Friday, February 15, 2008

Why Don't Women Rule the World?

My last post ended with a suggestion that the world might be a better place if women ran it. Will left this comment which got me thinking.

"Yes, the world might be better off with women running it; however, I wonder if we will ever know. Having gone through the sixties at a very impressionable age, I thought the influence of women at all the "decision making levels" in our society would surely make it a better society. I have been disappointed my friend. Apparently women do not want that. Look at how few women are in congress .. on the supreme court, etc., etc. (shouldn't it be about 50%?) What happened?" Will

I don't think it's that women don't want to be in positions of power. I think it is more complicated than that. I still believe that by and large, the world is a gentleman's club. I believe that the glass ceiling still exists in many sectors of commerce and government. In some cases this may be deliberate and probably not in other cases.

In my town, we have a county government that would put any good old boy network to shame. Really. There have been court orders and lawsuits to sort the whole mess out. Basically, a bunch of guys named Scooby, Lumpy, JJ and Jimmy control a large part of our county government through deals and nepotism. If you are not in with these dudes, you're toast. Hopefully the voters will toss the bums out this election cycle. At any rate, they have had a large degree of influence over which of their golf buddies or relatives get placed in appointed positions, and most of those placements went to men. While this is very much out in the open where I live, it is better concealed in other locales.

I also think that the fact that many women leave the work force to have children accounts for some of their absence in positions of power. They often take a couple of years off in their twenties or thirties and this stalls their rise. When they do go back to work, they face judgements and concerns about their dedication to their work. I have a very good friend who was subtly reprimanded when she told her employer she was pregnant with her second child. The employee evidently saw her pregnancy and maternity leave as a problem and almost a sign of disloyalty to the company. I believe this is very common and probably affects many women in that they are not as likely to be promoted as their male colleagues.

Age also comes in to play here. Usually people who reach the level of Supreme Court Justice or CEO are nearing the end of their careers and have been working many, many years to get where they are. The women who have reached this age did not begin their careers in as open a workplace. When they were in college, they may not have believed that they had every opportunity in front of them, as girls now believe. They may have been steered more towards nursing, teaching, or other historically female careers. Even if they entered more typically male careers, like law, they had to spend the first 15 years or so battling sexism. This sets them behind several years. I suspect that in the next 10-15 years, we will see more women in roles of power because those women began their careers on more equal footing.

I also think that many women still have subconscious notions of their gender role, especially in some parts of the country, the south in particular. Even in my generation, which was reared after the whole ERA movement, many women still hold unvoiced ideas about what a woman's role is. For example, I know many other stay-at-home moms who still feel obligated to iron their husband's shirts, cook dinner ever night, and try to change out of the sweats we wear all day for when our husbands come home. I fall into this mindset myself, and I was raised to believe I am an equal to any man. When I catch myself thinking these types of thoughts or feeling obligated to perform some typically female role in my home, I try to remind myself that my job is to take care of my children and that is a full-time job for me. It is every bit as taxing as my husband's job, just in an entirely different way. My job at home does not necessarily entail performing services for my husband which he could very well do for himself. I often go ahead and do it, because it is easier for me sometimes and because I am grateful to him for being able to provide enough for me to stay home with our children. My point is, though, that many women still have some degree of gender programming in them, whether they admit it or not and this programming influences the roles they take in their homes and in their workplaces.

When I was around 11 years old, I was told I could never be President. I was at a church camp in a group of children being lead by a middle-aged male and we were discussing what we wanted to be when we grew up. A lover of politics even at a young age, I said that I wanted to be President one day. The man in charge laughed said, "Honey, you can't be President, you're a girl. Only men are Presidents." Honest to God, that is exactly what he said to me and I will never forget it. Girls are fed messages all the time about what they can or can't be. Every time our society values a supermodel or sexy pop star more than an a female engineer, scientist, or elected official, they hear this message. Every time they are laughed at and made fun of at school for having the correct answers, they are fed this message. Every time they are spoken down to by an older male, they are fed this message. Every time they turn on MTV and see scantily clad women gyrating on male rap stars and being referred to as bitches and ho's, they are feed this message. In American pop culture, our face and body are valued more than our brains. Until this changes, many young women may not make the effort to strive for greatness.

Hillary Clinton's presidential bid is an interesting thing to watch. I absolutely believe that one reason she is so hated by so many people is that she defies our ideas of what a woman should be. She is brilliant, shrewd, calculating, and (sorry Hillary) not pretty in a conventional way. If a male leader, a military leader for example, exemplified these traits, he would be exalted. Because she is a woman, it turns people off. This is the reason she got a boost for her tears in New Hampshire. Conventional wisdom would tell you that crying is a death sentence for a female candidate, but for her, because she is seen as being so cold and masculine, it helped. It will be interesting to see what happens with her in the rest of the election.

Thanks for your comment, Will! I was kind of getting tired writing about fluff! What does everyone else out there think?

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