Recently I sat browsing ‘inspirational quotes on gender equality’, with an almost insatiable need for immediate self-validation. Needless to say, my constant complaints about societal insensitivity around gender based issues have a lot to do with my being a woman, in Beauvoir’s words ‘the second sex’. Gender is not biological sex. Gender implies the roles we expect out of biological sex. That got me thinking. What is gender equality? Is it misogyny? Is it misandry? Is it really a war? Are we calling a truce?
Putting a few facts in order, back in the early 1900s an insignificant 6% of married women worked in the labor market. Women’s income has globally shot up in recent times to a massive 44% between 1970 and 2007. However the other narrative holds, and holds true that women are paid 23% lesser wages than men, for the same kind of work performed.
Earlier this year United Nations Women, that works to promote gender equality and empowerment, ran a contest showcasing the works of young European artists, professional and amateur. Through comics and cartoons they made an imagery of what gender equality and women’s rights meant to them. A variety of sketches made by young men and women echo many of our concerns that dominate any discussion on the highly volatile subject. The entries were judged by established gender rights activists, professional cartoonists and communications experts.
Emilio Morales Ruiz, Spain
The winning entry portrays the desperate accountability for identity felt by an average woman in a male dominated society. A girl walking past two gender-balloons is trying to keep the ‘female’ balloon afloat. This works well in trying to establish what a woman’s general reaction to gender equality is. A transgender balloon is badly missed though.
David Ibáñez Bordallo, Spain
The second cartoon is an audacious alternative ending to Little Red Riding Hood. Seen here in super-hero gear, flashing victory signs having mounted the big bad wolf, it urges us to rewrite our own stories where we need not be rescued by a man.
Samuel Akinfenwa Onwusa, Spain
First of the joint third-place winners portrays the manhandling of women in the classical workplace. A woman facing rejection in a job interview subsequently gets accepted when she turns up in a man’s garb. Unequal gender reality in the market is successfully shown here but it remains somewhat unclear insomuch as how the ‘man’ mask might help her secure a job.
Aleksi Siirtola, Finland
The second is the only entry that identified and targeted the white Caucasian heterosexual female prototype where White, Latino, Asian and African women figure in the same frame. The use of the United Nations logo seems a tad bit patronizing, as if trying to win favor with the judging panel.
Agata Hop, Poland
The third makes a strong case for a woman that has to climb the ladder of success with burdens that a man refuses to share, like childcare.
Aitor López García, Spain
The next entry is an amusing artwork testifying for men and where they figure in the gender identity equation. It shows the dilemma of a man carrying a child in a society that makes child-rearing a woman specific role.
Joanna Grochulska, Poland
The last entry shows a rather beaten and over-played idea where a fist of empowerment with a spanner and some nail paint is trying to fix the world. The manner in which gender roles are portrayed is slightly off.
Differing racial narratives appear very briefly in one of the cartoons while none of the entries challenge two ideas central to the subject of gender equality- class and the heteronormativity. Why were gender-class nexus, third-gender and sexuality missing from UN shortlisted works? Perhaps guidelines from the organizers with sub-themes to participants for wider exploration of gender issues could’ve helped.
Images courtesy of UN Women.