This year marks a number of “women’s” anniversaries: the 50th anniversary of Sylvia Plath’s death, the 50th anniversary of the publishing of The Feminine Mystique, and the 50th anniversary of the Equal Pay Act. In the 50 years since all of these groundbreaking events occurred, how much has changed? Is there cause to celebrate?
To a large extent, yes there is. More women go to college than ever before, female CEOs run companies like Yahoo! and Lockheed Martin, and men are finally featured in laundry detergent ads. Despite these and other achievements, there is still a lot that hasn’t changed. Women still earn 77 percent of what men earn, only 20 percent of senators and 18 percent of representatives are female, and issues of women’s rights such as the Violence Against Women Act, access to free birth control, and maternity leave, among others, are still considered “controversial.”
Overall, what is the net effect? Have we overcome much of the initial prejudice that has kept women from keeping pace with men and are now slowly working towards equality? Where do we go from here?
Fundamentally, many of the old prejudices remain. That much is evident in the low numbers of women in leadership positions and the sexist diatribes that spew from many of our representatives’ mouths. If it’s been 50 years and these prejudices remain, is there any hope for them to abate in the future?
Yes and the answer to this conundrum can be found in women. Women are the most important factor in ending prejudices. This may sound obvious, of course women are important, but what I’m referring to is ensuring that all women are onboard with helping out all women.
Many of the stories about women’s rights in the past year have been about men that have made sexist comments, particularly about sexual assault. What hasn’t gained as much coverage, but is equally as pernicious, is the number of women in positions of influence that have asserted that they are not feminists. As a feminist, I’m appalled but fundamentally I think that it speaks to bigger issues, women not supporting women.
For every woman that is running a company like the Levo League, which supports women in business, there are two others, like Ann Coulter, that are working against women. Now, obviously Ann Coulter can be considered on the more extreme end of the spectrum, but even considering female-to-female interactions in everyday life it becomes obvious that women are not always supportive of each other. How many times has a woman belittled another woman for being a “slut” or dressing poorly? How many times will someone bring up the academic or professional virtues of a woman and another woman will say “Yes, but…” As a woman, I encounter this daily, and am ashamed to say that I am sometimes party to it. The support, or at least the acceptance, that men have for each other is often nonexistent in female communities.
Granted, this is a broad generalization and it is not to say that all women do this. However, it can be seen in our media and in our interactions that women are especially critical of other women. Hillary Clinton, instead of being applauded for her masterful handling of her position, was derided for wearing pantsuits and her hair in a ponytail by female journalists. When she was interviewed, journalists would ask her how her husband felt about her travel schedule. While male journalists are guilty of asking similar questions, female journalists should know better.
Women that do eventually get to higher leadership positions, seem somewhat unwilling to reach down and help other women up. An MIT study says that women are just as unlikely to be promoted whether under a female or male manager. Various women, such as Benazir Bhutto and Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, that have become presidents of nations have fallen back on their promises to introduce programs for the advancement of women. It is as though they don’t want to appear weak by supporting those of their own gender.
How can we hope to eliminate prejudices when we women harbor them against each other? Sure, men must be included in the fight for equality, but more importantly all women must fight for equality for all women. It is easy for men to deride women when they have other women on their side. If we represent a united force, it is that much easier to enact change. There is no way to deny that all women benefit from increased women’s rights, so let’s start acting like we’re all playing for the same team.