Less than one week to go…Polls suggest that the gender gap will be decisive.
Speaking of the “women’s vote,” on the hundredth anniversary of the expansion of the franchise to women, Pew fielded a survey to see just where we females see the movement for gender equality–how far have we come, and how far do we still have to go?
Among those who think the country still has work to do in achieving gender equality, 77% point to sexual harassment as a major obstacle to women having equal rights with men. Fewer, but still majorities, point to women not having the same legal rights as men (67%), different societal expectations for men and women (66%) and not enough women in positions of power (64%) as major obstacles to gender equality. Women are more likely than men to see each of these as a major obstacle.
Many of those who say it is important for men and women to have equal rights point to aspects of the workplace when asked about what gender equality would look like. Fully 45% volunteer that a society where women have equal rights with men would include equal pay. An additional 19% say there would be no discrimination in hiring, promotion or educational opportunities. About one-in-ten say women would be more equally represented in business or political leadership.
I look at the charts and graphs that put numbers to these observations, and I certainly have no disagreement with the essential observations. Women are still not treated as equal in either business or political life, and the obstacles are pretty much what is portrayed.
Maybe it’s because I’m old, or maybe it’s because my own insights have been formed by personal experience–I was among an early cohort that deviated from traditional expectations for women– but I think achieving genuine equality is more complicated than such surveys suggest. Modern laws and fair-minded judges will only take us so far (and needless to say, we’re having enough trouble achieving that).
Social change is slow and difficult.
Science and technology have been huge contributors to a world in which women can be equal. It is hard to overstate the impact of the birth control pill, for example; when women could reliably control their reproduction, they were suddenly free to enter the working world. It was no longer necessary to choose between motherhood (or a sex life) and a career. You could plan for both. Meanwhile, technology has remade the world of work, making brute strength far less important than mental acuity, and opening new career possibilities for which women’s skills were well-adapted.
Social acceptance of these changes has been much slower than the changes themselves. When I graduated from law school, male attorneys were reluctantly adjusting to the newfangled emergence of what many called “lady lawyers.” Retail establishments and banks were still limiting the extension of credit to “male breadwinners.” Social expectations ingrained over generations don’t turn on a dime.
Some people welcome change. Most don’t. My students, who have grown up in a world no longer dominated exclusively by white Christian males have a very different approach to gender equality (not to mention racial equality and sexual orientation) than the old white men who were socialized in a very different time.
White men now in their 70s and 80s were born into a world that promised them a certain status, and a significant number of them–thankfully, not all– deeply resent the “uppity” women and minorities who they believe have denied them their rightful place atop society. Their misogyny gave us Donald Trump, among other things.
That generation is dying off, and my granddaughters live in a much more equal world than the one in which I grew up. It isn’t perfect, but it’s much better.
Recognizing that attitude change is generational is certainly no reason to accept discriminatory laws, or to shrug off offensive sexual behaviors, or to stop pushing for fundamental gender fairness.
On the other hand, keeping our expectations realistic helps keep our blood pressure down.
Meanwhile, we need to vote!