Are you ‘rude’ enough to save the world?
Wherever we look, there are power structures dominated by the demographic that initiated colonialism. With 97% of Britain’s most powerful elite white, and women being underrepresented in positions of power, there has been a knock-on effect: an uphold of outdated notions defined by gender, race, sexual orientation, identity and/or class. Oppression through misrepresentation, squashing the voices of those already ignored; trapping us in tradition that is enforced to maintain the ‘status quo’.
Many stereotypes envelop us women in a story. It’s sealed, stamped and sent before we have a chance to explain ourselves. The preconceived judgement staples us into existence in the minds of others, and in the foundations of society. We are underestimated, seen as less capable, dynamic or authoritative. These assumptions are made naturally, to simplify and process our surroundings. The advantage is that it lets humans respond with efficiency to social situations. It improves processing time by using schemas, but ignores information that doesn’t fit the character we have moulded in our perception. These schemas are constructed from experience. For example, if we usually experience politicians (or people in positions of power) that are white, middle aged, and male, then the inner image we have of a politician will be this archetype, holding these qualities.
We have reached a cross-roads in the timeline of our planet’s existence; we can change and save the earth or stagnate and watch it burn. It seems like a no-brainer, yet consumerism drives the economy. And with most businesses using unsustainable means of production and materials in their products, as well as unethical globalisation in their workforce, a top-down approach is vital. Our society itself is an ecosystem, with interrelated systems of education, legislation, media, and various institutions. Not one exists alone, each having a knock-on effect on our culture and behaviour in everyday life. The resources we take from the earth are defined by these systems, so they are in symbiosis.
Feminine ideals dictate the societal narrative for women, and thus our schemas. ‘That's not very ladylike’, ‘it wouldn't kill you to smile’, ‘that's a blue job’ - we have all heard it. Too often, the roles we are prescribed limit our sense of self. They cage us in expectations that further entrench gender bias, locking us in a cycle where we meet these expectations. Seymour Parker, professor of anthropology, in the American Anthropologist writes, “The ritual of gender etiquette is an institutionalized social performance whose smallest constituents — or symbols — serve as vehicles for the transmission of socially normative meanings of gender”. Manners translate into a moral obligation for women to follow social etiquette that is defined by the patriarchy.
Historically, female values have been enforced to improve the desirability of a women when finding a husband to start a family with. “Manners influenced the most important battle a woman ever fought for social class — that is, her struggle to win a desirable spouse”, Michael Curtin writes in the journal of modern history. In a society where the only opportunity women had to improve their life was via marriage, it makes sense to strictly enforce manners - for survival. But this is the 21st century, and women have the rights and the freedom to be self-made. So why do we get chastised and discouraged in following a path that does not include motherhood? Why is there bias against hiring mothers? Why doesn’t society support mothers who have careers? And why are women still expected to follow this social etiquette?
Dismantling gender roles would allow women to follow their careers, unobstructed, leading to an adaption in the structure of business by smashing the ‘glass ceiling’ that ultimately prevents us from dominating the corporate ladder. A butterfly effect would then arguably slow the exponential increase of the global population. The world’s population is expected to increase by 2 billion persons in the next 30 years, from 7.7 billion currently to 9.7 billion in 2050. As it is widely accepted that those living in poverty generally have a larger family size, women being able to prioritise having successful careers would arguably lift more families out of poverty.
Population growth depletes resources and leads to environmental concerns such as global warming, deforestation and decreasing biodiversity. Developed countries have more of an environmental impact; it is not an equal global effort. For example, the US, which contains 5% of the world’s population, currently produces 24% of CO2 emissions.What’s more is that those who live in under-developed countries feel the effects of climate change to a larger degree. With sea levels rising, islands and coastal villages, in particular, are threatened. Extreme weather events wipe out crops and destroy homes, pushing them back to square one. These countries have higher levels of air pollution and contaminated water. For example, between 2000 and 2019, Pueto Rico, Myanmar and Haiti were the countries most affected by impacts of extreme weather events. In addition, the western diet pattern is majorly interlinked and reliant on meat consumption - a high ranker on contributing to climate disaster. In a study comparing the environmental footprints of a Mediterranean diet (MDP) to a Western diet, it was found that if a MDP was adopted by the Spanish population it would reduce greenhouse emissions by 72%, land use by 58% and energy consumption by 52%. In stark contrast, if a western diet pattern is adhered to (which is being increasingly adopted due to the characterised ‘convenience’) then all the descriptors increase between 12% and 72%. So, we have a pivotal role to play in the west. We must look at structures that we can transform and that can be redefined. There is an opportunity to break down systematic oppression of all women to create a brighter future for humanity.
Matriarchal qualities are noticeably absent from the world of business and politics. With stoic hard-upper-lip-attitudes creating the norm, any show of emotion is considered weak. In this societal pattern, namely hegemonic masculinity, stereotypically male traits are idealized as the (masculine) cultural ideal, explaining how and why men maintain dominant social roles over women and other groups considered to be feminine. This takes away from the human experience and limits us only to what we can gain materially. So, is it surprising that women show more compassion, on average, for the environment than men? We are witnessing cultural ideals take the form as thought and behaviour prisons. Where men are walking with their heads down, blind to the bigger picture of societal duty that befalls them. All because society tells them it’s expected. But life is meaningless without emotional depth and withering due to this neglect. However, increasing the numbers of women in positions of power could arguably transform this. In the UK women account for 17% of business owners and only 5.6% of women run their own businesses, compared to 15% of women in Canada and 11% in the US. Integrating female culture into the public sphere could remodel attitudes towards the earth and climate, reimagining the narrative that is currently consuming us: to turn a blind eye to the expense of nature for the gain of ‘development’. What would this look like? I hear you ask. In a patriarchal society it is almost hard to fathom. But imagine a world where maternal instincts that are currently redirected towards the dynamics of a family, are applied to leadership roles. We would be embracing the nurturing demands of the earth, transmuting that feminine intuitive ability to care and empathise and feeding it back into societies ecosystem, creating an equilibrium of influence.
According to the World Health Organisation, as of the year 2030, climate change is expected to contribute to approximately 250,000 additional deaths per year, from malnutrition, malaria, diarrhea and heat stress. Women are disproportionally affected by climate change globally as they are most likley to be experiencing poverty.
It is time to look at the structures in society that are built to exploit not only people, but the natural world, too, - so that we can live more equally and sustainably. Its time to transform and take-action. Change is essential, and it requires a women’s touch.
Words: Cerys Broadbent