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Posts Tagged ‘“Enlightened Sexism”’

Funny the stuff you find on Facebook that you would never find on your own.

For example, I discovered that Beyonce has this new video for her song, “Run the World (Girls)”.  Have you seen it?  If not, what you see are a bunch of strong, in charge, kick ass girls who are, um, running the world.  Lyrics?

Who run the world? Girls!
Who run this motha? Girls!
Who run the world? Girls!

Powerful images of take-no-prisoners girls.  Big hair, big heels, unabashedly sexy.  Great images, right?

Or not so much.  Because on Facebook, via Jemhu Greene –  a political commentator, social justice organizer, and former president of the Women’s Media Center — we find the perfect counterpoint video from Nineteen Percent that explains exactly what’s wrong with such media images of powerful, dominant, got-it-together women.  They’re lies.  Take a watch below:

Her point?  Such media images lull us into a fall sense of achievement, and distract us from “the work it takes to actually run the world.”  Shall we count the way in which we don’t?  Pay equity is one: seventy-seven cents on the dollar, anyone?  Or how about workplace structures that have not yet shifted to accommodate the fact that the majority of the workplace is made up of women, many of them with kids, and almost always without a housewife at home to drive the carpool?  Or there’s the maternal wall: the fact that women are often discriminated against in the workplace simply because of their gender.  Kids?  Uh-oh: flight risk.  No kids yet?  Yeah, but maybe someday…  Or maybe not ever.  In which case, um, outside the norm.  And then there’s this:  As Nineteen percent points out, women are the only American group classified as a minority — that makes up the majority of the population.  Go figure.

Sure it’s nice to see female doctors and lawyers on TV, but as Nineteen Percent says on the video:

Lady humans can work outside the home – but a simple survey of reality will reveal we don’t run anything – and pretending we do will get us nowhere…

So true.  The images won’t get us anywhere until there’s some actual change behind them.  You know, the kind of change that will result in a shift in policy and values, and in workplace structures.  Pretending otherwise, well, it just lulls us into a false sense of complacency.  We’ve gone here before:

Tell everyone the problem’s been solved already, and maybe it’ll go away. Move along, nothing to see here… Nothing, of course, but those inequalities listed … below:

  • A Girl Scouts study found that young women avoid leadership roles for fear they’ll be labeled ‘bossy’;
  • women are four times less likely than men to negotiate a starting salary…
  • which is probably for the best, as a Harvard study found that women who demand more money are perceived as “less nice” (=less likely to be hired).

As infuriating as all of that may be — and, duh, it is — even more so is the fact that no one seems to be pissed off about it. And, I’d venture to say, there are even some among us who read those stats, who are familiar with the surveys and the survey results, and yet, somehow, can’t quite bring ourselves to believe it.

Susan Douglas would diagnose that as a classic case of “Enlightened Sexism,” and her new book on the subject makes a compelling case that, because of all the advances that we have made — and because of a lopsided accentuating of the positives (so sugar and spiced and everything niced are we!), the stereotypes, inequities, and biases that would have once been called sexist go unnoticed. Turn on the TV, she says: there are women doctors, women lawyers, women detectives and DAs and Hillary Clinton and Oprah to show you: See? We have come a long way, baby! But all that rose-colored imagery doesn’t exactly reflect reality. For instance, here’s something you might not have realized:

The four most common female professions today are: secretary, registered nurse, teacher, and cashier–low-paying, “pink collar” jobs that employ 43 percent of all women. Swap “domestic help” for nurse, and you’d be looking at the top female jobs from 1960, back when want ads were segregated by gender.

Ahem.  So sure, I like big hair and big shoes and the image of kick-ass girls as much as the next, well, kick-ass girl.  And maybe I even like Beyonce.  But let’s not kid ourselves.  We’ve still got a way to go.  And pretending that we don’t — well, that’s one sure way to keep us in our place.

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Are We There Yet? asks a recent Newsweek headline, with the kind of slug that leaves you with a distinctive sense of dread:

In 1976, 46 women filed a landmark gender-discrimination case. Their employer was NEWSWEEK. Forty years later, their contemporary counterparts question how much has actually changed.

