GENDER EQUALITY: WILL THIS SOLVE ALL OUR PROBLEMS?
Gender equality is a familiar phrase. It is supposed to lead the way toward a more egalitarian and fair society. However, since the 1970’s many positive changes have been made, but women are still subjected to domestic violence, rape, sexual harassment, sexual objectification and other abuses of power. The point of this article is that only the dismantling of patriarchy itself will solve our problems. This is not just a women’s issue, and it cannot be done without the full involvement of all men.
The fight for women’s rights has been waging for hundreds of years in countries around the world. The word “feminism,” meaning the advocacy of women’s rights on the ground of the equality of the sexes, became a word in in our vocabulary in 1910. Voting rights, employment equity, marriage and divorce rights, property rights…The work of a feminist (or whatever name one prefers) is never done. It seems no matter how much progress is made, women are still victims of violence, discrimination, harassment and much more. Movements (Suffrage, Women’s Lib, MeToo, etc.) can’t keep up with the ever-recurring complaints made about the lack of gender equality. From afar, it looks like just so many chickens running around with their heads cut off. Why is this such an intransigent problem, and more importantly, is gender equality the solution or just part of the problem? And does gender equality mean equality for men, too? We will get to that in a moment.
As of 2016, there is no prohibition of sex discrimination in the United States Constitution, and
only 22 states have their own Equal Rights Amendments. Someone doesn’t think gender equality is a good idea.
Perhaps it’s because the road to gender equality has so many twists and turns. Consider Iraq. One of the purported reasons our military invaded Iraq was to rid the area of a despot, clearing the way for democracy, but what kind? Under Saddam Hussein’s secular government, women enjoyed academic freedom and were among the most advanced in the Arab world. Muslim religious leaders now control the Iraqi government, and women lost their rights under Islamic law. Sex trafficking, which was practically non-existent in Hussein’s regime, is now on the rise due to an unstable government, corruption and unchecked criminal gang activity. In Afghanistan, domestic violence, rape and forced marriages flourish. The United States military forces there have not been successful in rooting out the Taliban and other Islamic groups opposed to women’s rights in over 17 years. According to the Afghan Independence Human Rights Commission and the United Nations, at least 90% of Afghan girls could not attend classes in five southern Afghan provinces, partly because girls’ schools were being burned down.
American women now fight alongside men to secure safety and security for women in the Middle East and elsewhere, but what happens to our women soldiers when they come home? According to Veterans Affairs studies, women veterans are two to four times more likely to be homeless than other women. They are nine times more likely to suffer from PTSD---and not just from combat. (15 to 23% of female veterans seeking VA services report having been sexually assaulted while on active duty. If they are expecting the military to address the issue, their superiors better not continue to enlist the likes of U.S. Air Force’s Lt. Col. Jeffrey Krusinski to lead efforts to curb sexual assault in the military. He was arrested in 2013 for groping a woman in a parking lot near the Pentagon. The Army needs to do the same. In that same year an Army sergeant instructor of sexual assault prevention was arrested for sexual assault and maltreatment of subordinates. Many women military members report that they have faced retribution and social ostracism for reporting sexual assault, but reporting rates are on the rise in spite of that.) Women vets now commit suicide at almost the same rate of male vets, a gender equality statistic few expected. For women aged 18-29, veterans kill themselves at nearly 12 times the rate of nonveterans.
The equality of women, whether at home or in war, has historically been a controversial and divisive issue, and many fight against it. Aside from Tunisia constitutionally guaranteeing gender equality in 2014, the International Monetary Fund has indicated that global gender equality has stalled. Sweden ranked number one in gender equality prior to 2014, while Egypt ranks 58 out of 58 countries studied by the World Economic Forum, a Swiss nonprofit organization. (The United States ranks 17). 1
Gender equality is self-evident to some, but to others it is absurd. Despite rumors to the contrary, many women are against gender equality. Why? (1) “If I make more money than my husband, he will feel emasculated. I want him to be the man of the house.” (2) “Why should I work? I can’t get any cooperation now. Even when I’m sick I have to do everything. I wouldn’t have the energy to work a full-time job too.” (3) “The only thing I get from my marriage is the ability to not work. I’m not giving that up!” There are other reasons. As the above # 1 notes, women buy into keeping patriarchy intact. Often called male-identified, these women see other women (but not necessarily themselves) through the eyes of men who believe in patriarchy. Women are considered catty, manipulative, weak and are at fault if they are raped or abused. These women enable the current power system to prevent being ridiculed, ostracized or even murdered. Of course, we all know this doesn’t work. Striving to be sexually attractive to win approval is a no-winner, also. Beauty is no guarantee of good fortune. Remember Marilyn Monroe and Nicole Brown Simpson?
