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.
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.