In 2012, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg took some heat for her statement that there won’t be “enough” women on the Supreme Court until “there are nine”. Despite her explanation that “there’d been nine men, and nobody’s ever raised a question about that”, accusations flew from all quarters.
This is exactly why feminism is still necessary.
Ginsberg was only the second woman in history to be appointed as a SCOTUS justice, and is currently one of only four who’ve ever held that position.
But the demographics of the Supreme Court represent a tiny, elitist corner of the universe. What about the rest of society?
Growing up as a male, indeed a white male, in the U.S., it was relatively easy to overlook the latent sexism in my country. In school, we learned that long ago women gained the right to vote, so institutionalized discrimination was basically finished. We further saw more and more women — especially public figures — keeping their surnames (or hyphenating them) when they married.
A little later, I learned how recently some rights had been granted. It wasn’t until 1972 (the year of my birth), that unmarried women gained the right to birth control pills. Until 1974, women could be refused a credit card if they were single or divorced, or if there was no male (husband, brother, father, etc.) to sign for them. Until 1975, women could be excluded from jury duty based purely on gender. Until 1977, women could not attend Harvard University in the same capacity as men.
Still, all those advances were accomplished by the time I came of age. Women in my family held college degrees — including my mother’s master’s degree — and several of them worked in long and fruitful careers in addition to functioning as primary homemakers. A couple of them were licensed ministers in Christian denominations that still believed the Bible was technically correct when it said a women should keep quiet in the church. Women could own, buy, and sell property, hold government office in all 50 states, and get a job just about anywhere.
So, despite being nominally in favor of equal rights, I saw no real need for feminism anymore, for speaking out, or for protesting. When someone mentioned women being “second-class citizens”, it was almost always in the past tense. All was finally right with the world, I assumed.
As I grew older, however, certain realities began to sink in. I continued to see anti-woman attitudes and practices everywhere. Misogyny is still alive and well, even here in the U.S. — allegedly the bastion of freedom and equality.
Composition of the 114th Congress (Source: Washington Post)
• Not All Anti-Woman Discrimination Is Of The Same Type
For mental organizational purposes, these signs of the latent sexism in our society can be divided into four categories: (1) legal discrimination, (2) systemic/institutional sexism, (3) commercial/economic sexism, and (4) personal bias (anti-women viewpoints held by individuals). Though my comments below are organized chronologically, I first want to differentiate between these categories.
1. In my (admittedly male) opinion, the first type — legal — is the worst, because of how enforceable it is. Fortunately, this category is all but gone in the U.S. To my knowledge, there are only a very few — usually very localized — laws remaining in force that differentiate between women and men. One relatively silly example I can think of: some municipalities still have “obscene language” laws that include “in the presence of women or children” — written in days when it was assumed that women were less able than men to handle hearing profanity. (If you doubt this, I personally know of cases where people were arrested under such rules.) But despite removing the worst of the misogynistic laws in the U.S., efforts still persist to add new ones.
2. The second type — systemic/institutional — is more endemic in the U.S. This is the kind of sexism that’s written into policies of organizations or corporations, or in some cases unwritten rules or practices. While I’ll provide many examples below, one example that’s alive and well today is school dress codes. Despite many improvements over the years, many schools (both public and private) have vastly different dress codes for girls and boys, women and men. In most cases, a greater burden is placed on women and girls.
3. The third type — economic/commercial — is the easiest to solve, but perhaps the most accepted form of sexism today. Here, I’m referring primarily to the marketing and branding practices which often treat women and girls as a less intelligent, inferior species. It often simply costs more to be a woman. I say it’s the easiest to solve, because anyone who doesn’t like it can usually ignore it (you don’t have to buy the more-expensive, pink-toned hammer at The Home Depot; you can buy the same hammer that men use). But this one is allowed to permeate society because of the fourth type.
4. The fourth type of misogyny (personal bias) is where all the other ones come from, and why all the other ones are still allowed to exist. As soon as they’re born, children begin learning nonsensical differences between the sexes (“boys like blue; girls like pink”, for example), and by the time they’re grown they have all sorts of solidly-believed ideas that are difficult to uproot and replace. As adults, many of us take for granted the inequalities that persist in our culture, and resist when someone tries to correct them. I’ve become increasingly aware of a large group of people who believe we’ve already reached equality (or gone beyond it) and that no more concessions should be given. Others are aware of the inequalities, but believe “that’s the way it should be”. Both attitudes need working on.
• Adolescence And Early Adulthood
I think I began to notice in high school (or perhaps looked back later and realized) inherent differences in the way men and women are treated by society. When a boy and a girl in high school managed to produce a pregnancy, only one of them had to leave school for a few months. It was always the girl. When a boy and a girl in high school were discovered to have “done it”, only one of them was labeled a “slut”.
