Do you like being called a ‘female’ instead of a ‘woman’ or a ‘lady’? I definitely object to the term ‘female’ as a substitute for ‘woman’ as these are not interchangeable in civilized speak. From reading English historical novels, the word ‘female’ often implies an insult. Used in certain contexts, it implies someone of low-status or caste, less than human, more like an animal. Yet, in speaking about women in general and their involvement in daily events that attract coverage by mainstream Malaysian media, the term ‘female’ is often used to describe their gender. It is even used interchangeably with words like, ‘lady/ladies’ and ‘woman/women’. In contrast ‘male’ isn’t as often used for men.
It is intolerable when speaking of a group of people, for instance, suspects in a robbery or drug syndicate to add, “including xxx (number) women” or ” including a woman”. To me, this implies that women’s participation in such criminal activity is unthinkable, as women do not have the brains to do such things. It is not a compliment to women, as women are human, have the choice and intelligence to engage in whatever activities they choose, lawful or not. Why can’t they simply use the word, ‘persons’ or ‘ suspects’ without gender disclosure?
It is the 21st century, and women, through perseverance, persistence and hard-headed determination have gained hard-won rights of recognition as equal human beings in a predominantly patriarchal global society. We have come far, not without pain or bloodshed, to win our still limited freedom and equality. The perception and image of women as wives, mothers, care-givers, and child-bearers has changed. The working woman has become more the norm, than the home maker of last century.
Larger numbers of women are now entering occupations and professions once man dominated. They have joined white-collar professions, manual work forces – bus drivers, HGV drivers, oil rig workers, taxi drivers, armed and security forces, as well as rescue and paramedic professions.
Yet, in many parts of the world, not discounting economically advanced nations, patriarchal systems have merely adjusted to this change but not genuinely accepted it. Women are still often seen as supporting actors, not principals or protagonists. It is perhaps, the male ego that has never altered since time immemorial.
Women’s roles as workers is seen as a ‘add on’ to her primary role of wife, mother, and home-maker. The saying, ‘Stop work and get married’ or ‘ Stop work when you marry’ is too commonly touted. In reality, both partners in a marriage have to co-operate to put food on the table, in many cases. A woman can choose to continue working, even if there is no financial need, if she finds fulfillment in her work.
In pre-historic times, as we are taught, men were hunter, gatherers and protectors. But, it must have been women who saw the need to plant food, make vessels to store it in, preserve food, and cook it. Who knows if it was women who discovered fire, instead of men, as we are led to believe. Woman was also a gatherer and the one who labored in the field, planting crops to feed the family. So, women were farmers and did similarly heavy farm work. Hunting was a group activity and I don’t doubt, that women (and children) may have participated in capturing large wild animals. Women in Africa still walk long distances over dangerous war-torn and wild terrain to gather wood for fuel or carry water. They selflessly expose themselves to all sorts of dangers, just to ensure family survival.
After centuries of being relegated to the hearth, denied literacy and education, treated like baby producing machines, ornaments and sex objects, women are perhaps starting to regaining their original status, rights and dignity in the 21st century, which they lost in the past. As women, and the perception, and image of women changes, men need to change as well. Men must accept women as partners, not subordinates.