chances to fail?” The very next day at the Conservative Party Conference in Manchester, UK Prime Minister Theresa May gave a speech that was marred by:
• A theatrical man interrupting her to hand her a P45 (a termination of employment slip) that he claimed to have gotten from UK Foreign Minister, Boris Johnson
• Her cough
• Johnson being too rude, too aloof, or simply true to form when her had to be reminded to stand and applaud
• Lettering behind her falling as she spoke.
She powered through it all as best as she could, then faced media critique that had little to do with her speech and more to do with mishaps that she had no control over. No matter what you think of the Prime Minister and her party, there was no way she could have helped the above distractions and there was no better way to handle it than through humour, patience, and grace.
In August 2017, New Zealand Labour Party Leader Jacinda Arden came under fire when she was asked to provide the country with a baby plan, in the event that she is voted in as the country’s leader in their general election. Arden had no problem with the questions having discussed them previously as a way to connect to female voters. Her anger came when it was suggested by a man while they were on a radio show that all women in the country ought to tell employers their plan for starting a family, so that the employers could consider this when deciding whether or not to hire them, a question that no man ever has to answer.
Last November the world watched in shock and thinly veiled horror as a more qualified candidate lost out to a man with zero political experience in the United States Presidential Elections.
Also last year, Nigeria’s first lady Mrs Aisha Buhari who had campaigned with her husband and then gone on to work on women’s empowerment and aiding Boko Haram victims in the North East, was interviewed on the BBC’s Hausa language service and stated her dissatisfaction with her husband’s administration. Her interview displeased many in the government and the country. President Buhari dismissed it all by relegating her expertise to the sexual and culinary.
The list could go on. No matter what is outlined in the law or considered appropriate by liberal society, women are often held to a much different standard than their male counterparts. Personal opinions aside, there is no denying that where a man is rarely questioned a woman is very often interrogated. Where a man is assumed qualified, a woman must prove herself twice over.
The real problems aren’t how we treat women in public or in positions of power but a) how that attitude pervades society at every level and b) how it presents a woman’s worth to generation of girls hoping for better and boys hoping to be better. No written law or social code anywhere in the world matters because in practice we are clear about the position we believe a woman ought to occupy and maintain.
Unfortunately, as Michelle Obama’s response to Shonda Rhimes’ question demonstrates, the onus is often still on women to change the norm, to fight to be heard. Expecting the world to understand that women are equal to men and act accordingly is simply asking too much.
By Amina Banu