I noticed something interesting on my way to work today. It’s about a 20 minute walk to the school I’m going to teach English at, and so far I’ve only gone during midday. However, tonight I went to sit in on a class that started at 7, so a lot of the shops had started to close down. It’s not that they were no longer open for business, but the feel of them changed. They changed into male-only spaces.

For example, this one fish market, earlier in the day the doors were open, people coming in and out. But later, The doors were closed, a few men were inside chatting, hanging out. If I really needed to buy fish, I could have walked in and gotten some. However, I would have felt really awkward and out of place. It’s not like they’d stop dead in their tracks and stare, I wouldn’t feel  in danger, but I’d feel as though I was intruding in their space and it would draw attention.

My theory is that a society will not be able to fully thrive in today’s world without learning how to truly behave in a coed environment. Not that they can’t thrive if they oppress women, because they have in the past. But in today’s world we have women’s rights (or at least, some of them), women entering the workforce in all fields, women entering college in greater numbers than men, even female presidents and politicians in various countries. The world, at least what one would consider the developed world, is moving in the direction of gender equality.

However, having women’s rights on the books (like Tunisia does) and having actual gender equality in society (which Tunisia does not), are two very different things. Heck, there isn’t even full gender equality in the US, the supposed leader of the modern world. But if this world is moving in the direction of equality, people have to be comfortable in coed situations of all kinds, even impromptu ones. Not just in school where coeducation is mandated, but in cafes, on the streets, in the workplace. Just because we allow women in various places doesn’t mean everyone’s comfortable with it, doesn’t mean that people still won’t think of the female as “the woman in the group” or that she only got to her position because of her sex. Until that happens I don’t think a society today will be able to really evolve.

I’m all for same-sex spaces, such as my high school (although I personally could’ve done without the Catholic-ness), because it encourages self-esteem in young women, something that is often lacking. Boys need their boy-time and girls need their girl-time to do things that they feel more comfortable doing in a single sex environment. But, they must also be able to adapt.

The same goes for racism and homophobia or any other form of oppression. While it is still prevalent in all societies to various degrees, on the surface oppression is going out of fashion. Discrimination is so passé. Hopefully it will someday actually be outdated.

I see some progression here, mainly in my generation. I see teenagers mingling on the streets together at all hours, I hear conversations nearly identical to those I hear back home. Younger people seem to be better capable of  accepting the coed world and adapting to it. There’s hope for the future yet.

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