Also in high school, I noticed that we had pep rallies for boys’ sports, but not for girls. Girls cheered at boys’ sporting events, but no one cheered at girls’ sports. Then in college, while dating a female athlete, I noticed the empty bleachers at her games while the stands would be packed at the men’s events. Funding differences were apparent too, both in high school and college. Watching sports on TV, it was easy to notice the lack of coverage for women’s sports (with minor exceptions for Olympic gymnastics and the like) — the WNBA hadn’t even been invented yet. It was almost like men were supposed to go out into the world and achieve things, while women were supposed to stay home and make babies.
When I covered sports at a small newspaper in Seminole County, Oklahoma, one of my goals was to cover boys’ and girls’ sports equally, not only in column inches in my sports section pages, but in time spent at their events. This included some amazing sporting moments, like the one pictured here between Varnum’s Kodi Morrison and Sasakwa’s Jacklyn Nail, both of whom eventually played in State Championship tournament games (and Morrison’s team won state in 2009). But the outrage was immediate and vicious. Coaches, players, parents, and other relatives called, emailed, wrote letters, and made special trips to the newspaper office to confront my boss and me in person, complaining that we were covering girls’ sports more than we used to. Some went so far as to say the girls’ sports shouldn’t be covered at all because “it’s not really sports when girls do it”. We stuck to our guns and eventually the complaints died down.
(Copyright © 2007 by Wil C. Fry. Some rights reserved.)
When I went to college in the 1990s, the private college’s dress code insisted that women wear dresses or skirts to all classes and other official school functions; even in the dead of winter they weren’t allowed leggings. It was during my time there that the school finally agreed to allow leggings under their dresses/skirts during specified winter months. There was never a rule about how thick a man’s pants could be.
As I had job after job in a failing attempt to pay for tuition, it was easy to notice that every boss was male, from the CEO down to the cashier supervisor. The exceptions were notable for being rare. I realized my Dad had worked for 30-something years and never had a woman as a boss until my last year of college (and even then only briefly, and overseas). I eventually did have a couple of women supervisors, but all of them were overseen by men.
The news room staff of The Seminole Producer (daily newspaper) and The Wewoka Times (weekly newspaper) in December 2005. This was one of the rare jobs I had with a woman as boss (Managing Editor Karen Anson, left), including yours truly at lower right. It turned out to be the most enjoyable work experience of my life, and the job at which I was employed the longest.
(Copyright © 2005 by Wil C. Fry. Some rights reserved.)
I started noticing the language too. When people meant a male doctor, male lawyer, or men’s sports, they would just say “doctor”, “lawyer”, or “sports”. But if women were indicated, it had to be mentioned: “woman doctor”, “woman lawyer”, “women’s basketball”, “women’s tennis”, etc. That still holds true in 2017, if you check the digital TV guide of your cable service. If the guide says “NCAA Basketball Championship”, it’s always talking about the men. If they mean women, they’ll be sure to add that. I noticed “male nurse” was a common phrase, while “nurse” always meant woman.
Year after year, when newspapers would announce a giant company had hired a new CEO, it was almost always a man. In the rare instances it was a woman, the word “first” was added (example from 2013).
• After Marriage
I was a single male adult for 16 years, so there were other realities for women that I didn’t recognize for some time. Once I married in 2006, some of them began showing up.
When I married my wife, no one asked me if I would change my last name (I offered, but my wife wanted to go the traditional route). But the DMV, courthouse, and Social Security office all had name-change forms ready for her. And it wasn’t a straightforward, easy process. You’d think a society that so strongly encouraged a newly married woman to legally change her last name would have a streamlined, one-form process for it. But no.
We began filling out our “married, filing jointly” tax forms. Despite my wife’s income being our primary source of money, they (both the tax preparation company and the IRS) listed my name first. It was a coincidence, right? No. Even today, in 2017, after seven years of me not earning a dime, they still list my name first — even after I asked them (both the tax preparer’s office and the IRS) to change it.
When we bought cars together, we listed my wife’s name first on the title-change forms, but the forms always came back with my name listed first. When we bought our house together, the title preparer did this too. I insisted that it be changed, and it eventually was. I had to argue with the mortgage company over this too.
Every time I’ve gone to a new medical facility or dentist office, clerks are confused about how they should add me, since I’m the “dependent” on my wife’s insurance. Every. Single. Time. They act as if it’s never happened before. A couple of times, they went ahead and listed me as the “primary” and later had to fix it — often with the help of a supervisor, who usually asks why I don’t just submit the insurance from my job. Sigh.
Those are examples of systemic misogyny — the systems were designed to treat men preferentially over women. I also began to see examples of commercial/economic sexism — whereby corporations treat women differently in the hopes of making extra money.
Shopping with my wife, I found out it costs more to be a woman. A “woman’s razor” is more expensive than a man’s. Women’s shaving cream is more expensive than men’s (my wife buys men’s for this reason). Their underwear is more expensive than ours, as are their pants, shirts, coats, purses, wallets, etc. On top of that, most women’s clothing is designed to be stylish or attractive, while men’s clothing is designed to be functional, durable, and comfortable. (Yes, there are exceptions, but they are notable because they are so rare.)
