Some recent headlines caught my eye:
“Putting women on pedestals” (New York Times, September 4, 2017): Of the 925 public statues in Britain, only 25 are status of historical women who are not royalty. To be made into a statue, a woman had to be a naked muse, royalty, or the mother of God. In the U.S. less than eight percent of public statues are female. Nine of 411 national parks are dedicated to women’s history. Where are the role models girls and women can aspire to?
“How to Disrupt Silicon Valley Sexism” by Anita Hill (New York Times, August 9, 2017): “Women under 25 earn an average twenty-nine percent less than their male counterparts. Women of all ages received lower salary offers than men for the same job at the same company sixty-three percent of the time. They hold only eleven percent of executive positions at Silicon Valley companies and own only five percent of tech startups. Only seven percent of partners at the top 100 venture capital firms are women.” Her suggestion is to start class action lawsuits as the only way to make a difference.
Women accusing men of stature are not believed and risk their diplomas, day jobs or night shifts. When women report harassment, they are fired, ostracized, and not able to find work. The Federal Bureau of Justice Statistics reports that from 2006 to 2010, sixty-five percent of sexual assaults went unreported! What’s the point if you won’t be believed? American film producer Harvey Weinstein has been harassing vulnerable women for years according to recent headlines; he was fired following allegations of sexual harassment. Women have finally been stepping forward at work and speaking up, whether they are victims or witnesses to sexual harassment, and finally believed. This provides an opportunity for others to follow suit.
There are a number of hypotheses as to why the bias against women continues:
1. It is in the genes: Men were the hunters, needing to compete for game. Women were the gatherers of roots and berries, needing to collaborate and help care for each other’s children. Boys like competitive games; not so for girls. In the playgrounds and playing fields of life girls don’t throw as far, don’t run as fast, don’t yell as loud. So boys are stronger and, therefore, perceived as superior. One of the worst things that can happen to a boy is to lose a race to a girl. The same holds true for men when competing with women for the head office.
2. It is cultural: Women are mothers and seen as needing to stay home and raise children and, therefore, are more of a risk as employees. Women look more often for balance between work and family while men have a higher drive for status and power. Since women are less competitive than men, they have harder time pushing for promotions and salary increases.
3. It is an issue of power and control: Men are holding on to power and fight against anyone wanting to usurp it. Today’s statistics only confirm the bias that power and influence are mostly in male hands.
4. It is about the comfort zone: There is a discomfort with people we perceive as different. We put down what threatens us; we make fun of what makes us uncomfortable; we ignore what disturbs us. The people in power (who in our culture are mostly white men) have the prerogative of deciding who will be hired and promoted. This unease with the dissimilar does not only target women; it also affects the way men deal with people of color, the disabled, and the elusive gender people. They are all viewed as others and, therefore, foreign and to be avoided. Comfort is in being with people most like oneself. Because these feelings are usually unconscious, most men would deny their existence, but as we know, much of our unconscious dictates our behaviors.
Men and women have different skills, different ways of interacting, different interests. Women are inherently cooperative; men are more competitive. Most organizations need teams working together, which is what women excel at. Given that women are more open to feelings, they relate more to people, as opposed to men who are more interested in accomplishments. We need both the masculine and the feminine differing world views. By reiterating this as a positive, we may be able to learn to value these differences as essential to succeed for a well functioning society—and yes, for our survival. These are not hard and fast behaviors for all; they are tendencies that need to be recognized and valued.
Gender and race bias work in various combinations depending on the century and the culture. While today’s headlines are screaming about inequality, the new awareness already has a backlash. The New York Times (September 24, 2017) headline about “Inequality Roiling Tech” and men want a say: “The backlash follows increasingly vulgar harassment revelations in Silicon Valley, long identified as one of the more hostile work environments for women.” As the women are gaining ground, men are resisting. According to James Altizer, an engineer, “feminists in Silicon Valley had formed a cabal whose goal is to subjugate men.” As soon as there are a couple of steps forward, there is a step back. What we are seeing here is men’s fear of losing power and control. The talk of “cabals” points to the fear of women overtaking men. We are back in the playground and the pervasive threat of girls winning. Men are wrong in their paranoia—women don’t want to win; they want a chance at equal opportunities for promotions, for equal pay, and an equal chance to do a good job.
Some recent headlines caught my eye: