Friday, January 20, 2017

One last look at Gender

Today I finished the January issue of National Geographic called Gender Revolution.  Such a remarkable and thought provoking conglomeration of essays, accounts of real life stories, and statistics.  As we mark the beginning of the Trump Presidency, a presidency fueled, in part, by a less- educated-white male backlash against perceived injustices and discrimination emanating from the increase in population of minorities, the push for race and gender equality in our business and political worlds, and the Obama "agenda", the last two articles, American Girl and the Dangerous Lives of Girls which depict real suffering, real discrimination, real horror for those whose only crime was being born with two X chromosomes in the 23rd pair of chromosomes should be required reading for every male. One could only imagine the uproar and outrage if men had to endure limited access to education and career advancement, forced marriages, sexual violence, and unwanted pregnancy and the stigma that it carries, not to mention genital mutilation.

While it is certainly true that in the United States and Western Europe, gender equality has made enormous progress, the recent U.S. election in which the voters rejected one of the most qualified persons ever to run for president in favor of someone with zero experience in politics whose stated policies and opinions changed from day to day, certainly reflects the long road ahead for women to gain equal footing in our government.  Additionally, the ranking of America by the World Economic Forum's Gender Gap Report, starkly demonstrates how far we need to go.  Using an index which measures the equality gap in four areas, health, education, economic participation and politics, as of 2015 when the index was last calculated, the United States was 24th out of the 109 countries graded, ahead of Japan, China, Russia and Israel, among others, but behind Iceland (#1), Slovenia, France and Bolivia, among others.

I especially found interesting the perceived connection between gender equality in political representation and laws which improve gender equality.  In other words, gender equality laws are more likely to be passed when more women serve in office.  Consider that when you think about the next four years which will feature a male president encouraging and signing laws passed by a Congress which is 80% male, as opposed to what may have happened had a woman been elected as president.  This seems even more alarming considering the president elect's off color remarks about his access to young women's dressing rooms when he was involved in beauty pageants, his "blood coming out of her whatever" remark about Megyn Kelly, and his past relationships with women, at least those we know about, in which he cheated on each wife before marrying the next, now on his third marriage.

Of course, just being a male does not disqualify one from working to improve gender equality. President Obama attempted to pass equal pay for equal work laws but his effort was scuttled by the GOP on behalf of the business community.  Seeing as so many of Trump's cabinet choices are billionaires, many with histories of active involvement against equal pay for equal work as well as against increasing minimum wages, a wage which generally effects women more than men as women make up a higher percentage of those industries (retail, fast food, agriculture) that pay the lowest wages, we can expect very little progress on this front in the near future.

I would remiss if I didn't make at least a token effort here, to defend, or at least justify, the male in charge perception that reflects both our future president, and the less educated white male who helped elect him. Trump's main message, Make America Great Again, by its use of again, suggests a time when societal norms were more traditional.  Men worked, women had babies and stayed at home, minorities were silent and isolated, and gay men and women were invisible at best, perverts at worst.

These themes play much better with people who have limited experience with people different from themselves, experiences which can be gained from time in college, among other things.  Among white voters with some college or less, Trump won by a 39% majority, the only margin of victory considerably higher than those attained by McCain or Romney against Obama in 2008 and 2012. The truly sad part is that those who have attained lower levels of education, are the ones most hurt by laws that restrict gender equality, while encouraging income inequality.  It is their jobs that are lost due to outsourcing and modernization, practices which are the hallmark of the corporations run by both Trump and most of his cabinet choices.

It is too late to change the results of this election.  For those of us suffering from FOBO (fear of a better option), we must look to the future.  We must encourage those young women in our schools who are interested in the sciences, in math, in business, and especially in politics to fully engage in those pursuits.  We must encourage those successful women who run businesses, hold office, and lead our nations' universities, to identify and mentor the next generation of women who will then continue to break glass ceilings, both in business and in politics.  And, given the current climate of resistance to breaking our male dominated institutions, we must fund those groups that advocate gender equality, whether it be through business partnerships or the election of female public servants.

America can be great again, but not by running backwards to the stereotype gender roles of the 1950's but by sprinting forward to a time when equal opportunity and access to the fruits of the American Dream will exist regardless of whether your gender was determined by two XX's or an XY chromosome.



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