November 13, 2009
When considering who and what made the biggest contributions to women’s political and social circumstances in the past 100 or so years, people usually cite suffragettes such as New Zealand’s Kate Sheppard and Britain’s Emily Pankhurst.
Writer Simone de Beauvoir and activist Germaine Greer might get a mention and even some men make the list, usually scientists Frank Colton, who created the first oral contraceptive, and Carl Djerassi, the father of the modern birth-control pill.
Unmentioned is the role of capitalism and the private sector, which have tended to respond better to women’s needs than governments.
One of the greatest contributions to 20th-century emancipation, according to British essayist Jenny Diski, was made by the companies that produced sanitary towels.
It was Kotex and Modess, not health authorities, who for the first time presented detailed information about menstruation to the public when marketing a new product, disposable sanitary pads, Diski says. A sales campaign has probably never had such a life-changing effect on so many people, and all thanks to capitalism.
Academic websites are today replete with new research showing men and women are slaves to biological destiny.
This year, we have had several impressive pieces of research showing how testosterone levels surge in men working on financial trading floors.
This explains, some women have suggested, not only why male traders took unbelievable risks in the years leading up to the global crisis, but the recession itself. Men are to blame.
This is a popular theory, as a trawl through headlines on the topic of recession shows. “Men have messed up; let women sort it out,” urged columnist Gilliam Wilmot at Britain’s Financial Times. “The testosterone-packed winner-takes-all approach does not sit easily with looking after the interests of all stakeholders [shareholders, employees and customers] and managing the downside risk,” she argues.