Survival may not be the only reason for eschewing gender equality. Others in society feel that men and women can never be equal because it’s just not “natural.” For instance, the life expectancy gap between the sexes is seven years, the female winning. This is a phenomenon the world over; in virtually every mammal species, the female typically outlives the male. In fact, men outrank women in all of the 15 leading causes of death except one, Alzheimer’s disease.
Perhaps women and men can never attain equality because of their brains. Researchers at the University of California-Irvine have found that men and women have different colored brains. Men have more gray matter which may explain why they are better at “high-end mathematical reasoning.” Women have more white matter which may explain their aptitude for recalling words, remembering landmarks and other memory abilities. In addition, women’s brains are 10% smaller than men’s, giving ammunition to those who feel women should never run the government or carry weapons.
Perhaps men and women can never be equal because of differences in their hormonal makeup. Estrogen and progesterone help protect women from heart disease until menopause. After menopause, if they opt for estrogen replacement therapy, they still win, unless they suffer possible side effects associated with such treatment. Female hormonal imbalances have been used by men to keep women out of board rooms and the military: “Who wants a pre-menstrual with her hand on the nuclear button?” On the other hand, post-partum depression and PMS have been used as defenses to win mothers lighter sentences or acquittals for murdering their children.
There is hormonal equality to a certain degree, however. Men can suffer from andropause, the male version of menopause. Symptoms include fatigue, hot flashes, pain and stiffness, depression, irritability, anger and reduced libido. Although more uncommon due to testicular function declining gradually in most men, should men gain or lose power as a result of such symptoms?
More importantly, how can women ever be equal to men as long as they become pregnant? Some women’s rights activists don’t see how women can win equality until all babies are developed in an incubator and co-parenting is mandatory (where applicable). As long as pregnancy results in women being incapable of uninterrupted productivity, having limited physical mobility as well as being subject to hormonal disruptions, the female reproductive process will be as much a liability as an asset. In addition, pregnancy still is the scarlet letter “P.” Society will always know that a woman has had sex, a most private of acts, while the man involved can forever remain unknown or blameless, if circumstances dictate. She, on the other hand, can be subject to punishment, ridicule, family ostracism or job sanctions (legal or otherwise). She may suffer the guilt of having an abortion or medical complications from trying to end the pregnancy herself. If she hides her pregnancy and then stuffs the newborn into a dumpster, she risks legal action.
How can women otherwise secure sexual equality? Women were certainly sold a bill of goods in the 1960s with the sexual liberation movement. Sexual objectification, rape, pornography, pimps and sexual slavery have not been eradicated. Women still suffer unwanted sexual advances, harassment and attack; they have increased risk for venereal disease and AIDS. They still, in ever-increasing numbers, choose to be pornographic stars, strippers and beauty queens, perhaps hoping to achieve riches or fame but too often being exploited, injured or killed. Although the question “What else can I do to get rich?” seems to be less relevant now in the age of women attorneys and corporate executives, the need to be desired by men remains, and not everyone has the brains to go to college. More opportunities in well-paid less glamorous, but safe, technical jobs need to be open to girls/women.
Indeed, early feminists advocated non-sexist jobs for all. This meant more men getting into female-oriented jobs, such as nursing, for instance. However, that pesky income inequality issue never sleeps. Male registered nurses earn $5,148 more than female registered nurses. In fact, income inequality has been a reality in that field since 1988. (National Sample Survey of Registered Nurses.)
Some think that income inequity starts in childhood. Several studies in America and Britain have indicated that girls get paid less allowance than boys while doing more chores. Although there has been some progress in the adult world, in this country housework is still seen as not worthy of government pension benefits. Early feminists wanted housewives to earn a yearly income, calculating the cost of such services as cleaning, child care, laundry, cooking and the like to be about $25,000 annually. Today, such combined work could be worth $45,000 or more.
In spite of the fact that housework is a dead-end and volunteer job, many females are lining up for the job. A survey of teenagers in America, conducted by Families and Work Institute in 2005 found that 75% of girls said they would stop work for a while when they had children, but only 14% of the boys said the same. The newest trend is for women with college degrees to drop out of the career rat race and come home to raise their children. The big change is that many of these women have economic tools to become self-sufficient, if need be. According to the Center for Women’s Business Research, women-owned small businesses without employees are the fastest growing businesses, allowing more women to work at home while they care for their children. Mompreneurs Online and Ladies Who Launch are two resources available for these women. Some corporations are becoming more flexible in order to keep talented women’s jobs available in the future. Of course, for true gender equality men have to have the same choices.
Women-owned businesses average 25% female board membership in Fortune 500 companies, and even more in those ranked 501-1,000, according to Ms. Magazine. One could question why the percentages are not more. In any case, Norway ruled that by 2008, corporations had to have 40% of women on their boards or be shut down. Norway has more than twice the number of women in its government than the United States, which could explain such legislation. However, since then, France, Spain and Germany have imposed gender quotas on corporate boards, as well.
Gender pay equity is not a new loony feminist cause. In 1942, The National War Labor Board wrote: “The National War Labor Board issues General Order No.16, authorizing employers to make voluntary adjustments which equalize wage or salary rates paid to females with the rates paid to males for comparable quality and quantity of work on the same or similar operations.” 2 We’re still trying to solve this problem in 2018.
In researching this complex issue, I found that, much like those who deny the Holocaust ever existed, there are those who believe women are treated fairly in the workplace. If they are not, it’s for a good reason (e.g. dangerous jobs pay more). However, a certain pay disparity remains even after factoring in such things as age, race, occupation, average hours worked, number of years in work force, dangerousness of job, region of employment and other factors. Some researchers are hesitant to claim that pure sexism explains the difference. As wages doggedly become more equal, however, corporations increasingly fight back by moving jobs overseas or employing cheap immigrant (legal or otherwise) labor. Such corporate warfare also results in men making less money, which makes the gender pay gap appear to be disappearing. Women who have fought for parity and have gained employment in the steel, automotive and aerospace industries, now find themselves being laid off “just like the big guys.”
Wal-mart, the largest corporation in the world, is not a champion of women’s equality. “God made Adam first,” stated one manager as the reason.3 Women comprise 70% of the corporation’s employees. The corporation makes tremendous profits by paying women four to five percent less than their male counterparts, and women don’t make it to top management in a timely fashion either. According to Ms. Magazine, “Workers for Wal-Mart in Bangladesh make even less---13 to 17 cents per hour. It’s hard to spot male workers in the sweatshop scenes; the vast majority of this near-slave labor force is female. The women live in squalid company-owned “dorms,” sleep in crib-like bunks, wash in basins on the floor and clean their teeth with their fingers because they can’t afford toothbrushes.” 4 Although 1.5 million women joined a class-action suit against the giant retailer, the Supreme Court threw it out.
Another ongoing income equity battle is being waged to raise the minimum hourly wage to $10-15. The Bureau of Labor Statistics noted that in 2014, however, that 1.7 million workers, two thirds of whom are women, were not even paid the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour. The federal government does not enforce state and local laws in such matters.
Western society has suffered the growing pains of gender equality for 30 years or more, and what is the result? Indeed, more women are prime ministers, presidents and legislators. More women are in the military, media, medical, legal, law enforcement and corporate ranks. However, there are big prices to pay for being equal “in a man’s world,” as previously noted. Lung cancer is now the number one killer of women in wealthy nations. They die at a higher rate than men of cardiovascular disease, are sent to prison more often by non-sexist judges, work in polluted factories and die of occupational hazards previously reserved for men. Women are participating in (men’s) war mentality and dying on the battlefield. (Even more will die since the Pentagon opened all combat jobs to women as of 2015.) In ever increasing numbers they are media stars---this time as ninja warriors or serial killers. The National Survey on Drug Use and Health announced in 2006 that, for the first time, girls’ use of alcohol and drugs was higher than boys’ use. Such equal self-abuse is especially harmful for girls whose reproductive development can be disrupted by even moderate use of alcohol, according to Warren Seigel, president of the New York state chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics.
