Many are quick to jump to the conclusion that the war on gender inequality is long over because of the variety of employment opportunities women are able to take advantage of these days. But, as Newsweek writer Jessica Bennett writes, “Just as the first black president hasn’t wiped out racism, a female at the top of a company doesn’t eradicate sexism” (“Are We There Yet?”). Statistics tell this story the best. Women are just 3% of Fortune 500 CEOs and less than a quarter of law partners and politicians (“Are We There Yet?”). Women comprise 7% of directors in the top 250 grossing films. Women hold only 3% of all clout positions in mainstream media (Newsom). Despite having earned higher college GPAs in all subjects, young women in all professions will take home 80% of what their male colleagues do. Finally, the four most common female positions of 2010 were secretary, registered nurse, teacher, and cashier. Replace nurse with “domestic help,” and we would be looking at the top female jobs from 1960 (“Are We There Yet?”). So if 56% of college undergraduates are women and we earn higher GPAs in all subjects, why aren’t there more women entering prestigious jobs? Faced with such overwhelming inequality, people are quick to blame it on the fact that many women are also mothers, which can indeed limit a woman’s potential in the workplace. But childless women, a decade out of college, who work full time, still make only 77 cents for every dollar a man makes (“Are We There Yet?”).
It very well may not be the job of mothering that keeps most women out of other jobs. According to Bennett’s article in Newsweek, recent studies have shown that young women avoid leadership positions for fear they will be labeled “bossy” and are four times less likely then men to negotiate a first salary because women who demand higher starting salaries are perceived as “less nice” and thus less likely to be hired. Women will actually hold themselves back in the workplace out of fear they will be dubbed “disagreeable” or “a bitch.” Some of us are holding ourselves back. We might hold our tongues and accept smaller salaries in order to stay in the good graces of the male population. We might prioritize men over one of the most fulfilling aspects of life: pursuing a career. As for those who do rise to positions of power, it is likely that many have wondered at least once if their success had anything to do with their looks and if their work is even valuable at all (“Are We There Yet?”).
Women are inferior to men in the workplace, whether it is because they do not make as much money for the same work, are not respected enough to get promoted, or suppress themselves out of fear of being unladylike. This last reason I think is the most disturbing—women deliberately keeping themselves down. It says quite a lot about American culture if today’s young women would rather remain in inferior positions than be called bitch. There is something in that word that must profoundly affect our sense of self-worth. How can we find it so devastating to be called bitch (i.e. unsuitable for men) but not to be seen as mentally inferior, or almost servant-like? We clearly have a long way to go when it comes to gaining gender equality if women feel like they need to avoid power in order to retain femininity. Unfortunately, this prevailing mentality is unlikely to be fixed by policy. The burden then is on us. What would you say to the young women in your life to encourage them to speak up in a professional setting?
Bennett, Jessica. “Are We There Yet?” Newsweek 18 Mar. 2010: n. pag. The Daily Beast. Web. 10 Apr. 2013. <http://www.thedailybeast.com/ >.
Newsom, Jennifer Siebel, dir. Miss Representation. Girls’ Club Entertainment, 2011. Film.