Gender equality – equal opportunities not equal outcomes

Women, in general, have different desire and definition of success than men therefore it’s obvious they achieve different results in life. 

My perspective of gender equality might be greatly influenced by circumstantial factors derived from the fact that I was born and lived in a developing country for nearly most of my life, especially Vietnam where gender equality is a new concept and many initiatives have been invested to reach it, yet the result is insignificant. My upbringing enables me to not only witness but experience gender inequality in asymmetric institutions (formal and informal) first-hand and more transparent than in already developed countries which have passed the first wave of feminism decades ago.

Institute for Women’s Policy Research in the U.S indicates that ‘female full-time workers made only 79 percents for every dollar earned by men, a gender wage gap of 21 percent’. This statement is roaming famously around the Internet and used constantly in the debate of gender equality. What many fail to address is that this is not a straightforward statistic, but rather a direct consequence of collective resources affecting gender division of labor. In the book Economics After Crisis,the author Irene van Staveren clearly distinguishes six principal roots that link to the inequity income.

  1. Women are more likely to spend hours on unpaid works (such as caring for children, households, chore work) than men.
  2. Girls in general are not encouraged to go to schools or higher education due to social stigmatization.
  3. Women spend less time in labor market due to maternity leave, and time spent for children, etc.
  4. Jobs dominated by women (healthcare, education and secretarial work) earn relatively low wages compared with jobs taken often by men (finance, business, engineering).
  5. Asymmetric formal institutions which give women less rights to inheritance, individual ownership or freedom to buy and own properties in their own rights.
  6. Gender stereotyped about leaderships and women in high-level positions that limit their chances to promote and advance further.

It is evident that there are serious imbalance in social norms and values in developing countries like Vietnam as women are expected to burden most of unpaid works (child and home care) while men are freed from their responsibilities and regard as higher in social hierarchy. Also, I acknowledge the stereotype and common beliefs that prevent many females to enter ‘masculine’ fields such as engineering and electricity or finance. Even when they enter those fields, they have to struggle to balance time for works and families. In Vietnam, they are called ‘Superwomen’ as expected to perform exceptionally well in both fields without much help from families and communities (I think this is absurd and placing too much expectation and stress for female full-time workers).

On the other hand, I believe that the gender imbalance exists also due to the primarily innate differences in biology, in terms of hormone and behaviors. For example, there are extensive evidences showing that men possess stronger tendency to be dominant, aggressive behaviors, to initiate negotiations, to engage in competitive environment and to yearn for power. Back to the day of hunting-gathering, males were the ones who set out to dangerous places to hunt not only because they were protective of their women, children and tribes but because they had better spatial awareness – they can see objects in three dimensions and navigate better. Even now, males are better at directions than women.

Even though we are matched in terms of intelligence and multitasking, men handle lack of sleep better than women while women are better at worrying and locating small objects than men. Also women naturally are better care givers therefore they work the best in healthcare and education.

It’s easily to spot those differences in my surrounding environment. Men are fascinated by machines, cars and complex handicrafts while most women like to go shopping, arts and creative works. Some might argue that it is due to social conditioning that channels girls to like ‘girly’ stuffs. I agree at some extents, human beings are conditioned by their parents and societies’ beliefs into general standards and social norms, nevertheless at a certain age as they gain self-awareness and power over decision-making, they are given freedom to choose. Especially in developed countries, women and men at age of 30s, 40s still can change their career choices and study fields that completely non-related to their previous expertise. And still, I don’t see many women get excited about engineering, electrics, automobiles like men.

In additional, women have different definitions of success than men. Men like to power and dominate and have high social status, women get motivated by affiliation – the desire for acceptance, social inclusive and relationships with others – families and friends. With different core mindset and goals, naturally comes different outcomes and career aspirations.

Overall, we perceive a profound and consistent gender gap in men and women’s core life goals outside external factors that influence overall wage gap. Some might conclude that women are less determined to succeed. But success means different things to different people. Many women when mentioning success don’t narrowly define it as professional achievement, but view it in broad and extensive scope of balance life and meaning outcomes. Women might appear less ambitious to some who value professional ambitious or to people who insist the value of women are not at home. But to me, women are free to choose what suits best for them – advance in prospective field or staying at home more to care for their children, both are equally appreciated. That’s what feminism and gender equality should be about. Women are given equal chances to study, to advance and to choose, not necessarily achieving the same things as men to prove that they are equal. Because individuals have unique abilities and companies and business should give chances to qualified people, not because of affirmative actions or due to quota.



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