Decades ago we bought into the virtuous idea that women should have equal rights. They should be able to get an education, be employed, own and run businesses, run Governments if they so choose. They should be empowered, motivated, uplifted and inspired. They should be delivered from the restriction of only running their homes. They should be allowed to maximize their fullest potential and not be relegated to only cooking meals, changing curtains, taking care of the children and making the home nice. All of this was advocated for, fought for and to some extent agreed on and supported by the society, particularly in the West.
Today, women are smashing the proverbial ‘glass ceiling’ all over the world. Interestingly, a recent study by the International Labour Organization (ILO) found that Jamaica has the highest proportion of women managers globally, ahead of developed countries such as the United States and the United Kingdom. Some celebrate the finding saying that women as a group are finally moving up while others are more bridled in their excitement until they can ascertain if these women managers are getting the same pay as their male counterparts.
Moreover, in many parts of the world, women are holding lofty positions in Supreme Courts, multinational corporations and as Heads of Government. And so the feminist movement, though not completely satisfied, can ‘pat themselves on their backs’. Now one of their biggest agitations is ensuring that women are equally represented at the level of CEO and in Government, since the data show an overwhelming majority of men still holding the reins of power at these levels.
In terms of academics, women too are securing higher levels of education for themselves. In Jamaica, approximately 80% of those pursuing tertiary education are female. So it serves to reason that the achievements will continue; women will be the most qualified to secure senior level positions in our society and will continue the upward march for equality.
Nevertheless, in all our efforts to ensure that women achieve their fullest potential, the stories of super-successful relationally-unhappy women abound. Maybe it is because we neglected to ensure that our men were prepared for a world with women shoulder to shoulder beside them in the workplace; a world where they know how to be the best / compatible mates for empowered women. If it is true that women can now do everything for themselves, men may ask: “If I no longer need to be her ‘knight in shining armour’, what do I need to be? If I don’t need to be her provider, what is my purpose? Do I still need to protect her? I still have a need to be respected, how do I earn her respect as the man in her life especially if she earns more than me?”
Furthermore, how are we teaching men to relate to these empowered women who no longer see it as their sole duty to take charge of domestic responsibilities? In the same way that we deliberately sought to empower women through education, workshops, advocacy, awareness programmes etc., we need to also deliberately ensure that our men know how to support them and love them. Too many men don’t know how to approach and be happy with an empowered women. Many eligible men would rather have an ‘ordinary nice woman’ than an ‘corporate achiever’ who may not have time or know how to pamper them. I remember a fairly decent intelligent God-fearing senior male professional in society telling me that while he liked to debate issues in the boardroom with his female colleagues, he didn’t like having a woman that was too educated in his bed. Certainly not for his wife! His view may strike feminists the wrong way but it shouldn’t be ignored or simply placed in the backward category. It is part of the reality that must be examined and addressed and may indeed explain why some women can’t find good partners. They say that the good ones are married or dead, but maybe some of them are left behind. I am not making excuses for unenlightened men, or men without ambition. What I am saying is that as a society we must adopt a holistic approach for the empowerment of both genders.
As the mother of 3 girls, I want my girls to fulfill their greatest potential as individuals. But if they don’t plan to be single, I also want them to find a loving partner who meets their emotional, spiritual, financial and intellectual needs. However if only 2 or 3 out of the 10 persons in their college classes are men, they may have a challenge in finding a partner, except of course for the divine hand of God.
And so, maybe it is time that we consider some strategic interventions for men even as we continue to agitate for women’s empowerment. Maybe it is time we agitate for a requirement that no less than 40% of either gender is represented in our universities and colleges. Maybe that will help to provide a wider pool for single ladies to find an eligible available partner. Additionally, maybe it is time that we advocate for men as well, help them to understand their ‘manhood’ within the context of the empowered female, how they can still ‘roar’ and how they can fulfill their own potential working alongside women in this changing world. Let’s shine the corrective spotlight on both men and women as we move forward and let us groom both genders for the world that we want to see – where men and women fulfill their greatest potential, find love and compassion in each other, start functional loving fulfilling families, while contributing to the betterment of our world.
Shelly-Ann Harris is the Editorial Director for Family and Faith Magazine and board member for a women’s rights organization. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org