Take Steps Now to End Gender Inequality
Being a parent sometimes means answering questions; ones posed by you, by your children and often by others. When my husband and I were asked by our social worker, “How will you raise an African-American child in your home?” I have to admit that I was a little smug. Being a member of an ethnic minority, I’ve encountered racism and anti-immigrant sentiment all my life so I felt I knew how to answer her question. As naïve as I may have been, I never equated my experience with that of the African-American community. After all, my parents arrived in this country in the 1970s with post-graduate degrees and a lifetime of being members of the majority.
My naiveté ended soon after we brought our oldest son home. New, rude questions were asked: “Was his birth-mother on welfare? Did she just have too many kids? Did she know the father?” We soon became acutely aware of the uniqueness of the African-American experience in America; one that only the descendants of slaves, governmentally sanctioned segregation and Jim Crow laws could fully understand. It was a baptism of fire, and we’re still learning. We are no longer bystanders in the stories of Ferguson, Tamar Rice, Trayvon Martin and countless others. We are in the thick of the battle.
The same is true of parents with special needs children. Whether they want to or not, they are enlisted into an advocacy battle for the sake of their children. And increasingly many (sadly not all) parents of LGBT children often find themselves on a road from bystander to advocate. Once inequality touches you so personally, especially through your children, you are forever changed.
So far, I have not been blessed with daughters, only sons. But I wonder how would I greet a baby girl knowing the inequality she’d face? How would I advocate for her? It’s often said that sexism is the most subtle and evasive form of discrimination. Racists rarely marry a member of another race. Anti-Semites will not usually raise their children to be Jewish. And homophobic businesses may soon be able to discriminate against LGBT communities and claim religious freedom. But men marry women. Men have daughters. Men are born of women.
And yet, men can discriminate the very ones they genuinely love. Moreover, women can be obstacles for other women as well. Yes, there were black apologists for racism. And there are self-loathing LGBT figures, like Messrs. Dolce and Gabbana most recently in the news. Yet these are few and far between. A far greater percentage of women unwittingly and deliberately aid the fight against opportunity equality for their daughters. After all, the equal rights amendment had opposition from both conservative men and women. The Paycheck Fairness Act of 2014 failed to pass because four female senators did not vote for it. Liberated and self-identified feminist grandmothers will often ask their daughters why they’re going back to work after a baby.
You may think that world of “Mad Men” is over. You may think that women have equal access in the workplace. Perhaps; perhaps not.
If you have daughters I’d ask you to imagine an adult version of your daughter coming in for an interview at your workplace. How would she be greeted? Would she have to navigate through the boorishness of the male gaze to arrive there? Would there be female senior managers to interview her? Would she be judged according to her ability or by her looks? Would she have female mentors? Would there be other women in her position? Would she be paid less than a man who had the same level of experience? Would she have to contend with the old boys’ club culture?
A recent survey shows that one out of every three American women has faced sexual harassment in her career; would she be one of them? If she claimed sexual harassment or discrimination, would she be believed? Would she be supported? Or would the old boys’ club protect itself? In whom would she confide? If she desired to have children (your grandchildren), would your company make her maternity leave difficult or make her feel like her commitment was questionable? Would her job be secure? Would the term “working mother” somehow be a compromise of both for her? Would her manager assume that she wouldn’t be interested in a promotion simply because she’s a mother? If she decided to stay home to raise her children (your grandchildren), would you condescendingly say it’s the hardest job in the world and do nothing to make it less so?
If the questions made you think about gender inequality, how do you live with it? With your deep and abiding love for your daughters, how do you maintain your sanity when you contemplate the world they will inherit someday? How can you passively participate in their inequality? How do you stand up to those who’d hold her back? Why don’t you speak out against them more? Why do you worry about the men who will take away your daughters’ virginity more than you do about the men who will take away their opportunities?
Since bringing my sons home, I haven’t stopped answering the social worker’s question. Each day, I learn how little I knew and how much I’ve yet to grasp. I hope you’ve answered some of these questions in your mind and they’ve made you uncomfortable, especially if you imagined your own daughter in light of them. Don’t deceive yourselves into thinking that your daughters won’t be in that position for years and the world will change on its own. The mere passage of time won’t improve the situation unless changes are made today. Not by someone else, but by you.
Last question: What are you waiting for?