October 11, 2012
Gender Discrimination at Work and in Careers: Are We Napping?
We have removed ourselves from the struggle, taken a long nap, and created rumors amongst ourselves to make us feel as though things are better. The rumor is that gender discrimination no longer exists in the workplace and in our career growth.
I keep meeting feminists from previous generations who ask me why young women aren’t standing up and protesting for their rights anymore and why there is so much apathy among young women today. I tell them I have no idea what they’re talking about. I work for a women’s organization and have always surrounded myself with activist women who care deeply about women’s rights. I’m probably the naïve one here, although it does feel good to defend my generation.
There were two op-eds worth reading in the LA Times this past Sunday. The first, by Lynn Povich, the first female senior editor of Newsweek, discussed Povich’s historic lawsuit against the publication 40 years ago for gender discrimination. The second op-ed, by Caryl Rivers and Rosalind Barnett, dispelled the myth that women now out-earn men.
Equal wages, ending sexism in the workplace, and the de-stigmatization of women with careers: These were hot issues women dealt with in the 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s. At the very least we started to deal with them. We had momentum for a good minute and then we got tired of dealing with our own issues and became obsessed with international women’s rights. International women’s rights is by no means less important than women’s rights at home, but prioritizing it does indicate that we are in denial about how much women have advanced in the United States.
Povich wrote, “Ambition is still stigmatized in women.” She highlighted data indicating that when men are successful, they are better liked, but when women are more successful, they are liked less. The message we’re still sending women today, according to Povich, is “give up if you want to have a family.”
Rivers and Barnett shared how “women’s earnings have not kept up with their gains in educational attainment” and that “women start behind and never catch up” with male earnings for the same jobs. There was a study going around that 1 in 4 women are now out-earning men in America. Rivers and Barnett explained that this statistic only applies to low-income workers. In other words: no, we’re not out-earning anyone.
Povich and her colleagues sued Newsweek in 1970 because of the obvious lack of opportunity to move up in their careers and because of the blatant acts of sexism in the workplace. Nowadays we have laws against these things, but women working at Newsweek today claim to still have similar challenges of not getting promotions as quickly as men do and of being treated inappropriately by male colleagues.
I don’t have that problem because I’m not in a male-dominated field. But my friends do. I have heard countless stories from women friends who are lawyers, consultants, business managers, and journalists that they are not getting promotions as often as male counterparts and that they are worried about being perceived as too demanding (aka bitchy) if they ask for raises or better assignments. They say they are expected to do more work than their male colleagues.
Povich recommends documenting everything and using that to create change in your work environment. That seems like a lot to ask of someone. It is easy to document things, but much harder to actually use that information to confront your supervisor. Even for me, I know that as I have become more confrontational about what I feel I deserve from people in my life, both in and out of the workplace, I have often worried that the person on the other end will no longer like me. When a man is demanding, we may not like him as much, but we usually respect him even more afterward. Obviously I’m generalizing here, but the point is to show that there many of us are still thinking these ways, albeit unconsciously.
I am trying to execute a personal decision to prefer respect to being liked, but I do not know if this mentality will help women either.
As we are reaching a period of complacency and discomfort with the concept of feminism, we are becoming our own enemies. Women see other women getting promoted and gossip about them rather than applaud them. We see women asking for raises and we wish they would shut up so our reputations won’t be tarnished. And we hear rumors that we’re doing better as a whole so we go to sleep content, even though we know that we are not earning what our male colleagues are. We sit around and ask each other how we can have it all and go back and forth with debates about whether or not we can or cannot rather than trying to change the system that makes it so difficult to have it all in the first place.
Have we given up?