Imagine a World Where Gender Is Neither a Plus nor a Minus

Anne-Marie Slaughter famously wrote that women “can’t have it all”—but hopes for a future where all people can fulfill their potential.

Nine-year-old Mikayla McDonald of Ottawa, Canada, says: “There isn’t anything I can’t do because I’m a girl. Everyone is equal … but in the olden days everyone wasn’t equal.” Nine-year-old Alfia Ansari of Mumbai, India, says: “We won’t get education in school, but boys will be educated, and therefore they can travel anywhere, but girls can’t.” Those comments to National Geographic, in a nutshell, reflect the tremendous discrepancies in the treatment of girls and women worldwide. No country has achieved full gender equality. In North America and much of Europe, women have made such progress that girls have some reason to believe that anything is possible. But in too many other places, girls and women are still the property of their fathers or husbands, denied the food, medicine, and education provided to men.

Given the gulfs between us, is it possible to write about “the state of women” collectively? We do not all bear children; we do not all love men; we do not even all have the same genitalia.

But women do all at least have one thing in common: We are all prisoners of our cultures.

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