Can changed laws change minds?
Last Saturday morning, during a break from German class, my classmates and I started discussing how some professions that used to be mostly male are now mostly pursued by women. That causes some tension, and it brings about the need for cultural change, as I described in my last entry.
This subtle antipathy can surface unexpectedly in day-to-day life. For instance, my classmate Mariana is studying biology. She told me that once, in a physics class, she and the other students had to make a circuit. The male teacher, after communicating the task, said: “Let’s see how women can manage this one,” clearly assuming electronics was totally a “guy thing.”
Men of all ages seem to share this conception of women. Estefanía, another classmate, is studying food engineering. She had the same experience working in a group to build a circuit during a class on electricity and magnetism. Her male classmates usually left her out, not believing that she was able to handle that.
“One of them even told me he didn’t know why women go after careers, if their husbands can support them,” she said.
These attitudes are part of women’s everyday lives. It is an individual problem as much as it is a structural one. The School for Pharmacy and Biochemistry, in the public University of Buenos Aires, for instance, has only one toilet for women in the entire building. Large queues form during the breaks because of this, and there is no interest building proper facilities for women.
Career choice is also affected by salary and opportunities. In Argentina, some three to four decades ago, doctors were well paid, but no longer.
“And that is why there are a lot of women and very few men in Medicine School,” my father said during lunch on Saturday.
“What is that supposed to mean?” I said.
“Well, obviously, men tend to chose a career that is well paid,” my sister replied.
What shocked me the most was to see how natural this is to others: men are supposed to bring home the money; it’s ok for women to study, but it’s not ok for them to be wealthier?
These are the struggles women face in education in my country. For one thing, I believe we need new laws that value contributions from both men and women in shaping families. Consider maternity leave: right now, pregnant women only get a very short period of time off. How different would it be if the partner could also be included? A change in legislation, the way I see it, does not only change things in a practical way, it also introduces a new set of values into communities. It’s a long path, but I believe some steps have been taken. For a start, women are going to college and fighting their place in the professional ground.
DateMay 22, 2012 | 9:00 am