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The gender challenge

Dec 02,2018 - Last updated at Dec 02,2018

I believe that the best thing for the good old days is a bad old memory. Nevertheless, if I were to feel nostalgic about any one decade, it would probably be the 80s, not only because I was younger and fitter, but mainly because this was the last decade in which it was possible to maintain the illusion that things would keep getting better. The world was relatively stable, there was prosperity, and progress was made in a number of social issues, particularly gender equality.

In the 80s, women started to pursue higher education and careers in fields that were not open to their mothers. It was no longer news when a woman became a head of state, head of government or CEO of a major corporation. 

But the 90s brought a backlash: The global economic downturn, combined with the end of the Cold War and the rise of religion and nationalism, mainly in Eastern Europe, encouraged populist politicians to raise slogans that would effectively relegate women to being barefooted, pregnant and in the kitchen. 

In many countries this outlook had never come under challenge. The persistence of practices such as so-called crimes of honour and female genital mutilation show that many societies do not yet recognise the most fundamental right of women, their right to life. 

But women’s progress has retreated even in societies advanced in gender equality. Immigration from South to North, sometimes described as an invasion, has become the rallying cry of racist xenophobes. They also want women back in the home in order to breed enough white children to counter “the brown challenge”.

Meanwhile, science continues to support female inclusion in the labour force and gender diversification at all levels. In her article titled,  “Economic Gains from Gender Inclusion”, Christine Lagarde posits that “women and men bring different skills and perspectives to the workplace, including different attitudes to risk and collaboration... the financial performance of firms improves with more gender-equal corporate boards”.

So, who will win the last word? None of the above, as it seems. The great role model who inspires and whom millions follow willingly is neither Christine Lagarde nor Marine Le Pen. It is Kim Kardashian who has the largest number of followers in the world.

Not that there is nothing wrong with admiring someone who achieved success in high fashion. The problem is that popular culture is imposing standards on women which are detrimental to their social progress, self-confidence and even health. All too often, the message which popular culture gives to women is: “You are inadequate, but the product which we are marketing will solve your problems.” 

So why do women accept it? For the same reason that voters in many countries reject rational politics and vote populist. It is an act of desperation. 

Somewhere along the line, world leaders lost their credibility and their ability to inspire hope: a worrying state of affairs reminiscent of the inter-world-war period, when people put their faith in populist leaders such as Mussolini and Hitler. 

 

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