By Brooke Sachs
Brooke Sachs (@MlleBrooklyn) is an early-career social entrepreneur, third-year Medical student, and FutureMed alumni at Singularity University.
For years, I insisted that the world had changed. That violence against women was decreasing. That I'd never felt it; never had it affect my life. I wasn't shouting from the roof-tops that I was stronger than the other women around. I just thought we were winning battles. Soon, the war would be over.
A science degree under my belt and a year into Medicine, I still believed. My male colleagues treated me as an equal. There was no apparent Boys Club in the common room, nor did the male doctors treat the female students as less knowledgeable or hard working than our male peers. We were all equals. A year on, I'm not so sure.
Women's rights have made it back to front-page news with the recent brutal rape of an Indian student and the shooting of a young Pakistani activist on her way to school. These confronting incidents internationally can remove the sense of urgency at home, where Western ideals might protect us from harm. The developed world, however, is not immune to incidents of violence against women. A teen in Ohio was recently sexually assaulted by footballers from a neighboring town. In 2012, Australia was horrified by the disappearance of Jill Meagher on her way home from a work function. She vanished from a busy street of a safe area, to be found later raped and murdered. Those are the stories that make the headlines.
It seems that we've yet to discover the sort of national discourse that immunizes us against gender-based discrimination. Or maybe this virus has mutated. What you hear about less often - and what is an issue for many women - are the subtle cases of discrimination. Men are told they're a "pussy" when they show emotion while women are told to "grow a pair" if they want to get by in business. The increasing proportion of female university graduates is not translating to more women in leadership positions. Australia's first female Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, makes the news just as frequently for her outfits and haircuts as she does for political decisions.
When I told my mentor, a strong female in the tech industry, that I'd never really encountered gender-based discrimination, her words were ominous. "Just wait," she said, "it'll come." It wasn't a warning that preparation could see me outrun danger. It was a statement. I've been reminded of her words numerous times since. In Medicine, there are tales of inappropriate demands on women in order to reach their desired training positions. Nowhere is it more obvious than surgical programs.
So how do we change our profession before we get to the top? How do we say we won't sacrifice our morals for our chosen specialty? We won't put up with being told to "man up," let alone requests for low-cut tops or "accidental" brushings of our bodies.
Some say feminism is dead. That it's outdated and no longer the answer. But are we getting complacent? Has feminism fallen foul to the false logic plaguing the vaccination debate? Where, just like inoculations, we did so well for so long that we've forgotten what a pandemic really feels like. Have we decided that near-enough is good enough when it comes to women's rights? Just like herd-immunity, you either have equality or you don't. And if you don't, you risk the subtle remarks turning into something more insidious. You risk an outbreak, where the most vulnerable in our community are the most susceptible. Except instead of risking someone in hospital with measles, where we have isolation rooms and appropriate treatments on hand, you risk a woman tolerating sexual harassment to avoid repercussions created by our social constructs. Instead of stopping a woman getting into tertiary education, you stop her at the glass ceiling. It's claimed that her years out of work rearing children put her behind her male colleagues. That she's gotten soft. That working part-time will never cut it.
At the same time, men are also forced to conform to out-dated stereotypes of being a bread-winner who never cries in public and is derided by his mates for saying "I love you" when on the phone to his other half. As long as we have social constructs around women being the weaker sex, we unfairly demand that men stand up to be the protectors. A new Australian campaign, Soften the Fck Up, acts as a call to action for men to challenge the "bloke" stereotype. A recent TED Book, The Demise of Guys, looks into wider social issues for males given the changing dynamic for the opposite sex. We need to create a safe space for men to voice their concerns and we all need to be open to others' opinions.
We need to re-brand feminism. It's not just about equal rights for women. It's about equal rights - but flexible roles - for everyone. It's time to listen rather than shout louder about the glass ceiling. Because this isn't war. This is our lives.
This material published courtesy of Singularity University.