I don’t wish to delve into presidential politics, but the issues the candidates discuss don’t belong to them. And when it comes to the problem of casual (and overt) sexism, women have been in the trenches fighting the good fight for hundreds of years. That’s why I was shocked while I was recently putting together the index for my book and I saw that there were only four entries for “woman” or “women.”
The fact that a woman is one of the two major parties’ nominees is both noteworthy and historic, no matter what your political ideology is. It makes perfect sense when you look around today and see women like Meg Whitman and Marissa Mayer heading successful Forbes 500 companies. And Meg and Marissa are not exactly outliers; many women are working from the corner office these days—but these advances are bittersweet when you consider that, in 2016, for every dollar a man earns, a woman only earns 80.9¢.
Clearly we have not reached the other side of the mountain yet.
I have been working since I was a teenager, so it always felt natural for me to be in office environments—as a buyer and bookkeeper. Little did I know that what seemed perfectly natural to me did not extend to my coworkers and superiors. It was at one of my first jobs in the sixties when my assumptions about women’s equality were sidelined in a big way.
I was pretty naive when it came to men. I was attending a special event hosted by the company I worked for when my supervisor invited me to come back to his apartment. I didn’t have a good feeling about it, but I went anyway, because that is what you did. I hadn’t been drinking, and when we arrived at his place he kept offering me scotch. This is the point in the story where many women may relate to me. A superior at work was trying to get me drunk. I didn’t accept the scotch, and in fact I left for home. The next day at work I went over my boss’ head to the regional manager, and told him what had happened. Evidently this was a pattern, and several women had made the same complaint, and I never saw that supervisor again.
Later on in the sixties, when women were burning their bras in protests around the country, I encountered another set of expectations being heaped on me because of my gender. This time it came from a woman, a friend who was a staunch supporter of a type of feminism that discouraged women from getting married and having children. When I informed her that I wanted both—a career and a family—she stopped talking to me. In today’s lingo we would say she “ghosted” me.
I saw two different sides of the same coin, but what kind of coin was it? It was the currency of arrogance, specifically the idea that women needed to be controlled, whether by men or other women.
I ended up getting married in 1976 and would go on to have two beautiful daughters before founding my own business. My daughters have not experienced a boss trying to get them drunk, or a friend trying to shame them for starting families, but they still live and work in an economy where the average woman only earns 80.9% of what the average man makes.
I’m glad they have not had to deal with as many obstacles as I had to face, but I’m also saddened by the prevailing assumption that men and women are treated equally in the workplace. I don’t want people to become complacent, because the problem is still there, hiding in plain sight, as unconscious assumptions and prejudices. Women don’t work for less money by accident.
So yes, we almost elected a woman president, and we can see how that went: every move, every cough or sneeze, and certainly every email was examined in microscopic detail. So it is not surprising that:
- Hiring managers considering whether or not a job applicant may become pregnant in the near future
- Co-workers making jokes about a colleague’s menstrual cycle
- Women earning less money than men for the same work
- Exorbitant daycare costs
- Societal stigma surrounding single moms
- Maternity leave that falls far short of other Western democracies
- Sales taxes on essential medical supplies that only women need
Lastly, I would like to reiterate that it’s an all-too-common thing for members of a group or movement to eventually turn on each other. I hope that we, as women, will not fall into this trap. Women who choose to run a household instead of a company deserve just as much respect for their choices as Marissa Mayer and Meg Whitman. And women who work 50-hour weeks in order to save for retirement at the same time they save for their children’s college fund can hardly be called bad mothers.
Have you ever had a suspicion that people were telling you how to live your life because of your gender?