“The F Word”…a bipartisan editorial newsletter on gender equality told by ‘We the People’
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December 5, 2016
Modern feminism triggers many different emotions in different people. I myself view feminism very simply as the quest for true gender equality socially, politically, and economically. If you are one of those who has a hard time with the word feminist, however, we can use the term gender equality for this discussion.
One of the strong feelings that came up out of this election was a feeling of betrayal by women of women, or by men. Either way, for many, this election stung. But it also brought sexism more out in the open for discussion.
What are the main obstacles in the path of true gender equality in America?
I strongly believe in unconscious bias where people can make decision that are subconsciously influenced by someone’s gender without being intentionally sexist. However, I recognize that a large number of people don’t believe that unconscious bias exists. I feel that we are at an impasse now, because I feel that many of the problems that need to be solved for gender equality are in the realm of unconscious bias, but one side doesn’t believe in it. Until we get to agreement on where bias lies, I don’t know how we can make progress.
Violence against women and girls exists in public and private settings, and the fact of gender inequality is what allows this to exist so large scale. However, there are still many who refuse to even acknowledge the need for feminism, or a a feminist movement. The discrimination and barriers preventing women from exercising their rights, voting with the proper education and conscience behind it, accessing services and opportunities…exist. So first, we need to figure out how to bring about a national understanding, acceptance, and ownership of the fact of this existence, and its importance. After the horrid ‘locker room talk’ fiasco, millions of women started writing in responses of times they had been sexually assaulted or harassed. There was no reason for them to lie and nothing for them to gain, and in 14 hours the count was over a million women in the US sharing stories, most of their first encounters with sexual assault happening at 10 or 12. Still, I know men, perfectly lovely, caring men otherwise, who look at that data, those stories, and shrugged and said to themselves that most of the stories were probably lies or exaggerations. There is no incentive for them to be lies or exaggerations. Those stories haunt those women. That is why they are sharing their personal tragedies decades later — trying to find closure to the creepy crawly emotions that overcome them every time they think of them. Still, those men do not put together that if millions of women are being assaulted, millions of men are doing the assaulting — not one-to-one, probably, but likely it’s not a few bad apples that are managing to accost 1 in 4 women. That is rape culture, and there are still so many people that deny it is a huge problem, one that needs to be changed in this next generation as a very high priority.
Socially-accepted gender norms about what is considered acceptable behavior are instilled from childhood. In many instances, girls are raised to be more submissive and to defer to male authority, while boys are taught to be more controlling, dominant, and aggressive. These reflect gender roles that are going to be expected from them later in life…wife and mother versus provider and protector. Those traditional roles have changed, but the behaviors less so. One of the greatest challenges to reaching gender equality is how deeply ingrained in the fabric of societies these attitudes are.
The main obstacle to gender equality is that the genders are not equal. People are so pc these days they try to just pass everyone and everything off as equal, but women and men are different. The sooner we admit that, the sooner we could all figure out better solutions. Women have babies. Fact. Men cannot start having babies. I know I sound like I am talking to imbeciles but I don’t see why that is not common sense and why people keep insisting women and men should be equal. Women take time off to have babies and their careers suffer. That’s life. We can’t be expected to just treat women like they didn’t take all that time off of their careers. Yes, we need to figure out how to support the women who want to to get back to work afterwards — but the truth is there are a lot of women who just like being home with their babies. They are probably scared to admit it because of the same thing that made people silently vote for Trump. No one wants to actually be open minded and hear the truth. I know lots of women who just want to be stay-at-home moms and feel like they can’t just say that — or worse, they feel like they have to make themselves “productive” in all kinds of outside ways so they are overstressed. Plus babies relate to moms differently than dads. So the main obstacle to gender equality is this nonsense of considering the two genders equal as a starting platform for making change. I agree change would make both genders happier — but start from the right mindset.
Our statistics for women in the workplace are still abysmal. I haven’t looked lately, but I read a few years ago a study of women CEOs being something like 5% of all Fortune 500 companies. I’m sure it has improved since then, but slowly. Similar statistics can be found for board members, other managerial roles, and pay gap. Most people are familiar with these statistics — what we need to do is get to the bottom of the why. My guess is this. We need to focus more energies in our country on the things that matter — affordable child care, flexible scheduling wherever possible for both mothers and fathers, governmentally funded family leave acts more similar to those in Europe, and a greater push for higher education for women. Cultivating more hiring policies that encourage female employees, and grooming more female employees to be managers.
We need better laws protecting women at work, guaranteeing fair wages, and allowing for affordable child care for all women who wish to go back to work. We need Roe vs. Wade to be non-negotiable, and better sexual education across the board, so women don’t get stuck in situations that prevent them from going to college. We need better sexual abuse and domestic violence laws and government aid to get people out of these situations and back on their feet. Basically, we need to focus on creating better laws/legal protection.
I think the first step is to be able to speak honestly about the topic as a whole. We need to be able to talk about the real differences that can exist between men and women and how those differences can have impact on the course of our respective lives.
In our efforts for gender equality we should be asking if we are trying communicate that women are just as valuable to society as men for all of the same reasons that men are valuable to society, or if women are valuable to society precisely *because* they tend to be different than men, and society is falling short in appreciating those differences.
I see the human race functioning the way a human body does- with arms, and legs, and ears, and eyes- and we are strongest when we allow each of us to excel in our respective functions. We don’t need or want a world full of only hands, or only eyes, and we should be careful that we are not inadvertently pursuing that. Our gender, our race, our culture, and the differences within those things, should be embraced and celebrated, and not minimized, as we chase equality.
I want to be clear that I am not saying that men and women have specific ‘boxes’ that they should fit in and not be allowed to operate outside the lines of, I really do desire for every woman to be able to make the life and career choices that she so desires. I also know that not every woman is a mother or a wife, and we need to protect them too in our efforts. What I do see is that what is missing from the current conversation, and why we are doing a poor job of actually enabling women to make desirable choices, is the acceptability of saying out loud that men and women are, generally speaking, different, and, generally speaking, likely to want to make some decisions differently and want different things- and that the goal should not be to negate all of those differences.
We know that motherhood disproportionately impacts women in the workforce. In our efforts to negate those effects, we talk about more affordable child care, and the importance of parental leave policies, both of which would probably be helpful to getting women back into the full time workforce. But what do women really want?
The vast majority of mothers say that their ideal preference is to work part time or not at all (http://www.pewresearch.org/…/…/mothers-and-work-whats-ideal/). Do we really think it’s all cultural programming that more women than men want to exit (or reduce their hours in) the workplace when children arrive?
We are starting to see that we didn’t leave room in our conversations for so many of the women who have a greater desire than their male counterpart to be the caretaker of the child that they carried and birthed and nursed. Is that a bad thing?
I think we need to be very careful that efforts for gender equality don’t continue to inadvertently marginalize the choices of large swaths of women. We should not expect equal opportunity for women and men to equate to sameness in the choices and desires of men and women.
Consistently I see reports on gender equality that focus on statistics like the rate of men vs women in leadership positions, in political office, in STEM positions, in the work force- and when those statistics are not even between genders, it is used as evidence of gender inequality (http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/…/chapter-1-women-in-leader…/).
But what about those women who choose to slow down or step away from careers to raise their children? Her choice contributes to each of the gaps listed above as evidence of gender inequality. Is her choice a result of cultural brainwashing? Is her choice one of ignorance? Is her choice one of unrecognized oppression? That’s the messaging we are sending when statistics like these are used to pursue gender equality. We are saying that she didn’t really make that choice, it was imposed upon her, whether she was aware of it or not.
We used to have a world where men dominated and women were constrained to the home, and we fought so that women would not feel so confined by that role and would have any opportunities she wanted open to her. We said that women were limited and oppressed in the home, and in doing so we have inadvertently communicated that the work of raising children and caring for a home are menial and oppressive. What could easily be argued as one of the most valuable contributions that can be made in society- the raising of children- we have lowered the status of instead of elevated. We took a message that male power gave us, that contributions to society are only valuable if they are associated with income, status, and recognition (three things at the antithesis of child rearing), and are continuing to perpetuate it.
Women are not going to be able to feel like equals until we as a society can truly come to value families and children the way that we do money and status.
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