According to ACLU statistics, the number of women in prison rose 757% from 1977-2004. (No, that’s not a misprint.) Two thirds of these women were black. The crimes ranged from prostitution, fraud and drug use. In addition, many of these women were victims of domestic violence.
Gender equality may bring us other horrors. Rihab Taha, a female Iraqi microbiologist held by U.S. intelligence in Baghdad, was nicknamed “Dr.Germ” because she had been in charge of the Iraqi facility that weaponized aflotoxin, botulinum toxin and anthrax. Jhadists point out that the result of Western freedom and women becoming equal are pictures of them torturing and humiliating male Iraqi prisoners as revealed in the Abu Grahib prison scandal. We can only shudder at the possibilities of having equal opportunity dictators and megalo-maniacs. The argument that women’s innate goodness prevents such a reality is offset by those who believe “Power corrupts!”
Obviously, gaining equality for women isn’t as simple or perhaps as desirable as it sounds. Radical feminists, for instance, wondered why women would want to be like men. It seemed like lowered expectations to them. If anything, men needed to become more like women---compassionate, nurturing, peace-loving and non-violent. Oddly enough, that piece of the equality pie didn’t get eaten very much by the media, social reformers and, especially, by men. “Pussy-whipped” and “wimpy” men are not a popular item. The fear of emasculation has increasingly competed with our fears of war, terrorism and environmental disaster. Watch any television ad for household cleaners, and it is evident men are still mostly absent from smelly bathrooms and encrusted casserole dishes.
This brings us to another point about gender equality. Men are typically physically stronger than women. Therefore, how can the genders attain truly attain equality unless females are “trained” to be as aggressive and strong as most men? Indeed, the vast majority of female domestic violence victims do not fight back physically. Those inclined toward aggression use weapons to even the playing field, but most women indicate that aggression is beneath them, that they don’t want to emulate the Amazons and prefer to get help for their partner or leave, if necessary. (This may not be the case if the woman suffers from severe mental illness or a personality disorder.) This perhaps is the most difficult area of gender equality that advocates must address. Many women want men to become less aggressive and violent, developing their nurturing and caring side instead. Until that happens, how can women live equally in an aggressive world?
We also might ask how women can live equally in a passive-aggressive world. Just because women enter male bastions of power, doesn’t mean they will be welcome. As mentioned previously, the military is a glaring example. Another is the field of technology. Although young females are encouraged to take math and science and play video games, if they get high tech jobs, they may find themselves locked out of promotions, shunned socially and harassed. More women are opting out of such negative environments, but, of course, that doesn’t change things.
It would appear that we are saying that only the entire dismantling of patriarchy will solve our gender problems. A truly egalitarian society ruled by both men and women, not a patriarchal or matriarchal system (which some radical and sentimental feminists long for) is needed. We have few societal models to copy, except some (soon to be extinct) or extinct hunter/gatherer societies. (Read Peggy Reeves-Sanday’s book,” Female Power and Male Dominance: On the Origins of Sexual Inequality” for details.)
How does society go about dismantling patriarchy? What do men have to do?
Let’s begin by exploring power sharing and power relinquishment. Men have had a difficult time doing this historically. Our white Founding Fathers certainly struggled with concepts of equality of women and blacks. Visitors to the new Liberty Bell Center in Philadelphia, for instance, walk directly over the spot where Washington housed his African slaves. Washington owned more than 124 slaves who were freed only after his death. Women initially had no voting rights.
The intrepid few men who have joined the ranks of feminists have often been reviled by their gender and by those male-identified women, as previously mentioned. (Famous men who were for women’s rights include Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Henry Ford, Bertrand Russell, John Stuart Mill, Daniel Defoe and Frederick Douglass.) Although it would seem a simple concept, eqalitarianism has its detractors. Men who believe in equalitarianism, for instance, don’t buy it. Instead, their tenets are: (1) every person counts (2) every privilege carries an obligation (3) every person has the right to responsibility (4) every person has the right to be treated fairly (5) we should treat every person with some minimum of respect. 5 Were these fellows around when the Constitution was written? No, their philosophy is a reaction to their perception of feminism’s “unfairness” and “blame-game” tactics in attempting to gain equality.
