For many centuries, the society has discriminated against women because men’s supremacy overwhelms women in every aspect of life. Cultures and traditions that men have made and maintained across centuries have hindered women from participating equally with men in the modern world. It took centuries of struggles for women to achieve the contemporary status because men did not pave way for them to achieve their rights easily.
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Cultures and traditions perceive women as weaker beings when compared to men, and thus they do not deserve to have equal privileges and rights with men.
According to Fuller (1845), as women struggle to gain their denied rights, a man reasons, “Now you must be trying to break family union, to take my wife away from the cradle and the kitchen-hearth to vote at polls, and preach from a pulpit” (p. 125).
Women movements that occurred in the 19th and 20th centuries made significant steps that led to women empowerment the modern world. In view of the process that led to women empowerment, it is evident that people have the ability to shape their culture and traditions through social, religious, political, and economic changes in their environment.
Reasons for Choosing Women Empowerment
The topic of women empowerment is a dominant theme in the study article entitled “Women in the Nineteenth Century” by Margaret Fuller Ossoli. The author fought for the emancipation of women from cultures and traditions, which restricted them from performing certain roles in society.
Moreover, some cultures and traditions denied women their rights by making them appear less human since they were not equal with their male counterparts. Fuller (1845) contends that supremacy of a man in the society has given him powers to trample upon women because “he has so framed the laws of divorce, as to what cases, going upon false supposition of the supremacy of the man, and giving all power into his hands” (p. 127).
Hence, supremacy of men in the society shaped cultures and traditions that discriminate and undermine women. By viewing the modern world, it is evident that women have made significant strides in their struggles to overcome men’s supremacy in the society. The achievements that women have made are attributed to their struggles; hence, their influence has shaped the modern society by overcoming male dominance.
Therefore, the topic integrates with the research question: how does our environment shape us and how do we shape our environment? This research paper uses three academic disciplines viz. socio-economic, religious and political disciplines to answer the research question
Social factors in the ancient society shaped the way people perceived gender. As men and women grew up, they adopted social norms that differentiated them as different entities in the society, which have different roles. The social norms dictate that the responsibility of women is to take care of their children while men go out to fend for their families.
Hence, the responsibilities of women revolved around their homes and could not perform activities beyond their homes. In the aspect of power, women did not have the ability to make decisions because chauvinism overpowered them. Under such society, women were submissive for they could not overcome societal social demands.
Friedmann (2008) asserts that social structures of society compelled women to accept societal dictates under the dominance of men. Thus, social norms, under the influence of men, shaped society to perceive women as lesser beings in comparison to men, thus with unique responsibilities.
However, as the society advanced into the modern world, emancipation movements started to empower women. When women realized that they had the capacity to shape social norms and advance their quest for freedom and social rights, activists created various movements. In this view, leading feminists have been agitating for women empowerment while demanding drastic readjustments of social structures in the society so that women can exercise their freedom and gain their rights as men.
Friedmann (2008) observes, women liberation “requires radical reassessment of established social norms and a progressive restructuring of society based on choice, autonomy, and ‘de-genderization” (p. 1). Through their movements, women have managed to transform social norms and restructure society.
Native American women have managed to empower themselves nationally, tribally, and academically through their movements (Mihesuah, 2003). In the modern world, women have achieved their freedom for they can now exercise all responsibilities without necessarily consulting their men counterparts. Additionally, in families, husbands and wives have equal responsibilities in taking care of their children and providing for them.
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Women have endured poverty for centuries because society could not provide them with the opportunity to participate in meaningful economic activities, which would enhance their economic wellbeing. While women remained at home taking care of children, men went out to perform various economic activities to provide for the family.
In this view, women were unable to empower themselves economically because they could not access job opportunities as men did. Additionally, since men made and interpreted laws without involving women, they ensured that they favored themselves despite the fact that they oppressed women.
The laws gave husbands economic powers to own family property and dispose it, as they wanted without consulting their wives. The laws also allowed widowers to own larger share of family property than they allowed widows when death occurred in a family (Fuller, 1845). Hence, women in the past centuries did not have access to economic activities or property that could empower them economically as men.
As women realized that their weakness emanated from economic disempowerment, they started advocating for their rights to access job opportunities and wealth. Education is one of the factors that have helped women in modern society to access job opportunities as their male counterparts. Employers in modern society no longer consider gender as part of job qualification because educational qualification is the major criterion.
