“Woman as Other” De Beauvoir’s “Woman as Other” lays out an elaborate argument on gender inequality; using the term “other” to establish woman’s alternate, lesser important role throughout her work, the author dissects and examines from its origin the female’s secondary position in society in contrast to man. Indeed, from the beginning of recorded history, the duality of man, by definition, positions woman at the opposing end of the spectrum in relation to her male counterpart.
Even by today’s modern and accepting standards, the female suffers under the brand of being the sub-standard half of the duality equation; compared to her male opponent, women are paid lower wages, have fewer and limited expression of rights, achieve lower educations, have greatly reduced access to opportunities and resources and lead a diminished role in decision making responsibilities.
Only in the last century woman gained the right to vote in this country, thus marking the beginning of her liberation, but one hundred years later woman’s plight for equal status with man has improved only marginally. Discrimination against the female gender in the form of gender-based violence, economic discrimination, and the continued practice of harmful traditional customs remains the most omnipresent and invasive type of inequality. Often called the most pervasive yet least recognized human rights abuse in the world, gender-based violence is the most potentially damaging form of discrimination.
In our male-dominated world where man is king of his castle and woman his willing dependent, gender-based violence offers an effective method to maintain supreme authority; because violence produces submission and submission imitates authority. Left unchallenged, man as the absolute master is capable of loosing unspeakable abuses on his female dependents. Worldwide, as many as one in three women has been beaten, coerced into sex, or abused in some other way, most often by someone she knows, including by her husband or by another male family member.
Domestic violence, sexual assault, rape, sexual abuse of children, and the trafficking of women and young girls are some of the more common examples of gender-based violence to which the female is vulnerable for the entire course of her life. Since it is sustained by a culture of silence and denial, the full impact of the effects of violence on women’s equality may be greatly underestimated; however, occasionally a high-profile incident is leaked through the media, attracting public attention to the wide spread nature of gender-based violence.
An illustration of such a high-profile example is the recent case of an aspiring pop singer, Rihanna, who was savagely beaten by her live-in boy friend, Chris Brown on their way to a music awards ceremony. By what means can male-evoked gender violence be justified? The paradigm of masculinity has long allowed for the resolution of conflict through violence, and gender-based violence seems to serve – by intention or effect – to perpetuate male power and control. He is the Subject, he is the Absolute – she is the Other” (Beauvoir 343) as Beauvoir describes in her article or, in more contemporary terms, he is essential – she is merely incidental. So, man is inclined to employ domestic violence in a demonstration of his superiority over the woman more so in a hierarchy where he is rated as the primary or absolute presence above the subservient female “other. ” Furthermore, when women were accepted in the general work force, the bias of economic discrimination was also accepted and has been, for the most part, uncontested ever since.
Women’s limited access to resources and the lack of attention to gender in macroeconomic policy adds to the imbalance in the workplace and this, in turn, perpetuates gender gaps, which fuels economic discrimination. For example, when a girl reaches adolescence, she is typically expected to spend more time on household activities, while boys spend more time developing trade skills or performing wage work. When the girls and boys become adults, females generally work longer hours than males, have less labor force experience, earn less income and have less leisure time.
Consequently, this has potential implications for the investment on the next generation; if parents view daughters as less likely to earn market wages or take paid work, they may be less inclined to invest in their education, which is woman’s fastest route out of poverty. Also, in a job market dominated by men who monopolize the most important positions, the male faction generally retains the opportunities for success, for advancement or for higher wages. In fact, a recent class action lawsuit filed on behalf of 1. 6 million women employed by Wal-Mart stores alleges the etailer’s sexual discrimination has led to women losing out on pay, promotions and other advances; women are paid less than men in every department of the store. According to the study named in the lawsuit, two-thirds of Wal-Mart’s employees are female and less than one-third of its managers are female Until recently, social development, by design has guaranteed women limited growth in the employment ranks by the standard curriculum path recommended for the female gender; typical high school and junior colleges required home economics and other domestic-related courses to be completed by female students.
Thus, the woman high school or junior college graduate enters the world without adequate training to compete in the business world beyond basic trade or “blue collar” worker positions. Finally, a deeply rooted form of discrimination, less tangible than those previously discussed but every bit as damaging because it is often portrayed as a cultural heritage or rite of passage is continuation of harmful traditional practices. The specifics of this type of discrimination globally vary vastly from one society to another though the end result is the same – iniquity and deprivation of basic rights to the female gender.
Because it is masked under the premise of tradition, this method of discrimination is commonly accepted without question and passed along from generation to generation. A localized example of one such harmful traditional practice is seen in India where young women and girls, considered of lesser importance than a young man or boy, are often sold into slavery or prostitution by their own blood relations. Yet, another example comes from the areas of Asia and North Africa with the practice of killing young women, female infants, and fetuses in the name of “honor” simply because of a preference for male offspring.
These harmful and, indeed, deadly practices have been sanctioned as being part of the natural order of things and, thus, in some cases become traditional. Similarly, some civilized countries of the third world routinely engage in forced marriages or prearranged marriages; a contractual agreement made by family members of a female with the family of a male without any consideration given to compatibility, which frequently result in life-long psychological problems as well as physical problems such as those resulting from early childbearing.
As De Beauvoir explains appropriately “Now, woman has always been man’s dependent, if not his slave; the two sexes have never shared the world in equality” (De Beauvoir 346) woman complies, by nature, with man’s every desire and decree, however detrimental to her own being it may be. There are basic human rights afforded to all of mankind and guaranteed to the citizens of this country through the Bill of Rights.
What is this statement saying in absolute terms? Mankind? Has Woman been excluded from the equation? The acts of discrimination; gender-based violence, economic discrimination, and harmful traditional practices, as they exist today worldwide, would indicate these rights being compromised as they apply to women. Gender equality is unquestionably a human right, and women living in conditions of fear, or want, or exploitation are not fairly enjoying this right.
Women should be able to live in dignity with the same basic freedoms common to all members of a civilized society and yet, in these modern times in which we live the role of woman as a less than equal counterpart to man continues to cast its shadow over the issue of equality for women. Only when society aligns its views on masculinity to include the dynamics and consequences of discrimination against women – gender-based violence, economic iniquity, or continued harmful traditional practices – and engages men in this process, will a cultural change begin to effect the issues of equality for the woman.