How innocent jokes and everyday misconceptions continue to push gender inequality forward.
Illustration: Alessandra de Cristofaro
By Caroline Gibin Ribeiro


How innocent jokes and everyday misconceptions continue to push gender inequality forward.

By Caroline Gibin Ribeiro

How many purses do you own? How about your closest female friend? If your answer is one or two, or better yet, none, congratulations, you have survived a gendered market, which created a problem (removing pockets from women’s clothes) so they could sell you a solution (purses).

Don’t get me wrong, I love to wear purses as a fashion accessory to complement my outfit and style, but I just hate the idea that I’m forced to wear one, or else I’m not able to carry important items such as the car keys, a cellphone, and a wallet. I used this speech once when a male colleague at work casually mentioned that my phone was about to fall out of my (very small) pocket – more on that below.

Let’s take a walk on the history lane. Pockets in women’s garments went away during the French Revolution, when societal roles were being redefined, and pockets were eventually substituted by tiny purses. No utility pockets meant that women would not be able to carry as much, which in turn took away their freedom of, for example, walking around unaccompanied. Sexist ideas of gender continued to be reinforced throughout history, as clothing designers insisted to make garments without pockets, forcing women to – quite literally – carry the weight of a multimillion-dollar market.

My poor work colleague was not prepared for my rant over women’s pockets (or lack thereof). I basically gave him an example of how not to engage in an argument that had everything to become a learning opportunity. Instead of explaining my point of view, I simply blamed men for my misfortunate tiny pocket without offering any context or considering where he was coming from, which certainly was not a place of hate. The guy probably didn’t even have an opposing view from mine, but I didn’t give him a chance to talk, and as a result, a deserved awkward silence filled the common room whenever we met for the next few weeks. Since then, I made a point to be more empathetic when starting any argument, and I think I’ve started to get the hang of it.

While women’s pocketless garments are one of my personal favorite examples of daily doses of sexism, it is far from being the only one (I also love the office air-conditioner one, but that is a topic for another post). Generational gaps often present me with the opportunity to follow my self-established rule of carrying empathy when “presenting my case”.

As a full-time worker and graduate student, I spend most of my weekends working on school assignments, which can be difficult for some people, especially older generations, to understand. Earlier this week, when for what it felt like the tenth time, I declined an invitation to travel with family because I had school deadlines coming up, I was told by a loved one that as a married 30-year-old, I was probably wasting my time pursuing further education, as soon enough, I will “be having children and that won’t matter anymore”. I confess that this particular situation required a lot of self-control, but it was also a unique opportunity to have a “better argument”, following some of the advice I had recently read for, you guessed, school assignments.

Paying attention to the context in which this relative grew up was the first step to bring back my empathy. I also remembered that I didn’t need to “win” this argument, but I still wanted to exchange points of view. What made sense for that person in the past, as in 40 years ago, does still apply in their minds? If so, why? Is there anything that I’m missing that I can be more aware of? I didn’t want to fight their beliefs with my “truths”, so I asked these questions. And although the answer bothered me (“you will know when you have children”), I respect their opinion. And very important – I feel like I was able to get my point across without creating an uncomfortable situation.

I make a point to speak up – yet respectfully – every time I come across these daily, gendered micro-aggressions and other misconceptions because, in the end, they make it harder for women to achieve gender equality. Take the year of 2020. To say that it was a challenging year would be an understatement. From a healthcare crisis to increased environmental disasters, from deep political polarization to the overdue rise against systemic racism, the world has adapted, but for us, women, things have taken a turn south.

Living in quarantine has unevenly affected women – it undermined jobs, increased their obligations as caretakers, made many spend more time with potential abusers at home, and devasted their mental health. In April 2020, a month after the World Health Organization (WHO) officially declared the world was facing a pandemic, the United Nations issued a report[1] underlining the impacts of the pandemic on “women and girls simply because of their gender.” Another report[2] posted on the New York Times showed that women spent in 2019, on average, 4.1 hours a day in unpaid domestic labor, against 1.7 hours for men. If women were paid minimum wage for this labor, globally they would have made nearly US$ 11 trillion. Think about how those extra hours (which most certainly increased during the pandemic) spent unevenly on domestic chores and childcare, could contribute to, let’s say, a faster economic recovery.

Unfortunately, all I can think about is that, maybe then, these women would be able to afford to buy those purses that continue to be marketed for them because of one small sexist unnoticed detail: the lack of pockets.

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[1] United Nations (2020). Policy Brief: The Impact of Covid-19 on Women.   https://www.un.org/sexualviolenceinconflict/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/report/policy-brief-the-impact-of-covid-19-on-women/policy-brief-the-impact-of-covid-19-on-women-en-1.pdf

[2] Wezerek, Gus and Ghodsee Kristen (2020), Women’s Unpaid Labor is Worth $10,900,000,000,000. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/03/04/opinion/women-unpaid-labor.html


Caroline Gibin Ribeiro
Caroline Gibin Ribeiro

Caroline Gibin Ribeiro serves as assistant manager for Latin America at the Washington office of Mitsubishi Corporation (Americas). In her role, she monitors and analyzes economic, political, and geopolitical developments in Latin America with a focus on US-Latin America policies. Before that, she helped manage the Brazil & Southern Cone practice at McLarty Associates, a strategic advisory global consulting firm specialized in supporting Fortune 200 multinationals on their overseas investment strategies and institutional positioning. In Brazil, Caroline was a senior associate at the largest American Chamber of Commerce globally, developing content and tracking public policy relevant to the US-Brazil bilateral commercial relationship. Previously, she worked as a corporate liaison between Natura, the world’s fourth-largest beauty company, and its stakeholders, working closely with communications and external affairs teams to help build and maintain the company’s reputation. She started her career as a government affairs intern at General Electric while graduating with a bachelor’s degree in International Affairs from Fundacao Santo Andre, in Sao Paulo, Brazil.

She is pursuing a master’s degree in Global Strategic Communication and Public Relations in the College of Journalism and Communications at the University of Florida.

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