Women around the world have accomplished giant leaps. They have become astronauts, stateswomen, Playboy centerfolds, bandit queens, scientists, authors, and day laborers, infiltrating every rank that was once dominated by men. While Saudi women are still forbidden to drive, their cohorts elsewhere are flying planes and manning rockets.
Why are there these dissimilar strides for women? For example, female athletes are now participating in every branch of sport. But the first female participation in the Olympics was in 1900 in Paris when women were allowed to compete only in lawn tennis and golf. The burst of female freedom is taking its time. We are now told that the eradication of discrimination in pay and employment between men and women will take another 150 to 170 years!
American film historian Jeanine Basinger explains what it is like. She says that no matter whether a woman lives in a mansion, an apartment, or a yurt, it is all the same thing because what she really lives in is the body of a woman. Then she gives her punch line: That body is allowed to occupy space only according to the dictates of her society.
It is a pity that for hundreds of years, women have been fighting to convince their societies to give them more space. So many of their predecessors went to their graves, banging their heads against the walls of prejudice, their unfulfilled yearnings collapsing like a bird that succumbs to the bars of its cage. Not that women were not influential in earlier times. They were empresses, saints, dowager princesses, nurses, writers and statisticians. But they were exceptions that proved the rule. An overwhelming number of gifted and ordinary women lived under oppression, their bodies forever squeezed for space.
In pre-Islamic days the Arabs used to bury their daughters alive. Killing the girl child is still a practice in many parts of the world, particularly India and China. The UN estimates that around 700 unborn babies are killed in India every day. The Russian daily Pravda reported in October 2011 that Chinese parents destroy one-seventh of their baby girls. They break the spine of the newborn, they bury them alive, strangle and poison them, or just starve them to death.
Shocking as it may be, even in this age of freedom and equality there are pockets of darkness where boys are valued immensely more than girls, where the birth of a girl is deemed as economically unprofitable. In 2005, Harvard University president Larry Summers, who later became Bill Clinton’s Treasury Secretary, proposed that women are genetically inferior to men at the high end of the ability spectrum in math, science, and engineering.
Summers’ hypothesis was taken seriously. The National Academy of Sciences, the premier scientific organization that advises the US government, was constrained to study and prepare a report, "Beyond Bias and Barriers." Its conclusion was that there is no evidence to date of cognitive differences between men and women that can explain the under-representation of women on math, science, and engineering faculties.
Who wants to push back the historical chain of causation? This civilization is only a few hundred years old compared to the millenniums that have passed since the dawn of mankind. There have been conflicts, tensions, hatred, and discrimination between races, religions, complexions, occupations, traditions, ideologies, and genders. Who can tell how it started? Who can tell who started it first?
But nothing is more grotesque than depraved men who look down upon women of whom they are born. Little has changed after the Age of Reason, the Age of Enlightenment, the Reformation, the Renaissance, scientific discoveries, revolutions, and scores of movements. Men are still trapped in their minds. And, women in their bodies.