Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Slowly But Surely Wins the Race

2016 has the potential to make history for many reasons, one of the most prominent being the very real possibility of having the first female president. This has given rise to a nation-wide discussion on gender roles, feminism, and women’s rights. This is definitely not the first time in American history that feminism has gained traction; in fact, it is usually seen as third (or even fourth) wave feminism. The early waves of feminism focused directly on problems that were blatantly wrong in society (such as the right to vote). In more recent years, however, the focus of the feminist movement has shifted away from more obvious issues and has begun to attack the underlying, oppressive ideals still visible in society today. Although most of the oppressive dominant ideologies surrounding women in society are not consciously practiced by the large majority, lasting remnants of these ideals can be seen in the inequality which women in America face on a daily basis.

One of the most prominent examples of this underlying bias is in the inequalities between men and women in the workforce. During the early feminist movements, this inequality was obvious; women were simply told not to work outside the home because the “public sphere” was for men. Today, this inequality is not so obvious, and in fact, some women (and men) do not realize it exists. In today’s society it is perfectly acceptable for a woman to work outside the home, and it is even encouraged and promoted. Unfortunately, even though most women feel that they can work outside the home without being ridiculed for it, women also feel that it will be harder for them to succeed in society, because the workplace itself is unequal. For starters, the average woman in America gets paid 79 cents to every male dollar. This is a blatant appearance of inequality, yet it is too often overlooked because people do not realize it exists. Those who do can sometimes be discouraged from putting in their maximum effort because they know no matter how hard they try, they will still be rewarded less than their male counterpart. Another problem with the workforce is the imbalance of women to men in certain jobs, particularly those involving engineering or computer science. The ratio of men to women is startlingly high in these professions, which leaves both a bad and good impression on women. On one side, it is somewhat daunting to enter an occupation dominated by men, but on the other, this imbalance has led to an increase in demand for women interested in these professions, making it more likely for them to get a job. Unfortunately, this inequality can still deter women from entering the workforce out of fear of seeming hypermasculine or bossy.

Another aspect of bias in American society is that revolving around women participating in sports. These days, no one openly rejects the thought of a girl participating in a sport; just like working outside the home, it is now encouraged. This support, however strong it may be, does not diminish the fact that women’s athletics simply are not given the support and funding that men’s are. For example, at my school, the football team (which consists of all males), is by far the most promoted sport in the building. Almost all resources are devoted to spreading the word about football games during the fall season, and the same goes for basketball (and somewhat baseball) during the winter and spring. There is next to no publicity for any girls sport, during any season. This creates an air around girls sports that they are not as legitimate and are not as important, which can be discouraging toward high school girl athletes. This inequality can also be seen on a national scale. It is rare to see coverage of a women’s game or tournament on prime tv, but a men’s football or baseball game is a normal occurrence. This inequality dampens young girls from striving to achieve great things in athletics, because once again, they know they will not be as rewarded for their efforts as their brothers will be. 

A third aspect of daily life that women often feel constricted within is sexuality. Whether it is wanting to wait until marriage to have sex, or having the agency to have sex as much as she wants, women are almost always portrayed in a negative way. A woman who wants to wait is often portrayed by the media as prudent and even rude, while a woman who is sexually open is portrayed as slutty and a whore. These appearances make women feel as though their sex lives are something to be kept a complete secret, out of fear of being publicly ridiculed. On the contrary, men who want to wait to have sex are portrayed as innocent and cute, and if they are open about their sex lives, they are uplifted and even praised for it. This is a clear inequality that oppresses women and makes them feel ashamed to have natural human desires.

The fight for gender equality is far from over, but it has come a long way since it started. Now that women in American society have the tools to attack the deeply-rooted stereotypes that are engraved in the large majority’s minds, even more substantial progress can be made. Equality, however, will never be fully achieved unless women feel that they have the same capabilities, success rates, and freedom that men do.

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