The term "symbolic power" was introduced in the 70´s by the French sociologist Pierre Bordieu. In a nutshell, it represents domination. An unconscious one based on cultural and sociological factors to place someone as the dominant individual. It is usually propagated with disguised discrimination or violence that is not necessarily physical, but hidden in the behavior of society. Does this concept sound familiar? Probably not yet, but by analyzing it deeper, it is not difficult to realize that is very present in our contemporaneity through gender inequality. Due to the lack of equal opportunities for education, work and other areas, women are affected by a symbolic power and violence that sets them as inferior beings and misrepresents them in public decisions.
A very clear example of this last statement is spotted in the case of New Zealand´s Labor Leader Jacinda Ardern. The first week of August of this year she was selected as the new leader of the party, and just hours in her new job she was asked about her maternity plans.However, the topic did not stop there, it came up again interview after interview. That question was pressing and present, since according to some interviewers it is of paramount importance for women to state their maternity plans when applying for a new job.
As a matter of fact, it might seem fair to make the maternity decisions of women public and judge their professional development according to what they believe. Pregnancy is not a simple process and neither is having a baby. However, when thinking about how the situation would be for a man, it would look ridiculous if he was asked similar questions that women have to face. Why would the decision of a man to have a family make him a bad politician?Why would that keep him from being the best at his job?
The last questions are the ones we should ask ourselves and not if women deserve a right to participate in politics or not because of their capacity of reproduction. Even if it is hard to believe, the questions asked to Jacinda can demonstrate not only curiosity, but negative elements such as hidden violence, symbolic power, and discrimination. Judging the capacity, knowledge and position of a woman based on her reproductive interests is erroneous. Denying a job to a woman because she wishes to someday have a family could be a clear discrimination act. In some countries, there are even legal sanctions for organizations that deny jobs to women based on those reasons. Furthermore, by assuming women are meant to create babies, we are secretly setting them apart and keeping them from integrating to a wholesome working atmosphere, reducing their options and capacities to being baby- makers. Therefore, society should not make women feel limited to create babies. Neither to cleaning, mopping, washing, feeding or any other “typical” action of women.
Now, as we have been able to analyze women are still seen as inferior or as limited through symbolic power. Violence is not always physical, nor discrimination, but it does not mean it is not there. It is time to start changing the game rules, look for equality and practice it with words, thoughts and actions. Breaking stereotypes and breaking free of the symbolic power that we have been carrying for years is not an easy process, but it is time to start doing something about it. Have on mind that gender equality is necessary for achieving sustainability! Learn more about the Sustainable Development Goal #5 “Gender Equality” through this link:
And let´s work together to ensure women’s effective participation and equal opportunities at all levels of decisionmaking.