Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Missing the Mad Men Years?

Social Beliefs and Gender Inequality

As a connoisseur of American television, I am a fan of variety of different shows, one of them being Mad Men. A story about creative director Don Draper’s professional and personal life that glimpses into the world of advertising in the 1960s, it is a critically acclaimed series with a historical accuracy that allows its audience to travel back in time to witness the social attitudes of the 60s, where “men were men,” as some would say. Although many people may miss the 60’s for their better music, we should be thankful that the previous misogynistic treatment of women as inferior has been decreased in the present.

After a first scene of the first episode where we see our protagonist think about different tag lines to think about for a failing tobacco industry, the audience is treated to the working environment where we view a clear difference in the social interactions of men and women, although not necessarily different motives. Contrasting the men in the elevator who loudly discuss their colleague getting married because “she stole [his] heart,” and that “her old man is loaded,” we see a new female employee who is debriefed by her superior that men are looking for “something between a waitress and a mother,” advising her to “cut two holes in a bag and cover herself to assess her body,” and telling her not to fear the new technology of the typewriter because of the boys who created this made is so women can also operate them.

Although the show is an exciting drama that gives a glimpse of the 60s while we follow the amazing story of Don Draper, one worrying issue is the glorification of the 60’s misogynistic views. Don is a selfish womanizer with a silver tongue, a mere man with his own flaws and struggles rather than a paragon of virtue which makes for an exciting character but poor role model. Although “cat calls” and personal beliefs of sexism may not seem to cause harm, propagating the belief of gender equality even as a personal preference is a significant harm to society that needs to be addressed before we can make gender equality a reality. In a sense, if we want to achieve a fair and equitable society, our mind set needs to change so that we personally think and act to create an environment where gender equality can become a reality.
The power of individual beliefs has a significant effect on social functions. Mark Brandt’s study published in Psychological Science looked at data from an international survey conducted between 2005 and 2007 responding to the statements “on the whole, men make better political leaders than women do,” and “on the whole, men make better business executives than women do.”[1] Based on a UN measure of gender equality, Brandt found that sexism was directly associated with increases in gender inequality over time, individual beliefs contributing toward social inequality. A study published by Sex Roles highlights the both men and women respond in a more hostile way toward women who violate sex-role expectations, the stronger the support for the hierarchy the more hostile they react toward the violator.[2] Alyssa Fowers, co-author of the study, states “when women are influenced by society to make assumptions about each other they also hurt themselves.”[3] Women are affected by sexist remarks, research showing that women experience a variety of negative emotions when they are the targets of sexism with other women who witness the derogatory remark also experiencing similar feelings.[4] Individual beliefs and actions that reinforce current gender beliefs hinder progress for equality.

Although there are many laws and policies being passed by governments to promote gender equality, these policies are useless unless we the people recognize that gender is merely a tiny biological distinction resulting from a different random combination of chromosomes and that our social interaction with society should not be determined by such a simple fact. There is a 50% chance that any individual would have been male or female when born and no individual should be treated differently just because they are a certain gender. Gender inequality is an assertion by society that we should discriminate against half of the human population because they were born differently and thus are undeserving of some rights that should be equal to all.

Gender equality is a just way to address humanity and should be a basic face of life, not a goal we strive to reach toward. However, since our past history has generated these gender inequalities through division of labor and the social assumptions that formed from such divisions, our challenge in the 21st Century and beyond is to change these social assumptions. Gender is no longer a strong determinant of individual capacity, our evolution to an industrial society has technology equalizes our physical strengths while greater value is now placed on mental prowess. Technology has equalized our initial differences and all people should be treated equally regardless of gender. The fight against gender inequality requires individuals challenging social assumptions and change social attitudes against gender for equality to be achieved.

By Khan Kikkawa

[1] Sexism and Gender Equality, Science Daily, http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/10/111030151659.htm
[2] Rethinking Sexism: A Daughter-Father Team Examines How Society Maintains the Status Quo, Science Daily, http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/11/091112151434.htm
[3] Rethinking Sexism: A Daughter-Father Team Examines How Society Maintains the Status Quo, Science Daily
[4] Sexism: Cat-Calls Are Detrimental to Everyone, Science Daily, http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/03/100318093303.htm

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