National Geographic : 2017 Jan
being the illiterate property of their husbands to being equal and educated citizens with the same rights as men under law. Though Harari’s analy- sis may hold true in places such as Athens, it may not be as true in Ankara, Abuja, Agra, or other places where cultural norms sustain inequality. In my experience, biological differences are real. As the mother of two boys and the aunt of five nieces, I agree with what Chip Brown writes in “Making a Man” (page 74): Some behaviors really do seem innate. My elder son was fasci- nated with wheels, trucks, and construction machinery before he could talk. But biology is not destiny, for men or wom- en. Women are still trapped and oppressed in so many parts of the world, forced to submit to the dictates of men. But men also are trapped, forced into culturally defined roles. Boys, Brown writes, are urged to be aggressive and tough “so they may fulfill the classic duties to procreate, provide, and protect.” Watching our sons be twisted to fit society’s expectations of men, even when those men wield power, can be as frustrating and counterproductive as watch- ing our daughters be denied the ability to fulfill their potential. the concept oF gender fluidity remains alien, even abhorrent, to many people in Western society. But that concept is accepted in nations around the world, and it opens doors. Once we recognize that gender identity and expression ex- ist along a spectrum, why should we cling to the rigid categorization of men and women? The ulti- mate goal, surely, is to let all people define them- selves as human beings, to break out of assigned categories and challenge received wisdom. In my lifetime, from the 1960s to the pres- ent, women in the United States have advanced in ways nearly unimaginable to me as a girl. I knew no women doctors, professors, politicians, engineers, or CEOs. One of my sons, by contrast, assumed during elementary school that men didn’t serve as U.S. secretary of state, because he had learned about so many women in the job. Culture is deeply malleable and changing faster than ever. As governments and societies realize that to survive and compete they must tap the full tal- ent of their citizens, progress toward full gen- der equality will accelerate. If Homo sapiens advances because of the power of our imagina- tions, as Harari argues, then we can imagine a world in which gender does not define a person any more than race or ethnicity does. Without the weight of gendered expectations, each of us— women and men—can “develop the full circle of ourselves,” to borrow Gloria Steinem’s lovely phrase. We can work to extend equality and op- portunity to the entire human family. In my lifetime women in the United States have advanced in ways nearly unimaginable to me as a girl. 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