In my first article of the fall semester, I expressed the reasons why I am a Democrat. Being a Democrat is a sizeable part of my identity, but much of my identification with the Democratic Party originates from my feminist beliefs. I felt it was only fitting to further elaborate on why I classify myself as a feminist.
Firstly, I feel obligated to clarify that feminism is not about valuing women over men, or men over women. It is not crazy women running around, threatening the male species with pitchforks. It is not about middle to upper class white women ignoring the needs of minority women. True feminism is about achieving social, political, and economic equality between the sexes, and recognizing that minority women may need even more help breaking the glass ceiling than white women.
I’m a feminist because the gender wage gap is not a myth. I concede the typically cited figure of women earning on average 78 cents per dollar that a man makes can be misleading. It does not control for industry, occupation, education, experience, or family responsibilities many women undertake. However, even when economists control for those factors, approximately 41 percent of the pay gap remains unexplained. According to the White House Council of Economic Advisors, the remaining 41 perfect of the pay gap is very likely due to gender discrimination, even though the employers may neither consciously nor intentionally pay their female employees less for the same work.
Even the other factors that explain the pay gap are troubling. It is not as simple as women freely choosing to work in lower paying jobs. From a young age, women are continuously discouraged from entering certain lucrative “men’s” careers in science, technology, engineering, mathematics, construction, etc. Women are told they simply cannot be as good in those areas as men are. I remember loving mathematics as a child, but listening to people (especially peers) tell me over the years I could not be as intelligent or talented as my male counterparts profoundly discouraged me from pursuing it. As a young child, I actually believed people when they told me I simply could not be as good at math because of my sex. I felt that no matter how much I tried, I could never be as intelligent as the boys in my classes, even though I was always one of the highest scoring students in my classes. Insults can be powerful during such a formative stage in life.
Women are also criticized for taking leadership roles in the workplace, and they are often looked over for promotions. When a women tries to lead a project, she is “bossy,” “annoying,” or “shrill,” as opposed to men who are “great leaders” who “show initiative.” Additionally, many employers still unlawfully ask women in interviews for leadership positions if they are married, and if they have or plan to have children. If they appear as if they have or may have children in the future, perhaps it would be best to select a different candidate for the position or the promotion. On the other hand, it makes no difference to employers whether men are married with children. Their wives will relinquish their careers to care for their children, obviously!
Well-intentioned employers often overlook women with children for promotions because they presume women will instinctively prefer or need to spend more time with their children instead of taking on more responsibilities with the company. Perhaps the position will require more travel, so a woman’s boss assumes she would either need or desire to retain the same schedule at home and passes over her for the promotion. Some people would say it is “considerate” of the boss to think of her family needs, but it would actually be more considerate of the boss to simply ask the woman if she is interested in the position and not automatically assume otherwise.
Another obstacle in the fight for gender equality is that many women actually inadvertently stereotype or discriminate against other women both inside and outside of the workplace. It is challenging for us as Americans to view life through a non-gendered lens because of the social construction of gender in our society. I will admit that sometimes I struggle with the same issue. If I find myself thinking negatively about a woman in a position of authority, I try to analyze if I think this way about her because she is a woman, or if I would I still view her in the same way if she were a man. Am I annoyed she tells me what to do because I unconsciously view her as a less legitimate authority than a man? Perhaps she is simply a more vexing person in general, but it is tough to discern if you view a female leader negatively because of her gender and digression from “proper” female behavior.
I am also a feminist because paid maternity leave is not the equivalent of a paid vacation, which is how the lovely Georgetown Academy newspaper likes to describe it. To describe maternity leave as a vacation is so absurd that I question if anyone who describes it as such actually knows what maternity leave is. Women bear the arduous task of carrying around another human inside them for 9 months, only to undergo a painful birthing experience from which it takes weeks or sometimes months to recover. While they recuperate, women and their spouses must also attend to the child’s needs every minute of every day. In addition to the exhaustion that new mothers face, they also need the time off to bond with their babies. According to Dr. Mary Beth Steinfeld of the University of California at Davis Medical Center, the first few months of a child’s life are critical bonding times for mothers and their babies’ normal child development.
The argument that women should not receive paid maternity leave because they choose to have children is severely flawed as well. By the same logic, companies should also eliminate all vacation days because one chooses to go on a vacation. Nonetheless, paid maternity leave is significantly more important than paid vacation days. Some women must be the ones to give birth to the next generation of humans. This responsibility that many women undertake is not a trivial matter; it is a matter of propagating the species. I would be interested in asking most men if they would be fine with never having kids because their wives or girlfriends could not afford to leave work for a bit without paid leave.
This scenario reminds me of one of my favorite quotes from the television show, “Veep.” The Vice President remarks, “If men got pregnant, you could get an abortion at an ATM machine.” Similarly, if men could become pregnant, paid paternity leave would probably be a basic right. If men received inequitable pay because of their gender, there would be stringent equal pay laws along with an Equal Rights Amendment.
Many people would label the issues that concern feminists as “women’s issues.” This categorization is incorrect. These are not only family issues; they are human issues.
If you have any woman in your life you care about, you should be a feminist. You should want your wife, mother, daughters, sisters, aunts, and friends to receive the wages and promotions they deserve. You should desire a world in which they can feel free to enter the same careers as men and undertake leadership positions. You should not condone the unfortunate truth that your loved ones may be compelled to choose between critical bonding time with their children and putting food on the table. These are humanitarian issues that affect over half of the country’s population. The time to remedy these issues is now so that your female loved ones do not suffer from discrimination and inequitable treatment anymore.