How Former Gender-Based Disadvantages Benefit Contemporary Women

How Former Gender-Based Disadvantages Benefit Contemporary Women

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The articles The Startling Plight of China’s Leftover Ladies by Christina Larson and Reinventing the Veil by Leila Ahmed discuss the issue of changing feminism dynamics in contemporary society. Although they address seemingly unrelated issues (Larson writes about consequences of not being married by certain age, while Ahmed writes about wearing hijab), both authors focus on the meaning and consequences of following or departing from feminine traditions in a modern world.  The analysis of the articles by Larson and Ahmed demonstrates that although some traditional practices have been previously associated with limiting women’s rights as well as personal and professional opportunities available to them, women can choose to either disregard these traditions or voluntarily follow them since acting so in the context of a contemporary society empowers women and increases a range of personal and professional opportunities they can enjoy.

Traditionally, across cultures, getting married has always been one of the natural paths that women were ought to take, and a failure to get married by certain age was considered a deviation from the norm. Larson writes that in China, there is a particular word used to refer to unmarried ladies above 27 years of age – “leftover ladies”. The author points out the demographic and social paradox that occurs in Chinese society where men outnumber women by 20 percent with the percentage of unmarried women steadily increasing and seeks for an answer to this strange social phenomenon. For example, in 1982, only 5 percent of urban women of 25-29 years of age were not married. By 1995, this number rose to 10 percent and reached nearly 30 percent in 2008 (Larson). The author notes that similar dynamics are observed in Japan and Taiwan as well.  Therefore, not being married by a certain age becomes a norm and is not associated anymore with a loss or impairment of a social status to such a significant extent as it was in the past.

Larson identifies three reasons that account for declining marriage rates among urban women. These reasons include high GDP growth, higher educational level, and the fact that marriage status is not a facilitator of social connections and professional achievements anymore. Larson states that contemporary women in China who are frequently more wealthy and educated have better jobs and higher expectations for men. Therefore, many women have to accept inevitability of marrying men with less wealth and lower educational level if they want to marry at all. However, Larson points out another major driver that accounts for a greater number of single ladies. She explains tat in the past, in China, “marriage certificate was a passport into adulthood” (Larson). For example, unmarried women were denied basic rights, while married ones enjoyed significantly greater employment and educational opportunities. However, as times change, a broader range of educational and career paths become wide open for single women who can enjoy sexual freedom that would have been unimaginable in just a several decades ago. Moreover, while a status of a single was a hindrance in the way of pursuing career and education in the past, contemporary single ladies enjoy greater independence and schedule flexibility and have access to a greater number of opportunities that married women cannot access because of their household and childcare responsibilities. In the past, the status of a single lady was an impairment to a woman’s personal and professional development. However, it has become a facilitator of greater achievements for today’s women. The traditional role of a single woman shifted from being a passive observer to becoming an empowered individual. Therefore, higher numbers of women either choose to remain unmarried or accept their single status since it serves as a source of advantage in Chinese society.

However, the practice of turning former feminine weaknesses into strengths is not unique to Chinese women. Ahmed writes about increased popularity of wearing a veil among Muslims in the United States. In her article, the author explores reasons that motivate women to voluntarily choose to reinvent a cultural habit of wearing a veil, an attribute that was considered an artifact of the past. Ahmed writes that just a few decades ago, a veil was becoming less and less common in Jordan, Iraq, and Syria and was hardly ever noticed in America. However, there is growing adoption of a veil not only in Islamic states but affluent western countries as well. Ahmed investigated why educated women in free societies return to this “symbol of patriarchy and women’s oppression” and reached following conclusions. First, contemporary American society lives through the period of the spread of Islamism with some of its attributes such as hijab. One of the reasons behind this dynamic is an increasing influx of Muslim immigrants to America. Second, adopting hijab brings several significant advantages to women who wear it. For example, associating with Islamist groups and changing a dress empowered some women in communication with their parents. Moreover, wearing a hijab was reported to expand marriage possibilities. Furthermore, Ahmed writes that since the veil is a sign of a woman’s commitment to conservative morals, hijab-wearing women enjoy greater freedom to move in public space and a greatter number of employment opportunities. Third, some wear hijab to reject negative stereotypes. Finally, wearing a hijab is not anymore a sign or an indication of submission to hierarchical authority but a manifestation of leadership potential and the ability to defend one’s viewpoints. Therefore, the analysis persuasively demonstrates that in contemporary context, hijab is not a symbol of depriving women of their freedoms and rights but an instrument ladies use to enjoy greater opportunities, promote their values, empower themselves, and exercise their leadership potential.          

The analysis of both articles and messages therein demonstrate clearly that although they discuss seemingly unrelated topics, authors focus on discussing women’s rights and traditional roles in the context of contemporary societal dynamics. Larson and Ahmed highlight the paradox when traditions and attitudes that used to hinder women’s rights and advancement in society in the past became drivers for greater female emancipation and integration of women in societal fabrics on a more equal basis. However, there is a hidden difference between the points that two writers emphasize. While Larson demonstrates how departure from former attitudes empowers women, Ahmed demonstrates how adherence to traditions makes women more empowered. Nevertheless, the commonality in writers’ positions is in that they point out that changes in attitudes regarding traditional practices and perception of former dogmas propel females to greater achievements and a more equal and prominent standing in contemporary society. Therefore, the comparison of articles by Larson and Ahmed shows how contemporary societal dynamics allow reinventing gender-related traditions and values and using them not to limit but expand a range of personal and professional opportunities women can access.       

Overall, the comparison of the articles by Ahmed and Larson shows that both authors discuss changing feminism dynamics and increased participation of females in labor market, education, and leadership positions. While one writes about greater roles of females as a result of abandoning traditional practices, the other emphasizes how following old traditions empowers contemporary women. As the result of the scrutiny, it was found that although some traditional attitudes and practices have been historically associated with limiting women’s rights, contemporary women are free to act towards these traditions of their own accord since doing so positively influences their self-appraisal and ensures more possibilities to fulfil their goals in the social environment.

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