As much as it pains my feminist heart to say this, I do not believe that women rule the world. Let me say that, as a feminist, I do not want women to rule the world- that’s not what feminism is about. Feminism, most basically, is about equality between the sexes. So really, I don’t want either sex to “rule the world.” Yet, again, I am disappointed. As much as I don’t want it to be true, as I see it now, men rule the world. And I hate that. Not because I’m an “angry feminist”…or wait…maybe that’s exactly what I am. And maybe that’s exactly what I should be.
As much as I want to believe that equality between the sexes really does exist, I have come to realize that, in the most important ways, it does not. And until it does, I will continue to be an angry feminist because I cannot and will not accept being seen as less than just because I am a woman. Inequality will never be okay with me. So, until people realize that one sex does not rule the world (or, in other words, until people realize that one sex does not rule over the other) I will continue to be angry.
I think that we have two big problems in the United States when it comes to combating this issue. The first, simply, is that because of our successes in certain areas of this struggle, we forget that there are huge, though possibly less visible, issues that still need significant attention. Our second problem is our difficulty in seeing and comprehending the world outside our borders. We think that the whole world is like us, and if they’re not, they don’t matter anyway. I believe it is this kind of thinking that has allowed the worst inequalities against women to continue.
In the United States, it is illegal to discriminate against women for being women in housing and employment matters. Women are legally permitted and socially expected to control their own finances, attend school (including higher education), have sex with whomever they choose who gives their consent, get married to the person of their choice (this right is obviously different for lesbian women and some bisexual and transgender women) and divorce them if things get too bad, receive medical attention and care, and plan how many children they want to have and when they want to have them. With all of these positives, I can see how a lot of otherwise uninformed or unaware people wouldn’t realize that underneath many of these accomplishments, there remains unresolved inequality and lasting gender bias.
Example 1: When you look at how much money women make in this country compared to how much men make in this country, you get this- 77:100. If the median income for a man is $100 a week, the median income for a woman is $77. This figure includes all jobs at all levels, so it is admittedly not a marker of a wage gap between sexes for the same job. But why is it that women, on average, have lower paying jobs? If men and women were really equal, they would have access to the same higher-paying jobs and the ratio of median income would be a lot closer.
Example 2: Not all companies offer maternity leave to new mothers, and those that do often don’t offer an adequate amount of paid leave.
In 1993, Congress passed the Family and Medical Leave Act:
[FMLA] entitles most workers to up to 12 weeks of job-protected medical leave for birth or adoption. However, the FMLA doesn’t cover those who work for smaller companies and guarantees only unpaid leaves.
Twelve weeks of unpaid leave when you’ve got a new baby at home? Who are they kidding? There are some more catches to this “safety net,” though.
You are among the 60 percent of U.S. workers who are eligible if you meet both of the following conditions:
• You work for the federal government, a state or local government, or any company that has 50 or more employees working within 75 miles of your workplace.
• You’ve worked for your employer for at least 12 months and for at least 1,250 hours during the previous year (an average of 25 hours per week for 50 weeks).
There are a few exceptions: Your employer isn’t required to keep your job open for you if you’re in the highest-paid 10 percent of wage earners at your company and your employer can show that your absence would cause substantial economic harm to the organization.
Another exception is if you and your partner work for the same company. In this case, you’re only entitled to a combined 12 weeks of parental leave between the two of you.
Ah, the joys of motherhood. BabyCenter.com predicts that while “some enlightened companies do offer new parents paid time off, up to six weeks in some cases,” many new mothers should expect to “use a combination of short-term disability, sick leave, vacation, personal days, and unpaid family leave during your time away from work.” Why all the hassle? Why so little respect?
Example 3: Abstinence-only education is a punishment to self-respecting women and girls. It promotes male supremacy and severely restricts female sexual autonomy. It shames women into ignoring their own natural, sexual desires, and makes them think that only their husband will know what’s best for them, sexually or otherwise.