John Knight is not for gender equality. He is the founder of the father’s rights organization, The Father’s Manifesto. Its Reaffirmation and Declaration asserts: “We signatories to the Father’s Manifesto, responding to natural and Biblical laws, in defense of our nation and our families, hereby declare and assert our patriarchal role in society. America is an experiment in freedom and the feminist experiment in freedom, under the guise of ‘equality,’ unleashed a panoply of social ills which have become a cancer on our land, led to the moral and economic destruction of our nation, made American a house divided unto itself, created a vast underclass with a bleak and bankrupt future and is the greatest national disaster we have ever faced…” 6
On the other hand, the official position of the Swedish government on the status of women and men states:” A decisive and ultimately durable improvement in the status of women cannot be attained by special measures aimed at women alone: it is equally necessary to abolish the conditions which tend to assign certain privileges, obligations or rights to men.”
Men face many challenges on the way to equality, equal parenting being only one. In the 1980’s, due to the women’s movement, men began to organize themselves around such issues as fathers’ rights and responsibilities, setting up fathers’ centers to offer counseling, parent education and support as well as developing an influential “father’s movement” responsible for child support, visitation and custody reform initiatives. The concerns of single fathers were also being addressed. Today the legal landscape of fathers is changing. Indeed, they more frequently get custody of their children, although many activists feel men have a long way to go in this matter.
Equal parenthood also means that fatherhood has to be cherished by men as much as motherhood is to women. A good start would be a change in the toy department. Boys need to have dolls to nurture, not military figures to kill. They must see men as care-givers in the home and in the media. I would posit that if more men cherished fatherhood, they could not tolerate patriarchal abuses of power.
Another area that needs to change is the government, but, un-like the Swedish government, our government has always adhered to the doctrine of gender inequality, and so its role in fostering men’s equality is dubious. For instance, women have been given benefits when they leave a job to follow their husbands when their jobs changed; the same hasn’t been true for men. In nineteenth century America, a man would be tried for his wife’s criminal acts and imprisoned if she were found guilty. 7 Government programs were set up to aid mothers of dependent children but not fathers in the same position. The National Institute of Health spends nearly four times as much on female-specific health research as on male-specific research. The U.S. Department of Justice has on Office on Violence Against Women, but none for men.
Perhaps the most difficult equality challenge for men will be in the sexual arena. After all, sexual privilege, sexual entitlement, dominance and prowess have defined male sexuality for millennia. The power can be illusory as anyone with a fickle penis will tell you. Herb Goldberg writes in his book, The Hazards of Being Male, that the male’s relationship to his penis is ambivalent at best. “He has an adversarial relationship with his penis; he feels victimized by this capricious organ between his legs that seems to have a mind of its own. His feelings of failure, self-hatred, fear and inadequacy drive him to regain his performance competency as quickly as possible when a problem arises.”8 To share sexual power will mean feeling less concerned about performance and more about endurance of relationships.
To share sexual power will mean relinquishing the myth “A stiff prick has no conscience.” This could just be one of the most destructive messages young men and women receive about male sexual entitlement. In essence, men are mindless creatures ruled by their hormones. (Remember men have rationalized women’s hormonal disruptions as reasons for disenfranchisement.) In such a circumstance, it is up to the female to maintain moral order. This is a tall order when women are often overpowered by male strength and determination. Such a message discourages men’s abilities to use judgment and sensitivity in sexual relationships.
If men take gender equality seriously, they will demand that all men’s public restrooms have diaper-changing tables. Men will have the choice of hyphenated names when they marry. The military draft will no longer be exclusive to men. Heterosexual men will be able to kiss and dance together (in all countries) and wear dresses, if they wish, without social backlash. More men will take the kids to doctor appointments and school meetings, cook inside (not just grill outside), learn conflict resolution skills by third grade and will not tolerate abuse of the powerless wherever they may be. There will be as much air play for groups like Fathers Against Drunk Driving, Men Can Stop Rape, the National Coalition of Free Men and DADA (Dads and Daughters) as there is for the NFL and the NRA. The list is endless, but it just might be the recipe for the dismantling of patriarchy.
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