One of the most noticeable revolutions in this century is the Feminist movement. The first wave which began in 1854 was a fight for women’s rights to education and to voting by the Suffragettes. Conventional wisdom has it that the feminist movement is the rise of the female and the start of the road to equality of the sexes. However, on deeper analysis, it is actually the shift in attitudes of females that fueled this revolt. Sex is not the issue here. Rather, gender takes the limelight. Gender is the behavioural traits and attitudes of the sexes, not the biological characteristics of what defines us as male or female. This statement implies that attitudes of the sexes are absolutely not useful, nor is it beneficial. I do not agree with this totally. While gender may not be helpful in certain situations, it is definitely helpful in others.
The idea of gender not being helpful is exemplified in situations where women take on leadership roles and have responsibilities to fulfill. Traditionally, women are perceived to be reliant on their male counterparts and are expected to be subservient to them in all circumstances. If this is not the case, they will be deemed as defiant and are likely to be outcast. However, in the modern era women are not tied to their traditionally expected gender behaviour. Just look at the increase in the number of females having an active role in the political arena. In the recent issue of Forbes Magazine, Ms Wu Yi, the vice premier of China , is ranked as the most powerful woman in Asia . Ms Wu Yi has shown her credibility and abilities when she skillfully handled the SARS scare in China , outshining the previous male health minister. The latter tried to hide the burgeoning number of SARS victims under the proverbial carpet, much to the world’s disgust. Hence, the concept of women being less capable than men, and always playing a less important role than men so as to be seen as submissive, is not useful in the political arena as it prevents a level playing field for men and women.
Secondly, gender is not useful in defining roles for both male and female in the family unit. In the past, women were always stay-at-home mothers while men were the breadwinner, bringing home the bread and butter. Women played the role of mental support and care while men took on the role of financial support and discipline. Yet, now we witness a shift in roles – a growing proportion of fathers as homemakers and an exponential increase in the number of mothers who enter the workforce. The concept of gender is not helpful here because it imposes a restriction on men and women and on how they should carry themselves in order to fit the roles already defined for them, In fact, a ‘liquidification’ of roles allows fathers to establish a closer bond with their children and participate in their development in a more holistic manner.
However, gender can be a helpful concept when it benefits the individual. For a company that produces products, gender may be an essential concept. It gives the company some directions or some clues as to how they can better package or promote their products to cater to consumer’s demands. Take for example a beauty salon may wish to target primarily women since being image-conscious is a much acknowledged mentality of the female species. The cult of youth, especially emphasized by the media, is almost deep rooted in women due to their attitudes towards physical beauty and “perfection”. Beauty salons target women’s consumeristic nature and idealistic aims of reaching artificial “perfection” to help them yield profits. Of course there is now an increasing number of males who are image-conscious, but it is not a widespread phenomenon yet. Hence, how can anyone say that the concept of gender, which includes attitudes and behaviour, is not helpful at all?
To sum it up, gender can still be a helpful concept in situations where one’s aims can be achieved. In fact, it promotes awareness of the general behaviour of the sexes. However, the concept of gender is not as helpful as it used to be in the past as seen from the shift in the roles of male and female, and the increasing difference in the needs of the past and present societies. One thing we all know is that the helpfulness of this concept will diminish as time goes, and this is necessary for the progress of the world.