None of these examples are enforced by law, but are rather kept up because we go along with it. If women quit buying “women’s shaving cream” and saved money by buying “regular” (men’s) shaving cream, then companies would quit making the sexist kind. If no one bought the pink-colored tool sets marketed toward women, then companies would quit making them. But there are very deep-seated ideas in our culture that make it seem normal for women to pay slightly more for items with pink logos and “feminine” branding, despite the items themselves being identical, or even sometimes inferior.
These deep-seated ideas permeate much further into our society than just products branded for women. They affect our very fundamental ideas about how society should function.
For example, the overwhelmingly dominant idea that men should be bread-winners while women should stay home and take care of children.
When John F. Kennedy was interviewed on the status of women, as sitting U.S. president in 1962, he said: “We want to be sure that women are used as effectively as they can to provide a better life for our people, in addition to meeting their primary responsibility, which is in the home” [emphasis mine]. Today, in 2017, we still hear this.
Despite the advances of feminism in the past century and despite the large number of women in the workforce, we still assume that “raising a family” is primarily the woman’s job. Notice that no man — not a single one — has ever been asked how he will “balance” his professional life with his home life. Yet working women are routinely asked this, as if it’s a giant mystery how a parent can work while simultaneously having children. If the woman is a public figure, articles are written about it, wondering how the children will be raised or who will take care of the home. Throughout the history of the U.S., no one questioned the wisdom of a father or grandfather becoming president, but when female candidates began getting serious traction, suddenly it’s a question that must be asked in the news.
Once my eyes were opened to this, it really began to grate on me. When Hillary Clinton was running for president (first in 2008, and then again in 2016), there were actual articles in major publications discussing in depth what it might mean to be a grandmother AND president. I could find zero articles about the various grandfathers running for president (in the 2016 race, that included Jeb Bush, Bernie Sanders, and Donald Trump, if not others).
In my own life: When I announced that I would be a homemaker while my wife paid for everything, I was bombarded with questions like “but you’re still looking for work, right?” and statements like “maybe you can find a way to work from home” — by the same people who would not ask those questions of a woman who decided to stay home. They asked: but what about when we have children? She’ll stay at home, then, right? Not a single person assumed I would do it, sometimes even after I told them. Still, to this day, when my wife’s at work and I take the children to a store or restaurant or playground, strangers will compliment me on “helping out Mommy” by “taking the kids off her hands” or discuss how I’m “such a good Dad” for spending time with my children. Most of them are struck dumb when I explain that THIS is my job and Mommy’s at work paying the mortgage. A very few recover quickly enough to keep the conversation ongoing: “Oh, I hear that’s becoming more common now.”
• Won’t Somebody Think Of The Children?
And then I had kids. More sexism became obvious:
From birth, the things we buy for our babies are gendered. Besides the very obvious color difference (pink versus blue), marketing is very heavily tilted toward the gender division. Sure, you can fight past this, and we mostly did, but it becomes exhausting at times. Some examples:
* When my daughter wanted a “Thomas The Tank Engine” shirt, we had to go to the boys’ section to find it.
* Toy aisles are divided into gendered sections. Housekeeping toys, dress-up, etc. for girls, but sports, weapons, action figures, and building things for boys.
* Clothes with words on them: girls’ say “cute”, “princess”, “love”, and have hearts and rainbows, while boys have sports logos, superheroes, construction equipment, etc. The message is clear. Girls are supposed to be pretty and cute and also really good at cooking and cleaning, and needing a lot of love. Boys are supposed to get out in the world and DO STUFF, save people, build things, be respected.
* Girls’ clothes, even for toddlers and young children, are usually made of thinner material and are more revealing than boys’ clothes.
* When my first child was a girl, people asked me “did you want a boy?” or “are you going to try for a boy?” No one — not a single person — asked “aren’t you glad you had a girl?”
* When I mentioned I would likely get a vasectomy after having two children, several people immediately asked why I didn’t insist that my wife get an operation instead — ignoring that a vasectomy is cheaper, less painful, easier, and has less recovery time than the female equivalent, and is just as permanent (source).
* Movies and shows made for children: While there has been a lot of progress in this area, we are far from equality. In the past six years, I’ve watched hundreds of hours of television programming designed for children, much of it incredibly educational, and I continue to see gendered stereotyping mashed in. Sometimes it even feels awkwardly forced. Shows centered around girl characters are very often about flowers, dress-up, helping people, magic, and even homemaking. Shows centered around boy characters are often about building things, saving the day, sports, police/rescue work, powerful machines, science/technology, and so on.
