Modern society is one that emphasizes meritocracy and equal rights for all. Today, women in many parts of the world enjoy much parity in treatment and opportunities. Women, now, have the right to vote, and the right to be educated. It is also common to have highly-educated women taking up senior executive positions in corporations. And women, too, are increasingly becoming a force to be reckoned with in politics. All these, some people would have us believe, have been achieved at the expense of men’s rights. The sad reality is that all women, even those in developed societies, still suffer from discrimination, though obviously in varying degrees, which most men conveniently ignore.
It is undeniable that men do indeed suffer some forms of discrimination. For example, in a divorce case, the judge would most likely grant the mother the custody of the child unless the mother is a criminal or is mentally unstable. The justification for this is that “it is in the best interest of the child” as mothers are considered better at bringing up children, especially the younger ones. This is a gross generalization, and is one obvious example of discrimination against males. After all, a mother-headed family is often far from ideal. One of the main causes of child abuse is the presence in the home of a boyfriend or stepfather. Fathers can be good parents too.
Worldwide, as more women are choosing to postpone childbearing, many governments in Asia, Europe and America are giving out longer maternity leave to encourage more mothers to give birth. In Singapore, for example, mothers are entitled to longer maternity leave, but what about the fathers? Many fathers want to be involved in family affairs too. Should they not be given paternity leave so that they can take care of their children too? In Norway, fathers are entitled to 9-months paternity leave, but in most countries, fathers are not entitled to such benefit. And yet, they have to take care of their families.
In addition, well-groomed males are described somewhat derisively as metro-sexuals, and fathers who choose to stay at home to take care of their children are often badmouthed. Where are their rights to groom themselves, to make choices? After all, no one laughs at mothers who choose not to work. No one laughs at women who go to spas or seek beauty treatment.
Indeed, men do suffer some forms of discrimination in today’s society. However, in my opinion, these are only minor forms of discrimination found only in developed countries. In many developing countries, women continue to be suppressed. Even in developed countries, the lot of a woman is less enviable compared to that of the male archaic social expectations of women and the existence of a glass ceiling are common forms of discrimination that continue to plague women.
Although much parity has been achieved in our modern society, women are still expected by society to adhere to the traditional roles of women. In Singapore, for example, society still expects women to aspire to get married, give birth and be mothers. Even as more women enter the workforce, married women who choose not to give birth are often criticized and pressured to reverse their decisions by society.
Even in democratic America, First Ladies are expected to fit into the traditional molds and abstain from any involvement in politics. Hillary Clinton, the former US First Lady, was lambasted for heading the National Health Care Task Force. She and Eleanor Roosevelt, before her, were criticized for expressing their views and taking part in politics. Where are their rights to freedom of speech? Even Tipper Gore, the wife of former vice-president Al Gore, was lambasted for speaking out against violence and pornographic music lyrics in 1985.
Politically, although women make up more than half of the population, women are still under-represented. Presently, women only make up 21.7% of all legislative seats globally. Indeed, influential women politicians like Margaret Thatcher, Hillary Clinton, Condoleezza Rice and Gloria Arroyo do exist, but they only make up a minority. And many, like Gloria Arroyo and Sonia Gandhi are able to hold so much power merely because of their families who were previously active in politics. It is heartening to see developing countries like Afghanistan making headways in granting women equal rights. Afghanistan, for example, voted for their first female provincial governor in the recent polls. The new Cabinet even has three female ministers. Sadly, such cases are merely isolated ones. Domestically, while we have ten female Members of Parliament, only two are Ministers of State, and none are full ministers. Clearly, women are still seen as less competent politicians by society even when women have the same or high educational qualifications.
Economically, while equal rights to pay and work have been largely achieved in the developed world, women still earn much less than men even if they have the same qualifications. In Singapore, for example, 2003 statistics show that women earned an annual income of US$15,322, while men earned an annual income of US$31,927. In addition, although women are becoming increasingly highly-educated, the presence of glass-ceilings denies women the right to attain higher positions. In Singapore, for example, only 6% of the top local companies have at least one female director. In comparison, 60% of the top 1000 companies in USA have at least 1 female director. In many countries too, granting of flexible working arrangements and maternity leave is given lip service and many women continue to be sacked when they are pregnant. Needless to say, in developing countries, the situation is worse. Women are often confined to the house and denied the right to work. Hence, women often make up more than half of those living in extreme poverty.
In today’s modern society where the emphasis is on equality for all, society has made much improvement in terms of granting equal rights to women. In this rush to achieve sexual parity, it is undeniable that this improvement has been achieved sometimes at the expense of men. However, discrimination against men is relatively insignificant. Women, worldwide, continue to suffer far greater forms of discrimination socially, politically and economically. To claim therefore that men are “more discriminated against” than women in modern society is therefore nothing short of ludicrous.