Friday, March 11, 2016

"Men Act and Women Appear"

While John Berger’s assertion that “men act and women appear” may be less true now than it has been in the past, it is still very relevant to our society today. More and more often, women in popular media are being portrayed as powerful in their own right, as opposed to only powerful via their interactions with men. On the other hand, women’s lack representation in STEM fields and politics hints at serious problems for gender equality in America.

In an increasing amount of popular television shows and movies, women are gaining more and more ability to act and becoming less focused on how they appear. In the hit adult cartoon Archer, the only actually competent secret agent in the entire show is a woman. The men in the show range from incompetent man-children to bimboes more worried about rearranging the furniture of their office than actually doing any espionage. Lana, the female spy, consistently has to come in and save the day after the other spies inevitably screw up. As a counterpoint to Lana’s obvious prowess as a secret agent, she is often made fun of for her obnoxiously large hands, which she is evidently very sensitive amount. Being the satire that Archer is, this is more likely a critique of how much importance is placed women’s appearance in spite of their obvious accomplishments than anything actually sexist. Lana’s role as an important (if not the most important) member of her spy agency serves as a direct contrast to the relatively useless “Bond Girls” of earlier times.

In politics, women possess an incredibly small amount of representation in comparison to their population. In a country where 51% of the population is female, less than 20% of congressional seats are held by women.  America now ranks ninety-eighth in the world for percentage of women in its national legislature, down from 59th in 1998. It is impossible to say that gender inequality is no longer a problem when there is clearly unequal representation in our government. In addition to being a problem for gender equality, one could assert that this is also a worrying sign for democracy in the United States as a whole. For a country built on fair representation, having so many people represented by such a minority is a serious problem.

Similar to their presence in politics, women comprise a much smaller amount of workers in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) fields than they should when compared to their representation in the workforce as a whole. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, women make up 47 percent of the total U.S. workforce, but constitute only 39 percent of chemists and material scientists, 28 percent of environmental scientists and geoscientists, 16 percent of chemical engineers and 12 percent of civil engineers. When talking about the challenges women face in STEM fields, Sarah Richardson, recipient of the 2015 For Women in Science Fellowship says that “We can manage our time better than anyone, but when we open our mouths and say ‘baby,’ everything changes,”. STEM-related jobs are one of the fastest growing sectors right now, so excluding women from them is a clear injustice. Besides potentially discouraging bright young women from pursuing what they’re interested in, it does nothing to help the 79 cents that women get paid to every man’s dollar.

By decreasing the gender gap in politics and STEM fields, our country can further the progress that is already happening in women’s portrayal in popular culture.

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