(I have been encouraged by some shows. For example, “Doc McStuffins” depicts a girl pretending to be a doctor, with a real-life woman doctor as her role-model. But still, the show sometimes devolves into the age-old woman-as-caretaker trope. And there are quite a few that depict boys and girls on an equal basis; one of my recent favorites is “Odd Squad”.)
* It became clear to my daughter fairly early that men and women aren’t treated equally in society. At one point, she heard me talking about Barack Obama and wanted to learn about other presidents. So I downloaded a “U.S. Presidents” app to my phone, and then bought a presidents poster from a local educational store. It took her only a few seconds to realize “there aren’t any girls!” So when she heard of the upcoming presidential election in 2016, she immediately announced her support for Hillary Clinton “because she’s a girl like me!”
(So far, my son has taken the opposite route, taking every mention of women and girls as an affront. When he first heard the words to the prayer called “Hail Mary”, the part that says “blessed art thou amongst women”, he interrupted with: “And men!” He was two years old at the time, and argued with his mother for quite some time about how the prayer failed to mention men. I had to interrupt and point out that all the other prayers only talk about male-oriented figures, including “the father”, “the son”, etc.)
I know that many factors feed into how a child sees himself or herself in relation to the wider world, beginning with genetics and including parental and family behavior, birth order, and interactions with other people and society in general. But one of those factors continues to be generally-held, often unconscious views about gender that are just plain wrong.
• Additional Societal Misogyny
Still other factors only became apparent to me in the past couple of years as I researched this entry or as pundits argued about them in the news.
There is the “pay gap”, for example. It’s often cited as “78 cents on the dollar”, meaning that on average, women in the U.S. earn 78% of the average salary of men. Critics have rightly pointed out that there are problems with this figure. For example, women and men often don’t work in the same professions. Women tend to take more time off — often unpaid — than men do when children are born (and men are FAR more likely to return to full-time work, even if they took time off for the birth of their child). That explains some of the gap, but not all of it. Even when controlling for hours worked in specific professions, men get paid more than women. For example, most public school teachers are women, yet the men in that profession earn more on average than women — about $140 more per week in fact. Drilling down into other professions reveals similar gaps. For those who list their job as “retail sales”, women earn only 70% of what men do. In legal professions, it’s about 83%. Studies have shown “there is a 7% wage gap between male and female college grads a year after graduation, even controlling for college major, occupation, age, geographical region and hours worked.”
Black and Latina women earn even less on average than their white counterparts, showing that racism piled on top of sexism is a toxic combination.
It’s not always true, of course. I have personally worked at jobs with fixed pay scales, so any person in that position would earn the same amount of money. For example, when I was a stocker at a supermarket, all stocker pay topped out at $10 per hour, which anyone would obtain after staying employed there for a certain period of time. Notably, few women were hired as stockers; they were much more likely to be hired as cashiers — a position with a lower pay cap. Also notably, most department managers (and the store managers) were men. So, for the store as a whole, the men’s pay averaged higher than the women’s pay, despite all pay scales being nominally non-sexist.
There is also the case of child-marriage laws in the U.S. Every single state in our country allows exception to the 18-or-older marriage requirements. In almost all cases, one party was a child and the other was an adult, and the younger party is usually a girl — more than 90% of them, according to a recent study of child marriages in New Jersey. The laws themselves typically don’t specify sex, but in practice — which requires either judicial consent, parental consent, or both — it’s almost always a girl on the younger end of these marriages.
On top of that is healthcare provisions, which often make the news purely because of “optics” — the way the decisions appear to be misogynistic because the roomful of legislators signing bills seem to always be primarily old white men. A great example is this recent tweet from Vice President Mike Pence, which shows a photo of old men discussing the (now-failed) “American Health Care Act”, a bill that proposed to replace Obama’s ACA, and in the process remove funding for many items dubbed “women’s healthcare”. Of course, the problem isn’t entirely optics. The problems is that these old men are making legal decisions for women’s healthcare (apparently) without input from women and without regard for them. The aforementioned bill, for example, aimed to strip away funding for Planned Parenthood, maternity care, and birth control, among other things — decisions that primarily affect women. These old men, often Republicans, frequently make international news for saying stupid things like it’s “the will of God” for a woman to get pregnant via rape, citing the Bible and Christian theology instead of legal precedent or basic morality.
Let us also mention the repeated attempts to legally force women to remain pregnant and give birth against their will. I have never heard of any law or bill that forces men to give up bodily autonomy — say, forced organ donation. If your rebuttal begins with “but the Bible says” or “but God wants”, then you’re not only anti-women’s rights but also are attempting to force religious adherence on others in opposition to our Constitution.
Gender breakdown of Congress, over time (Source: Washington Post)
• Representation Matters
It’s been said that if you don’t understand “why representation matters”, then you’re likely a straight white Christian male. Since this entry is about women, I’ll focus solely on that facet of poor representation. I’ve identified three major areas in our society/culture in which women are either underrepresented or poorly represented, or both, though others could certainly be mentioned. The three realms are: government, corporate, and media.
