Just over a hundred years ago, in 1918, women won the right to vote, which was one of the first major wins in the long journey to female emancipation. Before this milestone was reached, women weren’t legally able to drink in a bar alone, buy a home, or obtain credit without a male co-signer. The world our grandmothers and great grandmothers grew up in looked very different to ours today. From women entering labour roles in the 20s and 30s after the First World War, through to the scores of women heading for education and then, further professional roles which were once reserved only for men. More than 100 years on in 2021, despite the COVID-19 pandemic, a generation of young, ambitious women are making waves in their careers, the granddaughters of those that suffered oppression. In an ever-changing job market, as globalisation continues to unfurl, and the technological revolution offers wider job opportunities than ever, it can feel hopeful that we have finally reached the summation of many, arduous years of campaigning for our rights.
While we have seen a massive change in women’s ability to work and have careers, we can see with striking clarity that women’s right to work has not come without its own set of hindrances, as well as many problematic nuances along the way, such as whitewashing, or the exclusion of trans experience. Society has not addressed the disparity between men and women’s caring responsibilities, resulting in the cavernous gender pay gap we still see today. The overt sexism that women experience in places of work goes largely unrecognised, with little resources being devoted to improving this situation for women either, despite the #metoo movement.
Women carry the bulk of unpaid labour, a disparity that perpetuates a culture that prioritises male-dominated career paths. The gender pay gap causes a decline in mental health in women (Columbia University, 2016) Women are increasingly more likely than men to experience mental health problems (The National Archives, 2016), whilst when paid equal salaries to their male colleagues for the same roles, their risk of developing mental health problems drops down to the same levels as men. Though difficult to quantify, this could suggest that a society that relinquishes its responsibility for creating meaningful provisions for health and social care perpetuates the risk of mental illness in women.
In the West, the opportunities available to us are greater than ever. The rise in independence for women has created a culture of highly ambitious women chasing career goals even their own mothers didn’t have opportunities for. But without providing parameters for women to thrive in, women suffer as a consequence of living in a society that revolves around the male experience. The modern working hours of your typical 9-5 are based on the Testosterone levels in men which peak earlier in the day, whilst the hormonal fluctuations women experience on a daily, weekly and monthly basis are disregarded and misunderstood, leaving women to clamour with trying to keep up with male counterparts whose productivity doesn’t fluctuate with varying hormonal changes. With few companies offering period leave, it’s clear that under a society that values capital over human experience, women are being literally bled dry.
Whilst the working freedoms of some women have been won, essential work provisions for many other women have been left behind. The lack of support women face in the working world suggests that companies are very happy to take advantage of their labour, but are not interested in supporting women with their daily experiences of living under patriarchy. This favours those that benefit from the systems that oppress us, as they rake in a hiked profit from our contribution to the job market, whilst not having to address the issues and fund the solutions these systems impose upon us. In a culture that values profit above all else, it’s hard not to put two and two together: that our ‘emancipation’ is actually being exploited when adequate solutions are not put in place. The notion that our rights have been hard-won is perhaps nothing more than the ugly truth that we have instead been effectively enslaved by the Capitalist machine as well, alongside our male colleagues.
The rise in opportunities for women under a Capitalist, White Supremacist and Patriarchal society is propagating toxic work habits like competition above collaboration in women, as within late capitalism, ambition, drive and productivity are celebrated above all else. The individuation of women creates a hierarchy of those who perform best under male-oriented working. Those that conform most to the expectations of men are awarded the most success, whilst for those with varying identities such as Black, trans, working-class or disabled, the subjugation is further compounded as it’s harder and harder to receive the resources needed to survive under Capitalism.
Women who choose to have children young are derided as ‘not having met their full potential,’ as though motherhood or anything that divulges from work couldn’t possibly allow them to reach their own – more important – self-defined success. This same hierarchy demonises the varying ways women may choose to balance work and family life, whether they leave children to a later age to pursue a career, choose not to have children to prioritise work, or have children and pursue a career at the same time. Pitting women against one another is one of Capitalism’s dirty tricks, to fool individuals into thinking it’s their colleagues that are responsible for their lack of resources, when actually it’s those at the top who are responsible, profiting from their labour.
While some women – mostly white, middle class, educated women – have won certain freedoms in the world of work, it’s clear that those that benefit from Capitalism reap the benefits of neglecting the provisions women need to succeed in the workplace. The emancipation of women in the world of work; though allowing us certain freedoms and autonomy, has conversely benefited patriarchal and white supremacist systems. Until work isn’t oriented around profit above all else, it isn’t possible for women’s contribution to not be exploited.