Yesterday was the 90th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th amendment to the Constitution, giving women the right to vote. The day has been dubbed Women’s Equality Day. Surely, we’re equals now, right?
Melissa found this story, about a woman who ran an internet-based tech business. She decided to pretend to be a man, and everything changed. Not only did her business increase, but her pay increased, and her potential clients stopped trying to haggle. I’m a veteran of Corporate America myself, specifically the finance arena. When I graduated with a degree in business administration, I found that I could get a job as an administrative assistant and that was about it. I noticed that the vast majority of executives were men, and the vast majority of support staff (like administrative assistants) were women. Despite the fact that legally, women should be earning equal pay to men, we actually earn 77 cents on the dollar. The fact is, our work is not as valued as the work of men, even when that work is equal (or even superior, as I often noted in my own corporate career).
So what does this have to do with Baby Steps? Two things. One relates to how we are treated when we choose to give birth in the hospital. Do you think that if men were the ones giving birth, they would be told what to do? Intimidated, threatened, and coerced? Would they have unnecessary surgery over and over because of the biases and fears of doctors? Would they put up with the countless indignities women are subjected to in an average hospital birth? That women are not seen as having equal to standing to men, even today, affects how we are treated by doctors and nurses (who are, of course, mostly female). Not only that, it affects how we respond to such treatment. Because by and large, we accept it. We may feel like strong, confident women going into pregnancy, but over the course of things we allow ourselves to be beaten down and convinced that our bodies are dysfunctional and we are not capable of doing what we need to do to bring our babies safely into the world. This is a lie, and one women themselves help to perpetuate. If you’ve ever told a woman who planned to have a natural birth that she should just get an epidural, or “We’ll see, once you start having contractions,” you are guilty. If you’ve ever said, “Don’t be a hero; you don’t get a medal,” then you’re part of the problem.
The other thing is about how we raise our children. I have two girls, with the same parents. I absolutely believe that we are born with certain personality traits. But there is a certain way girls are treated, and a certain way boys are treated, that reinforces these biases. This is not only bad for girls, it’s bad for boys. Maddie turned 6 this year, and one of her friends’ parents asked me what she wanted for her birthday. I said she’d mentioned wanting some toy cars. What this mother got her was a Tinkerbell music box and a princess crown. My 3 year old was thrilled, as she loves all things princess. But really? I said toy cars and you thought princess gear? This is a really blatant example of how we view boys and girls as different, and raise them to be different no matter what they want. Though my 3 year old loves dresses and getting her hair fixed, she also loves lizards and snakes. My friend’s son has often enjoyed wearing dress-up clothes. Imagine if we just let kids play with what they wanted to play with, without worrying about whether they’re “too girlie” or “not girlie enough.”
Interestingly, this bias comes across even more with boys. You hear girls lovingly referred to as “tomboys.” But do you hear about boys who act “feminine?” Well, there was the news story recently about the man who beat his toddler-aged stepson to death for not being manly enough. This fear of our sons not being “manly” enough, in my opinion, is a part of the bigger picture of women (and traditionally “female” traits) not being valued as much as traditional “male” traits. Though the more obvious negative effects come out against women – less pay, lower ranking jobs, discrimination – men and boys suffer too, unable to be themselves for fear of being seen as unmanly.
I’m really not sure how to conclude this blog. I didn’t intend for it to be this long, and I have no real solution to this problem. We would love to hear your comments on the subject.