While it’s worth mentioning that women have been involved in our government from the beginning, their official roles have been few and of low importance until relatively recently. I think it’s clear that this was never due to women eschewing public service, but rather due to the restrictive nature of societal norms as well as actual legal restrictions. Our nation was nearly 100 years old before it saw the first woman attorney (Arabella Mansfield). She had to challenge an Iowa state law that restricted her from taking the bar exam. Just a few years later, Belva Ann Lockwood had to petition Congress in order to gain the right to work as an attorney before the U.S. Supreme Court. She was the first woman to appear as a presidential candidate on official ballots. It wasn’t until 1887 that a woman (Susanna M. Salter) was elected mayor of a U.S. city — Argonia, Kansas — it’s an interesting story; apparently she was placed on the ballot as a joke, by a group of anti-women males, but won handily.
A dozen generations of girls were born and raised in a country where they saw only men running things — cities, counties, states, and the federal government.
Today, “we’ve come a long way, baby”, but there are still miles to go. Consider the following facts:
* The U.S. has had 45 presidents; zero percent have been women. Said another way, 100% of U.S. women lived and died without ever seeing their sex represented in the highest office in the land.
* Only four women have ever served on the Supreme Court, and three of them are currently on the court. By contrast, there have been 108 male justices.
* In the U.S. Senate, the first woman didn’t appear until 1922, and she only served one day. It was another 10 years before another woman showed up. It’s only been since 1978 that the Senate has continuously been composed of at least one woman. Currently, only 21% of the Senate is women — the largest percentage in history. In other words, the vast majority of U.S. women are not represented by women in the U.S. Senate, and many never have been.
* In the U.S. House, women got in slightly earlier (1917). Today, there is an all-time high of 104 women in the House of Representatives, or 19.4% of the House of Representatives (slightly lower than in the Senate). So (approximately) 80% of U.S. women are represented by men in Congress.
* As for governors of U.S. states, the first woman was in 1909 (Carolyn B. Shelton), but she only served for a weekend as acting governor. To date, only two states have elected women governors from both parties. Arizona is the only state to have had as many as three women serve consecutively as governor. We’ve never had more than nine women governors at a time, and even that’s only happened twice, briefly, in the first decade of the 2000s. Nearly half of the 50 U.S. states have never had a female governor at all. Currently, only four states have women serving as governor (two Republicans and two Democrats), and none of them are among the U.S.’s most populous states. Three of them are the first-ever woman governor of their states. So, women in the U.S. today, in 46 of the 50 states (including the most populous states), are governed by men.
* Today, in 2017, many major cities around the world and in the U.S. have still never had women serve as mayors or city managers. Other cities currently have their first women leaders. For example, Megan Barry, currently mayor of Nashville, Tennessee, is that city’s first woman mayor. The same is true for Kathy Sheehan, the mayor of Albany, New York. It wasn’t until 1946 that any capital city in the U.S. had a woman mayor — most of them have men as mayors today. Currently, in cities with populations over 30,000 in the U.S., only 18.9% have women mayors. In other words, the vast majority of American girls grow up in cities where men are mayors.
* My own city council is currently made up of six men and one woman.
In the corporate world, only 19.4% of businesses are owned by women. Further, “only about 25 percent of the S&P 500’s executive or senior-level officials and managers are female.” The richest woman in the world, Liliane Bettencourt, is listed at number 14 on Forbes’ list of the world’s richest people (the thirteen people ahead of her are all men). The next woman is a Walton (Walmart heir) at number 17. Of the top 100 wealthiest people in the world, only 10 are women. Of the Fortune 500 companies, only 26 have women CEOs, and only eight of those are in the top 100. Currently, the U.S. is in the bottom 10 countries for women in management. Only 3% of senior investment roles in hedge funds are held by women.
So a vast majority of employees in the U.S. work for companies owned by men. Regardless of who owns the company, almost all workers have men as supervisors, bosses, senior management, board members, and CEOs.
When I say “media”, I admit I use it loosely — to include news media (newspapers, TV news, etc.), the entertainment industry (especially movies and television shows), advertisements, etc. While the first two categories (government and corporate) are examples of drastic under-representation when it comes to women, media displays both under-representation and poor/biased representation.
In the movie industry, for example, despite woman-made movies enjoying greater returns per investment, studios continue to limit their distribution. “This outcome was especially true for movies with budgets of more than $25 million, where female-penned projects tended to nearly quadruple their investment”. Also, women get about 25 percent smaller production budgets than their male counterparts. Characters with speaking roles are twice as likely to be men, women are four times more likely to be portrayed in sexually revealing clothing and three times more likely to get at least partially naked, ninety percent of films have a male-dominated cast, the percentage of teenage female characters showing partial nudity has increased 32% since 2007, and there is a 5-to-1 men-to-women ratio when it comes to film industry jobs — especially the top jobs: directors are 91% male, writers are 85% male, producers are 75% male, editors are 80% male, and cinematographers are 98% male.
