Why We Should Not Trivialise 'First World' Gender Inequality

12/03/2012 12:36 GMT | Updated 12/05/2012 10:12 BST

Increasingly often I have days where my usual concerns begin to appear trivial. International Women's day last week was one of those days. So called 'first world' female problems, such as VAT on tampons, reforming maternity leave, men still opening doors for women, are put into perspective when across the world women are frequently denied so many basic human rights.

And this is coming from someone who regularly gets frustrated by gender equality both on a domestic and international level. However I want to highlight in this post that the two concerns are not mutually exclusive yet very much intertwined.

I should take a moment to commend everyone for their efforts for International Women's Day and the awareness that it raised around gender equality. For once feminism was a trending topic on twitter and feminist articles were making front page news. Nevertheless some use this as an excuse to trivialise 'western' feminist concerns and accuse some feminists of over reacting or over analysing the finer points when they could be focusing on the bigger issues. I have received this reaction in the past when I talk about problems such as the gendering of children's toys or boys and girls being encouraged to play different sports.

Now I am going to be direct about this: if I could choose I would rather have been born male. This forms the basis for a lot of my feminist views. This isn't that I want a sex change, or think that I am a 'man in a women's body' or other feelings of transgender (not that that would be a problem but that's not how I feel). My friends would probably describe me as a fairly 'bloke-ish' woman; in other words, I appreciate things like football, cider and steak. Of course these interests are now not exclusive to men, nor does this mean I don't have more typical 'girly' interests such as fashion, netball and playing the violin. In fact I strongly dislike this arbitrary stereotyping of interests along gender lines (as you may have guessed).

My point here is that I believe being a boy would have been better not because I am especially 'masculine' or tom boyish - but that I think men are granted more opportunities. Even today, even in the UK, even to someone who had a fairly privileged upbringing. To those who don't buy this, you must recognise that there are fewer societal barriers to men realising those opportunities. This is why I like to analyse the gendering of children, because it uncovers unequal treatment - which represents something unjust, even if the example of inequality seems somewhat trivial (like boys playing football and girls playing netball) . So long as I feel that I would rather have been a boy, in other words so long as I feel that I have missed out by being born a girl, I will keep fighting for the feminist cause.

As evident in my previous blog posts, I think we can learn from this kind of analysis. This does not mean that these individual concerns are necessarily more important than women suffering across the world. But it is over simplistic to compare these feminist issues as dichotomies. As if to say that there is only so much you can care about and therefore you are acting 'inefficiently' as a feminist to focus on 'trivial' western concerns. Many care about social mobility in the UK even though there are malnourished children in Africa.

I firmly believe that we should not stop and give up; even if we are nearly there with gender equality in the west. Firstly because we can show an example; that it isn't enough just to settle for near equality. Secondly it is important to remain self-critical and to constantly evaluate government policy and societal norms, in order that we don't overlook something or regress in our ways. Furthermore critiquing every day norms might have a collective input on breaking down the larger barriers to equality. Therefore these so called smaller concerns have their place alongside the more obvious examples of gender inequality; let us not doubt this importance or trivialise them.