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Why Is There Such Ignorance of Gender Discrimination?

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In my previous post I was opposing being referred to as an angry feminist and the effects this can have on the movement. On the contrary, at least referring to someone as an angry feminist implies some awareness and dialogue with the doctrine. Although we may have our disagreements, with hindsight this at least invokes discussion and debate (something we are keen to promote where I work). What is more alarming, therefore, is the sheer lack of knowledge about feminism and gender discrimination. Or at an even more basic level - little awareness of the achievements of women and past progress that has been trodden. This is something that I've touched upon already but want to discuss further here.

In my job, teaching school children how to debate, I have been exposed to prime evidence of this unawareness. First off is the ignorance of past achievements. I taught a group of young girls who were not aware that we have ever had a female prime minister in the UK. I don't think they are to blame here, rather this is a worrying indicator of the lack of discussion. Frighteningly the other day I heard about a secondary school English teacher who told her class that women got the vote in 2010. It makes me wonder how many know when contraception became available, or when the abortion act came in, the equal pay act was introduced and a whole host of anti-discrimination legislation.

Second is the unawareness of discrimination that still exists today. Many don't know that men and women still don't receive equal pay in all areas. What are the restrictions still in place on women in the army? Why has paternity leave only just been extended (and still not equal or completely interchangeable with maternity leave)?

Within that let's not forget the less explicit (but perhaps more pernicious) forms of discrimination. The percentage of women on company boards, numbers of rich women, countries with female leaders. Can you name female Nobel prize winners, famous scientists or sport stars (see my previous post)? How many times has a female act headlined at the supposedly left wing (but woefully lacking in diversity) Glastonbury festival? Let's not even begin with the lack of awareness of the discrimination that faces women across the world...

How many did you manage to answer in the female achievement pop quiz? And I bet you like to think of yourself as a reasonably informed individual. This is very worrying, for a number of reasons. First of all we need to remember past achievements in order that history does not repeat itself. This is not a contested notion and forms the basis for academic history. We learn from our mistakes and hope never to make them again. Not only is this to prevent reoccurrence and regression, but this helps us make further progress on tackling discrimination and promoting equality. Complacency is a real danger; we have come so far and many think we have reached total equality. Our progress has been fantastic but we must not give up; we still have a way to go in many areas. We must constantly challenge and reaffirm our beliefs (another shameless plug for debating, as Mill would argue) in order that they are not lost. Furthermore our persistence fighting discrimination can set an example to many other countries that are lagging behind on gender discrimination. We can all do our part to help them and ourselves, through education and discussion, so that past brave individuals did not act in vein.