According to Forbes in 2016, only two of the top 10 highest-paid actors were women (Jennifer Lawrence and Melissa McCarthy), and only one more (Scarlett Johansson) appears in the top 20.
There is also the question of roles available. Once it was pointed out to me, the gender-stereotyping became painfully obvious. In blockbuster action movies, the primary action roles are almost exclusively given to men — despite very recent and notable exceptions like Felicity Jones in “Rogue One”, Daisy Ridley in “The Force Awakens”, and Jennifer Lawrence in the Hunger Games franchise. Women typically can expect to be a sidekick at best, and more often a damsel-in-distress or background character like wife, mother, sister, or daughter. Whether the film is about adventure, travel, school, science, fishing, animals, comedy, men tend to get the primary roles. It’s rare for any film to primarily feature women (the 2016 “Ghostbusters” remake, for example), and quite a few of those make sure that most of the female characters spend an awful lot of their time talking about men, thinking about men, or talking to men. “Often when women are speaking, it’s actually the men that are shown on screen”, said Shri Narayanan, a researcher at the University of Southern California.
Screentime is limited too; one recent study showed that female characters are on screen only 36% of the time that characters are visible. Another study revealed that “only 30.9% of the speaking characters are female”. Even background employees depicted in movies are primarily men, regardless of the job description. It’s exceedingly rare in films to see women as partners in law firms, politicians, judges, and bosses — even more rare than in real life.
One interesting commentary on films is the very simple “Bechdel Test”, which requires that a movie (1) have at least two women in it, (2) who talk to each other (3) about something besides men. Sometimes there is the further requirement that the two characters be named, which eliminates quite a few movies. Once I was made aware of Bechdel, I started looking for it in movies. It’s amazing how few pass the test. For example, “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” barely passes it, because Rey talks to Maz about Rey’s destiny; when General Leia later speaks to Rey, it’s just one line and only from one of them. Major statistics analysis site 538 looked at 1,800 movies and found that only half passed this very simple test. When I pay attention to this, I’ve found plenty of big-budget movies (and low-budget ones) that either have fewer than two named women in the cast, or never have their women speak to each other, or they only speak about men. But watch the men in those same movies. There are dozens of named male characters who speak to each other regularly about multiple non-women topics.
Television is much the same as film. It seems to be doing slightly better on this front, but I couldn’t find any statistics saying so, except in the news industry, where women anchors reached parity with men in the 1990s (though men still dominate the newspaper industry). Sports on TV are still primarily men’s sports, and men’s sports much more often get prime time slots. Advertisements very often feature women in “traditional” roles of mother, wife, homemaker. Serial fiction TV shows have a long way to go too. When women characters do have jobs, they’re usually depicted as waitresses, secretaries, receptionists, nurses, and teachers. When women own businesses, they are very often bakeries or flower shops.
The “news media” covers multiple genres, from newspapers and magazines to websites and cable TV news networks like CNN. It swings the gamut from small-town, local-only coverage to worldwide networks. As mentioned above, most employees at newspapers are male, with the gap widening in sports departments. While local TV anchors are usually a man-woman pair, it’s become more common for a woman anchor to go it alone or share the desk with another woman. On news websites, I’ve noticed more bylines with women’s names in the past few years. However, according to a major study (.pdf, 5.8MB, well-worth downloading in my opinion) by The Women’s Media Center, male bylines dominated women on the front page by a 3-to-1 ratio during election coverage. Men were quoted far more often than women in news stories (CNN and Fox were the worst offenders), including stories about women’s issues and women’s rights. On most news websites, the study found that men’s bylines still outnumber women. The study found that women reporters used male and female sources about equally, while male reporters used male sources 80% of the time. Editorials and op-eds were primarily (more than 75%) written by men, though that number dropped (to 65% or so) in college newspapers and “new” media outlets like Salon and The Huffington Post. Even obituaries are male-dominated, with three-fourths of all obituaries in major newspapers being about men. More than 95% of television stations (and radio stations) are owned by men. TV news directors are 70% male. Radio news directors are 80% male. Men of course also dominate talk radio and sports talk radio, by very high percentages. Even the guests are primarily male.
Added together, the forces of the news media, non-news TV shows, and movies are not only not hiring as many women as men (despite more women getting journalism and media degrees), they’re not depicting as many women as men — and when they do, they’re usually depicting them in supporting roles, background roles, less important roles. When you add on top of that that the commercial/economic world is run by men, and that politics and governance is dominated by men as well, the “glass ceiling” begins to look a little thicker, a little more opaque than I’d been led to believe.