Purity balls, references to chewed gum, clowns that threaten children with cinder blocks, and inaccurate information about condoms and STDs/STIs is not what is best for young people. Women and girls need to know that their desires are not shameful and do not mean that they are “dirty.” Having sex does not make you less valuable. We deserve the truth, not guilt-mongering lies.
And, rather than being harmfully skewed, bisexual, lesbian, and transgender women and their feelings, wants, needs, and desires are completely ignored. In the world of abstinence-only education, they don’t exist. Women of all sexual orientations deserve to be represented with dignity in their classrooms and in society at large.
Example 4: Many women feel pressured to be married by a certain age. The “old maid” stereotype isn’t as strong as it once was, but this kind of thinking starts young. Young girls await their “Prince Charming,” want to be married by a certain age, and have x number of kids by a certain age. But where’s the talk about a job, a career, making a difference in the community?
It’s not that “what do you want to be when you grow up?” is never talked about, but (if you’re female) think about when you were younger- what did you talk about more often or more extensively?- The career you would have and how you would get there?, or The guy of your dreams, what kind of flowers you would have at your wedding, the color of the bridesmaid’s dresses, what your dress would look like, where you would honeymoon? Society still says it’s “normal” for girls to put more thought into their wedding than their career.
Example 5: In terms of social pressure, there is another issue that women are never allowed to forget about: The constant threat of rape. As Jill Filipovic writes in her essay “Offensive Feminism: The Conservative Gender Norms That Perpetuate Rape Culture, And How Feminists Can Fight Back” (found in the book “Yes Means Yes”)
Men are 150% more likely be the victims of violent crimes than women are. […] Men are more likely to be assaulted, injured, or killed when alcohol is involved. Men are more likely to be victimized by a stranger […] And yet it is women who are treated to “suggestions” about how to protect themselves from public stranger assaults… [which] send the false message that women can prevent rape. -p. 23
…[T]he emphasis on rape as a pervasive and constant threat is crucial to maintaining female vulnerability and male power. That narrative, though, does more than just paralyze women- it privileges men. -p. 24
Victim-blaming is rampant in rape culture. And it’s disgusting. Think about this: If someone had their house burglarized and it was discovered that they had left their front door unlocked, would anyone suggest that the robber shouldn’t be punished because the homeowner was “asking” to be robbed?
Example 6: Independent health insurance for women can cost as much as 30-40% more than the cost for men. According to the New York Times, insurance companies say that women are charged higher premiums because “they are more likely to visit doctors [and] get regular check ups…” So now we’re being financially punished because we chose to keep our bodies healthy? That doesn’t seem fair. What makes sense is that an insurance company would encourage people to go on regular doctor visits so that they could prevent a serious illness and/or catch a serious illness in its early stages. But American health insurance companies make money, not sense.
But the 30-40% price disparity for independent coverage doesn’t even take into account the price of coverage for maternity costs. When applying, women must chose between a more expensive plan that covers pregnancy costs, or a less expensive plan that does not. But let’s say you chose the plan without pregnancy coverage and then, unexpectedly, you get pregnant. If you don’t want to have an abortion, you’re stuck paying out of pocket. And that’s a huge bill, especially if something goes wrong.
Speaking of planning for the unexpected, it has also been proposed in the Senate, as part of health care reform, that if women want insurance coverage for one of the most common medical procedures available to them (abortion), they must purchase an separate, additional rider to their policy. As if getting an abortion wasn’t already hard enough. (More on that later.)
Example 7: Right before leaving office, former President Bush implemented a “conscience clause.” According to CNN:
Under the rule, workers in health-care settings — from doctors to janitors — can refuse to provide services, information or advice to patients on subjects such as contraception, family planning, blood transfusions and even vaccine counseling if they are morally against it.
There have been many articles written about the fact that President Obama “plans on” reversing the regulations and that he is “in the process of” reversing them. But what about an official reversal? Where are those articles? The fact is, despite all the talk, President Obama has not reversed this incredibly harmful policy.
