Man at His Best

Great Moments In The History Of Gender Equality

A brief history of gender equality.

BY Amy Aronson and Emma Watson | Mar 20, 2016 | Culture


Elizabeth I dies. She refused marriage, preferring a series of liaisons with powerful boy toys. Single woman has rollicking social life and still defeats the Spanish Armada.

Eve hears whisper of carnal knowledge, and goes for it. Adam not involved. (cf John Milton)

Author/activist Mary Wollstonecraft publishes A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, asserts men and women are inherently equal, and still gets married.

At the World Anti-slavery Convention in London, several male abolitionists stand with women against hypocrisy of segregationist rules barring female participation. Protest falls on deaf ears, but thunderous American feminist movement arises at Seneca Falls Convention, New York, in its wake in 1848.

Philosopher John Stuart Mill publishes The Subjection of Women, exposing myth of marriage as a woman's game. Discloses: wife may be her husband's better half, but certainly not his other half.

Married Women's Property Act allows women to keep their property — whether married, divorced, single or widowed — offering better spin on dictum "a woman's place is the home".

Queen Victoria dies, after ruling Britain for 63 years. Empire does not collapse (it expands).

Fed up with moderation and patience, mother-daughter Pankhursts found Women's Social and Political Union, launching militant suffragettes. Direct action "deeds not words" inspires militant movement in US a decade later. It takes 25 years, but in 1928, British bad girls make good on promise of votes for women.

Author Rebecca West theorises, "People call me a feminist whenever I express sentiments that differentiate me from a doormat or a prostitute." World ponders formulation.

US birth control pioneer Margaret Sanger opens clinic, is arrested, flees to UK. Contraception debate expands to include safety and pleasure. (Women forever grateful.)

Virginia Woolf's Orlando, first English novel with transgender protagonist. Heralds modern mantra: free to be you and me.

UK allows the Pill for married women. Contraception legal for single women 13 years later, liberating both sexes from cold showers and shotgun weddings.

Equal Pay Act makes it illegal to pay men more for same job. But ignores paying women for "second shift" of housework and childcare. British feminists disrupt Miss World contest at the Albert Hall with flour and smoke bombs. (No bras were burned making this demonstration.)​

Irish housewives Betty Williams and Mairead Corrigan form Women for Peace, winning Nobel Peace Prize for "leading the way into no-man's land," as citation put it, accomplishing what men had failed to do for 60 years.

National Black Feminist Conference in London; National Black Lesbian Conference one year later. Under PM Margaret "I owe nothing to women's lib" Thatcher, movement grows.

Beijing Declaration at the World Conference on Women declares, "women's rights are human rights." Beijing +20 continues struggle against gender discrimination worldwide. Whole population of Earth benefits.

British military rescinds ban on LGBT soldiers in forces. Troops realise it's still safe to drop the soap in the shower.

UK Parliament allows lesbian and unmarried couples to adopt children. Slippery slope to family apocalypse fails to materialise. 

European Court of Human Rights sets stage for 2005 Gender Recognition Act, allowing trans Britons to seek legal recognition in their acquired gender. Note to self: being yourself might be the ultimate feminist act.

The 105th International Women's Day (8 March) celebrates the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women and promotes global gender equality. 

From: Esquire UK.

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