Any time any of these issues is brought up — whether by news media organizations, advocacy groups, or individuals — the two most common rebuttals I’ve seen are: (1) It’s worse in other countries, and (2) none of these inequalities are enshrined in law; women have as many rights as men in the U.S. A third, less popular rejoinder — usually from self-labelled “men’s rights activists” — is that women have more rights in the U.S. than men do, usually accompanied by anecdotal examples of alimony rulings or child custody battles. A fourth argument sometimes used by regressives, regarding the pay gap, is this: if women really did make less than men for the same work, then companies would be hiring only women, since profit is the only motive of companies. Occasionally, someone will admit to the lowest form of rebuttal: “this is the way it should be.”
• “It’s Worse In Other Countries”
The first is the most easily dismissed. There is no logical train of thought that excludes fighting misogyny in one country just because it’s worse somewhere else. Should we stop trying to feed the U.S.’s hungry children because other countries have more hungry children? No. Should we cease improving our education system because other countries are farther behind? No. Should any problem in the U.S. go ignored because a similar-but-worse problem exists elsewhere? No. Using their “logic”, we shouldn’t advocate for any improvements in any country on Earth, because there very well might be an inhabited planet in another galaxy where the situation is worse.
• “Women Have As Many Rights As Men Already”
The second is trickier. As with the example of my wife’s shaving cream choice, no women are forced to buy “women’s” products; any woman can choose to buy a regular hammer for $2.97 instead of the $8 pink hammer (and many do). No woman is forced to pay extra for a pink-camo grip on her pistol — some do; many don’t. No parent is required to buy their baby girl’s clothes or toys from the “girls” aisle at Target — as with my daughter’s Thomas The Tank Engine shirt, it was a relatively simple matter to walk over to the boys’ section, once I realized that’s what we’d have to do. Further, women do have the right to run for office, to apply for jobs in any industry, to negotiate for raises the same way men do, to start their own companies, to vote, to sue, and so on.
In my opinion, this is why the non-legal forms of misogyny are more insidious — because they seem more difficult to pinpoint and therefore are more difficult to uproot. In my lawn, the large weeds with obviously different leaf shapes and color are much easier to find and destroy; it’s the tiny, low-growing weeds with colors similar to my grass that are harder to find and pull. It’s also more difficult, if not impossible, to compose a witty one-liner that destroys their argument.
But — for me, at least — it comes down to very basic morality. Is it wrong that our culture goes overboard to make it more difficult to be a woman? Yes. If something is wrong, should I work toward and advocate for a solution? Yes. Since I’m a man, does it really affect me in any way? Actually, yes. Yes it does. Half the people I know are women and girls. Their lives are better today (relative to the lives of their female ancestors) because of the improvements we’ve already made, and that makes my life better. My life is more enriched because my wife is educated, liberated, and employed. My life is better because my mother was educated. My life is better because my sisters got to choose their husbands, their occupations, and how many children they would have. And my life will continue to be better if my daughter has these opportunities as well.
• “Women Have More Rights In The U.S. Than Men”
The third is fairly easy to refute, which might be why it’s not brought up terribly often. First of all, we can just acknowledge that yes, for a long time, women held automatic sway in divorce rulings when it came to child custody and/or alimony. Men were often held to a much higher burden of proof when arguing they should get custody, and it was long assumed that men should financially support their wives. However, this feeds right into the feminist platform, because those rulings are based in misogyny — outdated views of gender roles, with the man as provider and the woman as homemaker and caregiver. Secondly, those numbers are changing rapidly as it becomes more common for women to be the primary household breadwinners. The number of men being awarded spousal support is rising. The percentage of children being awarded to fathers is also going up.
• “If The Pay Gap Was Real, Companies Would Only Hire Women”
The fourth rebuttal to the feminist movement focuses specifically on the pay gap. Instead of believing the numbers — that there actually is a gap — regressives use a twisted version of logic called a non sequitur. (This means that the conclusion doesn’t follow from the premise.) Their premise is that the only motivation of companies is profit. Therefore, all companies would be more than willing to hire only women, if women truly did the same work for less pay. It’s a non sequitur because companies don’t hire people; people hire people. Companies are intangible entities, existing only in paperwork and in our minds. Actual hiring is done by human beings employed by companies. Human beings often have motives other than profit. And human beings hiring women sometimes (often without consciously thinking about it) offer less pay to equally-qualified women. Further, human beings in charge of promotions sometimes (often without thinking about it) are more likely to promote men.
Another way of tackling that fourth argument is to point out that, yes, this actually happens. Several studies have shown that average pay in many fields went down once women entered those fields in larger numbers. For example, from 1950 to 2000, jobs as ticket takers switched from primarily men to mostly women, and the pay dropped 43%. And when a job switches from female-dominated to male-dominated, the opposite happens. Computer programming is given as an example. Once a menial job handled by low-paid women, programming became higher-paying and more prestigious once men took over the field. “School teacher” was once a primarily male profession that is now dominated by women (75% or 80%, depending on whose figures you use) — and pay has stagnated since that switch.
