Living in the troublesome past


Grace Vance

[heading]Age-old social, environmental issues lack improvement[/heading] It’s a typical day at the University of Missouri-Columbia Child Development Laboratory. Teachers watch over the kids as they play on the playground and laugh, chase each other around the blacktop. Sounds of giggling and playful screams fill the air.
Something is off, though. A group of boys are crouched around a hole in the landscape, gawking. A moment later, one boy pulled a skull from the ground. They paused.
“What is it from?”
“I don’t know. Let’s find out!”
And so the trial of research began; they checked out books from the library, scanned the school computer for helpful research and inspected the skull tirelessly. From there, the boys formed what they called a “science club.”
Throughout the weeks that followed, a little girl became more and more interested in the new project, so she decided to help.
“I was like ‘Hey, that looks cool. I want to try it out,’” sophomore Kristine Cho said. “Eventually, once I became more involved, the leader of the group said ‘‘You shouldn’t be here because you are a girl. You can’t help with this project. This is a boy’s thing to do.’”
After that moment, Cho explicitly identified as a feminist.
“I think there are still a lot of problems when it comes to disparities between men and women,” Cho said. “Because of that I still think it’s a very important issue. I find myself reacting to a lot of this discouragement or ‘You can’t do X because you’re a girl’ with a desire to prove them wrong.”
In her view, the core problem of gender inequality is everyday microaggressions as seen in sexist language or the wage gap.
Catherine Rymph, a UMC U.S. women’s history professor, said discrimination against women is nothing new. From female suffragists in the 1920s to the housewife mentality during World War II, women have continuously struggled for representation in both social and political spheres.
“Within U.S. context, [obstacles women faced] have varied depending on race, class, region, etc. For example, early twentieth century suffragists — who were mostly white, native-born and middle or upper class — understood [their] denial of voting rights to be among their most pressing concerns,” Rymph said. “For black women in the south, issues such as racism, sexual violence and poverty often loomed much larger.”
In today’s world, she said sexual violence is still a significant problem to women internationally.
[quote cite=”Jerrit Frank”]There are endless opportunities for people [to help,] but almost all of them require more than what we’re doing now.[/quote] With all of the historic inequalities that continue to exist, one may question whether the world has progressed past satisfying basic human rights.
Among issues prevalent in world history is the question of environmental sustainability. MU U.S environmental history professor Jerritt Frank said the world is “not even close” to learning from past mistakes regarding environmental protection. He believes this is partially because of the mindset that humans are in superior status to the rest of the environment.
“There’s a tremendous amount of work to be done. We’re losing ground, and in some cases [we are] losing ground we can’t make up,” Frank said. “There are endless opportunities for people [to help,] but almost all of them require more than what we’re doing now.”
Research from recent years seems to point toward the United States as the consumption culprit. A 2012 report said the primary energy consumption in the United States was equal to 18 percent the world’s total energy consumption.
“We haven’t faced a challenge like this as a global society ever,” Frank said. “For real, substantial philosophical changes to occur in the realm of how we understand the non-human world, our political and economic structures have to substantially change, and they’re not going to change unless there’s a major disruption.”
For Frank, his two-year-old and four-year-old children are what makes him especially concerned for the future. However, even with the daunting future ahead, he said he still finds comfort in the power of the individual.
“We’ve seen [that] widespread consumer behavior can change a lot,” Frank said. “It’s about educating people on that kind of collective action.”
Cho agrees, and says that creating lasting positive change begins with a widespread alteration of beliefs.
“It doesn’t matter what gender, race or age you are. Once you make that connection to your own life, you can make the connection to what’s actually happening in the world,” Cho said. “I think there’s a chance for understanding that inequality occurring in our society. From there, it’s just a matter of a change of mindset.”
infographic by Neil Cathro; source: NAACP and Human Rights Campaign
What past issues do you think need to be reformed? Leave a comment below!