Today marks the centenary of International Women's Day. While I think it's fair to say that women are better off today than they were 100 years ago, at least in the developed world, it's pretty clear that the inherent rights of women still aren't universally respected or even acknowledged. Most of the injustices are fairly well known; the threat of violence faced by women, unequal pay for equal work, inaccurate stereotyping of women, the unfair emphasis on personal appearance and so on. In many parts of the world, women face far worse: state-sanctioned (or at least state-condoned) stoning, genital mutilation and a long list of other horrors.
Folks wiser than me have commented on these issues at length. This International Women's Day, I'd be happy if people could make more of an effort to simply look past one of the basic stereotypes - that of the decision-making husband and the compliant, if not invisible, wife. (Or if you prefer a gender-neutral term for both parties, partner.)
You would think that Canadian society had gotten past this decades ago, but Sylvia and I bump up against this outdated assumption from time to time. On several occasions Sylvia has been ignored by service providers when we're together. Questions and replies get directed to me rather than her, often even at those times when she initiates contact. Being very outspoken and assertive, Sylvia almost always has no problem recapturing the attention of anyone who tries to do this. But she shouldn't have to do this constantly, so sometimes I'll take on the task of ensuring that both of us are equally respected. Usually all that's required is a gentle nudge in the right direction, a subtle gesture or a simple "You should talk to Sylvia about that."
(As an aside, sometimes I still have trouble figuring out when I should jump in and when I shouldn't - I don't want to be paternalistic, but on the other hand I don't want to leave Sylvia in the lurch if and when she'd like my help, either!)
Naturally the goal isn't to be rude or make the other person uncomfortable, but we both get a little tired of people assuming that just because I'm a guy, I make all the important household decisions. We're a team, and we make those decisions together. Involve both of us in the conversation, or we'll take our concerns or our business elsewhere.
I'm certain that many other Canadian couples face this sort of casual stereotyping. At worst it's an annoyance, but a troubling one. The attitude reveals deep-seated societal prejudices about gender roles. It's going to take another century or two of hard work and education to put those prejudices to rest. But when we do manage it, we'll be that much closer to eradicating the most serious crimes against women, and to building a world of true respect and equality for both sexes.