• “Women Shouldn’t Be Treated As Well As Men”
The last argument I mentioned isn’t heard very often because it’s not terribly popular in many circles to admit that you’re a misogynist. But there are people who don’t see it as a bad thing. For many of them, their views are based in religion. Others, I assume, have simply picked up their views from the prevalence in society. These people think women should be paid less, because women in general can’t possibly do the same work as men. They think men should run companies because women simply aren’t made for being in charge. They think the government should be comprised primarily of men because some imaginary “natural law” says men should be in charge. Women should stay home and raise babies, cook food, clean house, and do laundry. If a woman must work, it should be at a menial job like sewing, ironing, filing, or taking dictation.
It sickens me that such people exist, even in our supposedly “enlightened” western society. It’s deeply saddening to me that dozens of entire countries are run with these ideas in mind. But it’s even sadder that they seem unable to be convinced otherwise. I think the best response to their claim is “prove it”. No, the Bible or Quran aren’t proof — they’re the claim. If they suggest “natural law”, then again, I say “prove it”. Find one fact of nature that indicates women should be treated as lesser than men. It can’t be done.
• ‘But Men And Women ARE Different’
Perhaps the stupidest argument I’ve heard against feminism is: “But men and women ARE different; it’s harmful to pretend there are no differences.”
This is of course a strawman. No feminist has ever said that men and women are identical, either genetically, biologically, or physiologically. Feminism is the “organized effort to give women the same economic, social, and political rights as men” (Cambridge) or “the advocacy of women’s rights on the ground of the equality of the sexes” (Oxford).
Of course, women do differ genetically from men. A geneticist can discover your sex by testing a DNA sample. Of course there are biological differences between men and women (though there is plenty of overlap). None of this is under discussion or up for debate as part of the cause of feminism. Feminism is purely and simply about getting women the same opportunities as men.
Women ought to be able to apply for the same job — from babysitter to president — and be evaluated purely on their merits and not on the basis of sex. Men and women ought to be treated equally for anything that doesn’t involve the aforementioned biological differences.
The examples I provided above, while not nearly as bad as what women suffered before my time, do indicate that they’re still seen as second-class citizens, not by every individual, but by society at large and policies and systems that are difficult to uproot. If you point it out, prepare to be called an “SJW”. If you bring it up, someone will point out the few exceptions to the rule. If you advocate for changing minds in this regard, the term “feminazi” is waiting in the wings to brand you as a loon. If you call for government interference to protect or promote women, there are MRAs prepared to troll your blog, comments, and even personal email.
The fact that there is still so much resistance to even talking about it is the greatest proof I need that feminism is necessary today.
Circling back to the Ginsberg quotation in my opening paragraph, there are men (and some women too!) who think it would be absolutely unfair and sexist if there were nine women on the Supreme Court. They won’t admit the hypocrisy evident in their silence about all the generations that saw only men in the same court. In my estimation, “fairness” would only be achieved by having only women on the court for the next 200 years — or until the total numbers become equal. The MRAs will argue facetiously that “their sex shouldn’t matter; only whether they are qualified”. If so, they shouldn’t be upset if the next 100 or so SCOTUS justices are qualified women. If our next 45 presidents are all women, it would barely even the score and shouldn’t be seen as problematic. If the next hundred years saw only women in Congress, we still wouldn’t be close to equality in that body. For the Roman Catholic Church to satisfy my definition of equality, the next 266 popes would have to be women, not to mention the next million or so priests, bishops, and cardinals.
If you’re outraged at the suggestion that these bodies should be entirely comprised of women, but have never been outraged that they were entirely comprised of men, then you’re a misogynist plain and simple. You are part of the problem. You are why feminism is still necessary today.
1. Even as I was wrapping this blog entry, after many months of development, I started thinking of things I left out. For one, the “rape culture” that pervades so much of our society — judges will say from the bench, during a rape trial: “why didn’t you resist more forcefully?” or suggest light sentences because the rapist’s life might be messed up by imprisonment. This deserves a section of its own, and I might add it later.
2. Despite working on this a long time, and re-reading it dozens of times, I am sure there are typographical and grammatical errors, some of them surely due to last-minute edits and switching things around. I welcome anyone to point them out to me so I can fix them as soon as possible.
3. I am aware of intersectionality and how it relates to feminism. But this entry was meant to be purely about feminism. I did mention, in a couple of places, how racism overlaps with sexism to make it worse. I failed to touch on LGBTQ rights; perhaps I can find a way to work it in at some point.
4. I also wanted to mention (in anticipation of someone mentioning them) that a couple of the most vocal anti-feminists have been women, who hypocritically use their very public careers and book-publishing deals to say other women should stay in the home and out of the public sphere. Perhaps most notably was Phillis Schafly, though there have been others. It strikes me as incredibly ignorant, perhaps related to “Stockholm Syndrome”, like if a famous black man argued in favor of systemic racism, or a Jew supported the Holocaust.