It’s a great piece, as it shows how awfully far we have come (those women were flat-out told in their interviews that women could never get to the top–or even the middle–and spent their days at the veritable newsrag fetching coffee, sorting mail, and doing–and handing over–the reporting that a male writer would use in the stories that ultimately would bear his byline), as well as… well, how far we haven’t come. (For starters: in 1970 25 percent of Newsweek‘s editorial masthead was female; today that number is only 39 percent. Ahem, it’s FORTY YEARS LATER, PEOPLE. Last year, men wrote all but six of Newsweek‘s 49 cover stories, which is apparently par for the course: taking major magazines as a whole, there’s one female byline for every SEVEN male.) For the young women–new to the work force–who wrote this piece, the real world offered up quite a shock:

Forty years after NEWSWEEK’s women rose up, there’s no denying our cohort of young women is unlike even the half-generation before us. We are post-Title IX women, taught that the fight for equality was history; that we could do, or be, anything. The three of us were valedictorians and state-champion athletes; we got scholarships and were the first to raise our hands in class. As young professionals, we cheered the third female Supreme Court justice, and, nearly, the first female president. We’ve watched as women became the majority of American workers, prompting a Maria Shriver-backed survey on gender, released late last year, to proclaim that ‘the battle of the sexes is over.’

Can you sense the but coming? Good reader. Here it be:

The problem is, for women like us, the victory dance feels premature. Youthful impatience? Maybe. But consider this: U.S. Department of Education data show that a year out of school, despite having earned higher college GPAs in every subject, young women will take home, on average across all professions, just 80 percent of what their male colleagues do… Motherhood has long been the explanation for the persistent pay gap, yet a decade out of college, full-time working women who haven’t had children still make 77 cents on the male dollar. As women increasingly become the breadwinners in this recession, bringing home 23 percent less bacon hurts families more deeply than ever before.

I know, that’s nothing new. You’ve certainly read about it here once or twice. But the point worth thinking about is what they get at here:

In countless small ways, each of us has felt frustrated over the years, as if something was amiss. But as products of a system in which we learned that the fight for equality had been won, we didn’t identify those feelings as gender-related. It seemed like a cop-out, a weakness, to suggest that the problem was anybody’s fault but our own.

Convenient, no? Tell everyone the problem’s been solved already, and maybe it’ll go away. Move along, nothing to see here… Nothing, of course, but those inequalities listed above. Or the ones below:

  • A Girl Scouts study found that young women avoid leadership roles for fear they’ll be labeled ‘bossy’;
  • women are four times less likely than men to negotiate a starting salary…
  • which is probably for the best, as a Harvard study found that women who demand more money are perceived as “less nice” (=less likely to be hired).

As infuriating as all of that may be — and, duh, it is — even more so is the fact that no one seems to be pissed off about it. And, I’d venture to say, there are even some among us who read those stats, who are familiar with the surveys and the survey results, and yet, somehow, can’t quite bring ourselves to believe it.

Susan Douglas would diagnose that as a classic case of “Enlightened Sexism,” and her new book on the subject makes a compelling case that, because of all the advances that we have made — and because of a lopsided accentuating of the positives (so sugar and spiced and everything niced are we!), the stereotypes, inequities, and biases that would have once been called sexist go unnoticed. Turn on the TV, she says: there are women doctors, women lawyers, women detectives and DAs and Hillary Clinton and Oprah to show you: See? We have come a long way, baby! But all that rose-colored imagery doesn’t exactly reflect reality. For instance, here’s something you might not have realized:

The four most common female professions today are: secretary, registered nurse, teacher, and cashier–low-paying, “pink collar” jobs that employ 43 percent of all women. Swap “domestic help” for nurse, and you’d be looking at the top female jobs from 1960, back when want ads were segregated by gender.

It’s all rather depressing, but, at the same time, not: those ladies at Newsweek? They’re putting it out there, putting themselves out there, calling it like they see it — like they live it. (And maybe even calling themselves Feminists, too.) And what they’re putting out there, what they’re calling, seeing, and living, is this: the job’s not done yet. Maybe they’ll be some of tomorrow’s leaders–any movement that wants to keep moving needs regular shots of fresh blood. And, shhhh: there’s more of us out there. And you know, even the leaders of the old-guard see cause for hope: in a piece just published yesterday, written by none other than The Female Eunuch author Germaine Greer, Greer begins, with characteristic sarcasm, by declaring feminism a failure (and The Female Eunuch not her best work). Eunuchs aside, she ends with a potent call to arms:

The media tend to think that the fantasies they peddle are realer than real. But in the real world, women have changed; bit by bit, they are growing stronger and braver, ready to begin the actual feminist revolution. The feminist revolution hasn’t failed, you see. It has only just begun.

And if that’s the case, there’s only one thing left to say: Bring it.

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