THE CULTURAL TIGHTROPE
Gender (in) equality
The reason I write this column, and indeed have done for many years now, is because of the endless stream of cultural comparisons that strike me on a regular basis having settled in a place so different from where I was born. And those comparisons are not only with my own native culture, that of the UK, but with other cultures I lived and worked in during my younger years, namely Germany, the US, Australia and Japan. Like many people, I have also travelled widely in my lifetime, and I think you’ll agree that cultural comparisons become second nature when setting foot in a foreign land for the first time. Added to that, living in a metropolis like Barcelona, I come into contact with foreign cultures on a daily basis, be it Chinese, Moroccan, Argentinian, Bolivian, Brazilian, and so on, and we can also draw conclusions from those experiences, even if over-generalisation is both unfair and unwarranted.
I’ve wanted to write about the subject of this month’s column – gender (in)equality – for some time, but something has always held me back. I’m not sure what. But a couple of occurrences in Catalonia in the past month, which therefore receive a mention in this magazine, have prompted me to do so here, even if it will be only a very superficial treatment of the subject given space considerations.
The two occurrences in question are the new Catalan president appointing a majority of women to his cabinet, and Barça women’s football team being crowned the best team in Europe.
Politics and football, two spheres where male dominance has been the norm for so long. I’m not going to go further into that here, but rather just note that it is those news items that have brought me to finally write about the issue.
So here’s my point, which I confess may not be popular, or even seen as accurate by many who live here: in my experience, Catalan women are far from the second-class citizens of other cultures I have encountered. I have actually always seen them as strong figures when compared to women from some of those other cultures.
I lived in Japan a long time ago, but nothing I have witnessed since leaving that country has led me to believe that Japanese women are much more empowered than they were back then. I was completely shocked at the female subservience in Japanese social customs from the day I first arrived in that country. I have also been in situations where I have been deferred to as the man in the group, on this occasion, when in the company of a group of Colombian women who were friends with my late wife. It was a situation that I found quite disturbing, if I’m completely honest. We have all heard of other examples, of cultures where the women are supposed to walk behind the men, and countless other social customs that appear to have what is known in academia as hegemonic masculinity at their origin.
Whether or not you agree with my briefly posited opinion that women here are more empowered than those in other cultures, I would like to state for the record that I am both happy and proud to live in a culture where the tables appear to be finally turning in more visible social spheres when it comes to equality. Bravo, Senyor Aragonès, and bravo Barça women.