Furthermore, current laws protect all people equally, thus enhancing women’s access to jobs and property. Chaudhry and Nosheen (2009) state, “Women empowerment seeks change in the sexual division of labor, equal access to food, health care, education credit and employment, ownership of assets, and now access to media” (p. 217). Hence, modern women have transformed economic aspects in the society, thus ensuring economic empowerment..
Religious beliefs and teachings also contributed to disempowerment of women in past centuries because they supported men’s supremacy in society. Feminists perceive that traditional religion is the main hindrance to social restructuring in the course of their movements.
Friedmann (2008) posits, “Seemingly preoccupied with order, structure, and boundaries, traditional religious systems view social divisions and hierarchies as predetermined realities” (p. 2). In the aspects of gendered roles, traditional religions believed that these roles were rigid, natural, and divine.
Moreover, religions asserted that men had absolute power to rule society, and thus women had to submit to their demands. Any attempts to restructure gendered roles in the society were against divine principles. Hence, religious beliefs and teachings that men and women subscribed to influenced roles and positions of women in society.
Through religion, feminists pushed their agenda of liberating modern women from bondage of religious beliefs that demeaned women. Several feminism movements decried about traditional religious beliefs that degraded women and denied them opportunity to attain their dreams.
In the Seneca Fall Convention, women declared “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men and women are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights, that among them these are life, liberty, and the pursuit for happiness” (Fuller, 1845, p. 126). The convention set the pace, which led to transformation of traditional religious beliefs to recognize women as having equal capacity as men with inalienable rights of freedom to perform their responsibilities without undue restriction.
In the past centuries, women did not have a stake in the political arena because they did not have the capacity to vie for leadership positions. Their responsibilities just revolved around homes where they could only take care of their children and husbands. Moreover, women did not have right to vote.
Before recognition of women by the 19th Amendment to the US constitution, women did not have right to participate in politics by voting (Fuller, 1845). The supremacy of men in politics prevented women from venturing into the political arena and making their contribution. Hence, the political society had accepted that women had no responsibility in politics because they did not have the capacity to compete equally with men through their leadership or vote.
Dramatic changes in the political arena in the modern society have empowered women to venture into politics. Women movements during the 19th century fought for their rights and the 19th Amendment to the US constitution set the precedent, which led to recognition of voting powers of women.
Voting rights enabled both black and white women to participate equally in politics (Collins, 2000). As women participated in voting, they got the privilege of transforming political leadership and entrenching their interests in politics. In the modern society, many women have entered the political arena and become successful leaders contrary to earlier beliefs that they lack the capacity to become leaders.
Women leaders in political circles have made a significant contribution in transforming perception towards women. Women empowerment is attributed to courageous women who managed to venture into political fields and made a difference in political leadership.
Chaudhry and Nosheen (2009) state that women empowerment in politics has led to positive changes in literacy levels, societal participation, wellbeing status, and position of women. Therefore, politics enhanced the power through which women used to transform the world.
Women empowerment, which is evident in the modern world, is attributed to series of struggles that women have made over the centuries. Women activists have been advocating for recognition of women in the aspect of life such as social, religious, political, and economic arenas, which men had dominated.
Owing to supremacy of men, women remained passive as society shaped them to accept oppressive and discriminative social norms. However, as feminism movements emerged, women started shaping their destiny by influencing social norms to recognize the role of women in all aspects of life. Hence, the significant findings is that, as society shapes the way of life, people also have the capacity to shape their society and define their destiny as women have done.
Chaudhry, I., & Nosheen, F. (2009). The determinants of women empowerment in
Southern Punjab (Pakistan): An empirical analysis. European Journal of Social Sciences, 10(2), 216-229.
Collins, P. (2000). Black feminist thought: Knowledge, consciousness, and the politics of empowerment. New York, NY: Routledge.
Friedmann, J. (2008). Liberating Domesticity: Women and the home in Orthodox Judaism and Latin American Pentecostalism. Journal of Religion & Society, 10, 1-16.
Fuller, M. (1845). Woman in the Nineteenth Century. In H. Zinn & A. Arnove (Eds.), Voices of a People’s History of the United States (pp. 124-132). New York, NY: Seven Stories Press.
Mihesuah, D. (2003). Indigenous American women: Decolonization, empowerment, activism. London, UK: University of Nebraska Press.