A society that oppresses women digs its own hole, since women are the ones who raise its children. An unhappy woman with no self-esteem can't teach her children to be happy and loving. All the other "cultural" differences are just details.
We can observe all around the world how societies in which women are truly respected are also the happiest and most advanced ones. Scandinavian societies seem to be in the lead in both aspects. When using the word 'advanced' I don't necessarily mean technological and economical opportunities (even if there are some connections that can be made), but emotional and social quality of life in the first place. Some societies humiliate women in subtle, not so obvious ways, and it too has consequences.
Western societies regularly turn a blind eye to the abuse of women in some other countries, calling it "cultural differences". This is cowardly. Culture should not include violating human rights - human rights are above culture. Considering that cultural traditions are often formed on the basis of oversimplified prejudice and exaggerations, should we truly respect that more than basic human rights?
However, women are also just as responsible for the change as men. Quite a few men I know praise women more than men, while many women criticise men and feel like victims. On the other hand, considering the nature of my work I usually meet men who are more mature than average, while the voids of internet often leave quite a different impression.
Anyway, simply going around criticising men is a victim attitude, not a constructive one. Many men can't be expected to be motivated to respect women, but this comes from their childish feelings to which criticism doesn't help at all. Boys raised in women-oppressive societies usually find deep relief as soon as they become aware of their own gender, and try to act as manly as possible in order to 'deserve' the freedom and respect they see other men getting. Even if they wouldn't do so, society would force them to, through humiliation and rejection if they showed any 'feminine' behaviour (even if such behavior has more to do with wider knowledge and understanding than gender). Sometimes their mothers and sisters support this as much as fathers and brothers.
Some mothers still encourage their own daughters (and sisters, daughters in law...) less then sons, expect less from them and appreciate them less. Unconsciously, this comes from the same attitude such a woman has for herself.
A mother has much more influence than a father over a child's basic impression of themselves and the world around them. The younger the child is, the deeper and stronger these impressions are, and in the first few months and sometimes years of life, the mother is definitely the closest person. Not to mention the pre-natal period, which is probably just as important. I'm not diminishing the father's role, but it rarely has such deep fundamental influence as the mother's.
When working with people, I usually notice that people whose mother was less emotionally mature than father, usually find it more difficult to change and need more time and effort to do it, than people whose father was the less mature one. The father definitely influences the child's personality, beliefs and emotional patterns which might cause him problems later in life, but still has less influence than mother to the deepest, most basic self-perception.
Taking responsibility means making our own lives happy first, providing a respectful atmosphere for our daughters, and refusing anything that supports prejudices (like for example sending little girls to beauty contests).
The change can't be imposed aggressively to others. A woman has to be gentle, but persistent. The change must be based on our own behaviour as the example. Children learn mostly from observing others and their example, and many adults still learn fastest in that way too.
It's important for women to realize that, just as they were indoctrinated through most of history to not achieve more and demand more, so were men and boys indoctrinated to think what is normal and what to expect from women. It's pointless to blame them for being indoctrinated, just as it's pointless to blame girls and women for not knowing better. Many men are willing to consider the female perspective if it's presented in a way that is friendly and logical, rather than full of blame and generalization. Some men are not willing to listen because they prefer privilege and power. With such men, it's especially important to keep in mind the following paragraph.
If you want to be treated with respect, you need to show that you respect yourself. People usually instinctively respect you just as much as they feel you respect yourself. Words are not enough - in fact, words that are followed by inaction only weaken you, inside and outside. You need to use decisive actions, not to try to control anybody, but to show that you have your own will, your own mind, your own goals and your own identity. Complaining and criticizing doesn't do that.
If you complain or threaten, only to cave in in the end; or if you justify, ignore or "forgive" inconsiderate, disrespectful, or even violent behavior out of love or pity, or if you hope that the other person would see reason if you are kind enough, the only message the other person will receive is that it pays off to treat you that way; that such behavior is tolerable and justifiable. Few people are able to resist the opportunity to exploit others once they see it's possible; people who have already shown disrespect are even less likely to do so.
The only solution, as I said elsewhere, is to prioritize your important values over a relationship - ANY relationship. You must not be afraid of losing a relationship, otherwise you'll probably end up losing yourself. If you find a relationship more important than your own self-esteem and integrity, that most likely means you were indoctrinated as a child (consciously or unconsciously) to not value yourself. This can be changed, but you need to be willing to confront your fears.
Some people don't care about their own selves enough to even try. It's unlikely we can help them, unfortunately, because they will simply lack motivation to strive for anything beyond magical solutions or controlling other people. We can help those people who might be afraid, but who still have the spark within, even just a tiny little "pilot-flame" of identity and courage, that past abuse, neglect or discouragement didn't manage to extinguish.
Norman Rockwell: "The Jury"
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