Example 8: Getting an abortion in this country may be legal, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. In fact, for many women it’s quite difficult (even when you don’t factor in the social stigma that still exists, even though for the past 30 years there have been over 1 million legal abortions performed each year. Which means that someone you know has had one.) The laundry list of hoops that women have to jump through just to receive this medical procedure is flat out insulting.
In 2007, 29 abortion restrictions were enacted in 14 states, capping a rapid rise in the number of new laws since 2000. Between 1985 and 1999, states passed an average of 11 new abortion restrictions each year. Since 2000, the rate has risen to 16 per year, according to Guttmacher.
The list of restrictions include parental notification laws, ultrasound requirements, waiting periods, and time limits. The restrictions also extend to clinic access- many states have only one or two clinics that offer the procedure. It’s also a quite expensive procedure (depending on many factors), and with no federal funding going toward helping women afford it (because of the Hyde Amendment), many women are forced to turn to other options (which sometimes means that she is risking her life to obtain an unsafe, illegal abortion).
Add to all of these examples the struggles that transgender women go through when they are told that they aren’t really women. The level of disrespect is shameful. Women must be allowed to make their own decisions, have the opportunities to implement those choices, and be free of ridicule or social stigma in doing so.
Outside of the United States, these inequalities and abuses, and their consequences, grow exponentially.
Women throughout the world are notoriously and chronically unemployed. This moves well beyond any notion of a slow economy or a weak job market, and goes much deeper than the idea of a pearl-wearing, dinner-preparing housewife in heels. Women have been flatly rejected or are brutally disrespected by employers who are willing to hire them (and who do so, largely, because they feel that women are more willing to work in poorer conditions and for lower wages). And don’t think for a moment that most of these women are permitted to self-manage their meager earnings. These money troubles become even more troublesome when you factor in how many women aren’t paid at all because their work is more accurately described as slave labor.
One powerful reason that women are so disadvantaged economically is directly related to their significant lack of education. While a quality education is hard to come by for both men and women in many parts of the world, boys have always been given priority over girls when it comes to schooling. Girls in developing countries are lucky to get just one or two years of schooling- never mind the 12 or 16 years or more that women in this country not only hope for but have come to expect. Deeply entrenched gender roles play a large part in this issue, and many others.
The striking lack of female sexual autonomy (that is, the power that females have over what happens to them sexually), is one of the biggest problems that women currently face. It has a wide range of implications and consequences and manifests itself in a variety of ways. This lack of basic control is one of the largest, most deeply entrenched, and most harmful barriers for women. Here’s why: How can anyone be expected to succeed- financially, mentally, and emotionally- when the promise of a job turns into the horror of being the victim of sex trafficking and being forced to smile at your rapists?, when the threat of HIV, other STIs/STDs, and pregnancy is constant because condoms are disregarded even when they’re available?, when marital rape is legal?, when abortion is illegal and women are forced to procure highly dangerous, “back-alley” abortions?, when maternal mortality rates are sky high?, when sick female children are kept at home while sick male children are taken to see a doctor because male children are seen as more valuable? Statistically, women live longer than men, so it makes sense that female populations would outnumber male populations. Yet, in the countries with the most dramatic gender inequalities, the opposite is the case. Any guess as to why that is?
So, when someone says “women rule the world”…what world are they living in?
If this is depressing you, that’s a good thing. Why? Because it means that you’re not okay with what’s going on. It means that, to you, this isn’t business as usual. But to so many, that’s exactly what it is- which is why this is still such a huge global problem.
This is why gender inequality is not a small or irrelevant issue. This is why feminism isn’t dead. This is why when you experience, or even hear about, an instance of gender inequality or an abuse toward females, even when it’s a “small” instance, you have to do something about it. You owe it to yourself, and every woman, to stand up, speak up, and keep being a “loud, angry feminist” until someone takes you seriously. It’s time to take women and girls seriously.
To read more on this subject, I highly recommend the following books, which were the inspiration for this post:
- Yes Means Yes: Visions of Female Sexual Power and a World Without Rape- by Jaclyn Friedman and Jessica Valenti
- Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide- by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn