By Bob Gaydos
Back when Time magazine was deciding on its “Person of the Year,” the editors went with the safe, boring and incorrect choice — Barack Obama. In doing so, they avoided the exciting, correct, popular choice — Malala Yousafzai.
Now, in promoting their other effort to pump-up sales — “The 100 Most Influential People” issue — the Time editors are also trying to cover their erring butts by putting Malala on the cover, suggesting that even in such, umm, influential company, some people are more influential than others and that Miss Yousafzai is, perhaps, the most influential of all.
I don’t know that she is. In this case, President Obama, as predictable as he may be on the list and as hamstrung as he is by Republicans in Congress, is probably the most influential person on the planet by virtue of the fact that he is president of the United States of America.
But I’m not talking about influence here; I’m talking about perception, maybe even predilection or pre-conditioning. It’s my belief that Malala, 15, got short-changed in the “Person of the Year” selection because even the progressive, fair-minded, liberal-thinking editors of Time were pre-programmed and could not get past the fact that she is a teen-aged girl and Obama is a grown man. A man of accomplishment and history, to be sure, but a man.
So, despite igniting a firestorm of international outrage and support when she was shot by the Taliban for daring to promote educational freedom for girls in Pakistan, Malala didn’t quite measure up to a two-time president, as far as Time was concerned.
But, as often happens with “influential” women, second and third looks have produced different reactions. Maybe she was a teenaged girl, but she had displayed remarkable courage and dedication to continue to fight for “education, freedom and self-determination for girls and women,” as Chelsea Clinton wrote in her piece on Malala for Time. Interesting phrase that: “self-determination for girls and women.’’
Another phrase that caught my eye in Time was Madeleine Albright’s description of Aung San Suu Kyi, a political leader fighting for democracy in Burma, as “this indomitable woman.” I don’t believe I have ever heard a man referred to that way — “this indomitable man.” Even a dictionary check turned up this: “indomitable: impossible to subdue or defeat: a woman of indomitable spirit.” Even a woman fighting for self-determination for everyone can’t escape also being identified as a spunky woman. It may be subtle, but it strikes me as simply another example of a pre-programmed perception of women as being, not simply different from men, but not quite equal.
Now, I recognize that I am venturing into tricky territory for a male, especially one who has also been exposed to the very pre-programming I mentioned above, but think about it. When have you ever heard the phrase “men’s rights” used in a discussion of some issue in a serious manner? In decades in journalism and now writing a blog, I have never heard it used, other than by some group of disgruntled men with a warped sense of reality.
But women have been fighting for equal rights in this country for centuries. Once upon a time it was for the right to vote, one would think a basic right for all in a country that boasts of equality for all. Today, the social media sites on the Internet are full of groups dedicated to fighting for “women’s rights.”
What kind of “rights“? The same pay for the same job as men. The same opportunity for advancement in a company, even though being of child-bearing age. The right to control decisions about her own body. The right to express views on important issues aggressively without being referred to as a “b****.” The right not to be raped or beaten or be treated as sex slaves. The right to a good education and equal job opportunities. In sum, all the rights men take for granted.
Legally, that doesn’t quite exist in the United States. Despite a widespread impression and numerous attempts since 1923, the Equal Rights Amendment has never been approved by the required number of states — 38 — to become law. The amendment is refreshingly simple: “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any state on account of sex.” It has fallen three states short of approval and its opponents consider it to be dead, the 1982 deadline for approval having passed. Its proponents have adopted a “three state strategy,’’ believing if they can get those three approvals it will indeed become the law of the land. Political rallies are being organized to promote these efforts.
I support the pro-ERA goals and efforts to educate women to simply claim their rights without asking permission. But I’m not sure that’s enough. I also think there needs to be a fundamental change in the way we teach our children to value themselves, regardless of gender. In fact, even if the ERA were somehow to pass after all this time, the fight for “women’s rights” would have to continue, I believe, so long as a significant percentage of men and women look upon females as less equal than males. It comes down to power and the fear of losing it, or the perception of it, I think, and many men, trained from childhood as to the ‘‘proper” roles for men and women in society, will not easily change.
It is smart and right and crucial to educate young girls about being independent and the equal of any other person, male or female. Malala is a classic example of such upbringing. But, I fear, until we start showing young boys and girls how to treat everyone with respect and dignity, regardless of gender, no constitutional amendment will guarantee equal rights in this country.