By Giovanni Comparini
Nowadays it is usual to read articles written by women that strive for better conditions and equal rights.
In developing countries they demand a more secure and fair life, while in Western and more developed countries they aspire to a major role in working activities and politics, considered at the base of social well-being and power.
Mostly these articles blame the male chauvinist, despotic character still standing out in our society worldwide.
On the occasion of the International Women’s Day, celebrated for the 100th time on March 8, 2011, The Jakarta Post of March 4 inserted a supplement of the Hong Kong journal China Daily. Miss Claire Chiang, former member of Singaporean Parliament, drew my attention by the statement that her wish for women is “…to find a way to peace and to be a whole woman. But how we do it, and how we define ‘being whole’ is the critical question”.
These remarks prompt me to introduce some personal points of view on the matter. Because, if it’s true that men and women are complementary, that is to say needing each other to be fulfilled and whole, this means that they have to cooperate and help each other, and not to compete or take unilateral positions. Therefore, inputs from the other sex could help women to find the right way on the path to be “whole women”.
I start by our attitude of men in the face of women’s claims, which seems mostly passive and without a real interest on the matter. That is probably due to a hotchpotch of factors, such as men don’t want interfere with what they consider as women’s internal affairs; a kind of respect for the fair sex; men erroneously consider the matter with no impact on the practical life and therefore without importance. My attitude started to change when I realized the strong impact of the women’s struggle on the life quality of Western societies.
A mirror of this uneasiness is the condition of children and old people. It is a very complex matter, especially concerning children, and cannot be analyzed in this context. Basically both suffer from a lack of time or unwillingness to take care of them from their loved ones that, due to their busy life, delegate public utilities to take responsibility for customary family duties.
Such utilities, however, often don’t provide the expected services. Moreover, they are usually rejected by old people, because they lack something: Call this attention, warmth, friendship, love or something else. For this reason, often it’s necessary to turn to full time care-takers for old persons, with unpredictable results.
A study published in 2009 by the Department of Applied Psychology of Padua University (Italy) shows that in Western countries the big gap between social-biological nature and fast changing cultures results in psychological violence, especially for women, torn between their natural, biological needs and the boost and desire to pursue social approval.
The first are the strong forces of instinct, result of accumulations and adaptations of thousands years’ experiences and cannot be removed within few years.
The second pushes to satisfy the need of social integration, with its changing values, trends and fashions, or to fulfil dreams cherished since little girls. These contrasting forces can lead to anxiety, stress and other psychological disorders affecting women, in spite of their victories.
A classic example can be met on the occasion of motherhood, when women dispense full attention and unconditional love to their babies. This way they satisfy their strong need to give love and their natural role of being mother. However, when children become bigger and more independent, the need of social approval begins to appear.
Then characters and values that permeate our social life and have been mostly prerogative of men can influence them, such as competition, aggressiveness, capability of taking risks and quick decisions. Therefore, to be appreciated and win the social approval in its different forms, women sometimes behave in accordance with values and characters typical of men.
This seems not the right path to become ‘whole women’. For the Javanese lady Febri Hapsari Dipokusumo, interviewed in The Jakarta Post of May 3, 2011, women’s lib should not be seen “…as a mean to beat or challenge the opposite sex”; moreover, the battle for women’s education of national heroine Kartini was aimed at enhancing their qualities, so that “…they would be able to bring up well-balanced children”.
In my opinion, same rights and equal dignity should be pursued between women and men. An important step would be to acknowledge and appreciate diversities, complementary values and roles implied by the existence of two sexes. Differences, if well understood and managed, could become a great wealth and an advantage for both sexes, to complete each other and to fulfill better their social roles.
To achieve these objectives women and men need to fight together, from families up to the highest political level. On the most developed and progressive countries, an important step could be the right of women to choose between the possibilities of staying at home, with a state salary for this worthy engagement, or working outside.
This would give back at least part of the lost dignity to the house work, which is now almost at the bottom in the scale of social consideration. It could be also a way to curb unemployment and to allow women that work only from necessity to make a less stressful life and be more available for their family.
Many Asian countries, where the mentioned contradictions and malfunctions have not exploded yet, would do better to start learning from others’ mistakes, which is not an easy thing.
An important lesson learned could be that women in peace with their own nature and fulfilling dreams and aspirations of a modern society, need to be ‘in tune’ with men. This could start from families, which are the more hit by unilateral and individualistic trends of our societies.
The writer, an architect and urban planner, conducted studies in several developing countries and is now living in Bali.
Source: The Jakarta Post, Jakarta