Go Terps and Wenty disagree over whether one can broadly say that gender inequality is subsiding over time. G.T. argues that we’re “constantly improving” and Wenty begs to differ. In a sense, I think there might be some truth to both of these perspectives. In some ways, improvements have been made, and in others, we are still a sharply divided society. Whether society is improving would seem to be debatable, but in a sense, it doesn’t really matter. Shouldn’t we be more concerned with whether gender inequality exists today, and if it does, what we intend to do about it?
I recently watched the documentary, “The Life and Times of Rosie the Riveter,” which gives one a sense of the experience of American women during World War II. With men rushing into battle in the Pacific and European theaters, a labor scarcity developed on the home front, and women were encouraged to enter the labor market. Men may have been risking their lives in war, but women were expected to make a different kind of sacrifice for the nation. They demonstrated their patriotism by entering the workforce in order to maintain production in a wartime economy. Staying home was not an easy option for many women, for they risked being accused of not supporting their country and being branded traders.
On the one hand, there were clear improvements in terms of women’s labor force participation, but on the other, the process by which women were encouraged to go into the workforce was a manipulative one. Women were first compelled to demonstrate their nationalism by entering workforce. Then, once the men were back from the war, these same women were expected to prove their patriotism again by abandoning their jobs and returning to the home.
If G.T. and Wenty were to discuss this historical moment, G.T. would likely emphasize women’s growing workforce participation as proof of an improving society, while Wenty would likely insist we can not overlook women’s forced exodus. What is clear is only that anticdotes can be selectively mined from history and pulled out of their larger context in order to make any point one wants to make about the advancement or retreat of gender equality. Therefore, I would like to take a different approach. Irrespective of what happened in this nation’s past and whether a clear trend of improvement can be established, I would like to move the debate forward with a modest proposal: if gender inequality exists today, then it behooves us to work toward ending it.
In short, I think it does exist, and I think we should knock it off.
For starters, women today are still victims of employment-based discrimination, a clear sign that even if our society is improving, we have a long way to go. By and large, women still do not earn as much as equally educated men. In the recent Time article, “Why Do Women Still Earn Less Than Men,” Laura Fitzpatrick reminds us that in 2008 women in the U.S. still earned only 77 cents on the male dollar. When the topic of job discrimination is discussed in the media, it is often framed in terms of race, but gender is an important part of the story even if journalists fail to notice. For example, it is not just Blacks, but Black women especially, who are concentrated in the least paid and lowest status jobs.
Another measurable form of gender inequality is that women continue to be the victims of sexual violence. Each year a large number of women are raped and sexually assaulted. In Carolyn Sprague’s recently published article “Sexual Harassment,” she states what by now should be obvious: “The majority of victims reporting instances of sexual harassment are women, and the vast majority of reported aggressors are men.”
Today–this very minute–one can observe that men regularly feel entitled to interrupt and talk over women. Today, men still feel more entitled to grope women in public. Job discrimination, sexual harassment, groping, interrupting–all of these observations demonstrate that “our” society is still characterized by gender inequality, and there is still work that needs to be done. Go Terps seems to argue that we should simply have faith that life will constantly improve for women, but why would anyone instill so much blind trust in a society with such a bad track record? By now, women have been treated unequally for centuries. If society really has been constantly improving, it is has only been through the direct actions of people. As I look out my window today–right now–I see no compelling evidence for why we should stop fighting for change.
~ Summer Lover
The Class Blog Project, or CBP, is a blog featuring undergraduate students forming a critical dialogue with each other around ideas related to the sociology of gender.