A recent issue of Newsweek celebrated International Women's Day with portraits of "150 Women Who Shake the World." (Though "save" might be a better word than "shake" - for these are inspirational women who do so much good for all of us.) Many of these women are household names, and Hillary Clinton is featured on the cover, but many are not, and the coverage is global, highlighting issues ranging from women's rights and violence against women to peace activism, ecology, politics and economics.
This is what I have elsewhere described as glory feminism and we need more of it. We need to recognize and celebrate women's (and men's) achievements, and the symbiosis between them, rather than to keep harping on victimitis in victim feminism and its corollaries; demonizing men as oppressive of women, and the knee-jerk (but necessary) response of victim masculinism. Not that we should avert our eyes from adversities, including what the Economist called gendercide in India due to sex selection (9 April 2011), and the bodies of 10 young women found at Jones Beach, N.Y., presumed victims of a serial killer. But we can cheer up too: Gender is not just about victims and demons. Certainly women and men are victims of a number of adversities in this life, not always equally; and both may be villains in their own not especially lovable ways. They may also be heroes or heroines if you prefer gender specific language. And these 150 women exemplify heroism at its finest. They also indicate the speed, the depth and the acceleration of the changes in gender relations in the last 100 years, particularly in the so-called West.
The expansion of rights for women: voting, educational, financial, property, employment and occupational, marital, reproductive and so on is matched by achievements. Women now constitute 18% of the senior positions in Canada's 468 largest companies (not parity, true, but increasing every year), 60% of those graduating with Bachelors and Masters degrees (i.e. 50% more than men) in both the U.S. and Canada, and more doctorates than men in the U.S. this year for the first time. Politics has been transformed not only by protective and promotive legislation (e.g. quotas for women in legislatures and corporations) but especially by women's achievements in becoming Prime Ministers, Presidents or Chancellors of so many countries so soon after universal suffrage: Sri Lanka first, but also the UK, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Germany, India, Ireland, Liberia, Pakistan, Trinidad and Tobago and many others, such that the U.S., Japan and Italy alone of the G7 have not elected women to the highest office. Indeed the latest news is that the first lady of Guatemala is ending her eight-year marriage to the President, who cannot run for office again, so that she can (1); but I guess she can marry him again after the divorce is finalized, if she wants to.
These educational and political achievements have reinforced (and reflected) processes of change in occupational distribution and therefore income. Women have become doctors and lawyers, truckers and cab drivers, police officers and army officers, occasionally firefighters and even priests; and Nobel Peace Prize winners. At the same time, men's occupations have shifted with the decline of the primary and secondary (manufacturing) sectors of the economy, due to outsourcing, downsizing, robotization etc, and the rise of the service sector and the knowledge economy, both of which favor women. The occupational world has changed totally since Tennyson's day: "Man for the field and woman for the hearth. Man for the sword and for the needle she. Man with the head and woman with the heart. Man to command and woman to obey. All else confusion."
The result has been a significant equalization in wages. Problems perhaps persist. At the same time Newsweek reported that, "Women earn 33 cents less per dollar than men" (p.50). The following issue asserted that they earned 75% of the average male income (p.13). Confusing but also misleading: many readers believe that this differential reflects significant economic discrimination against women. Not really. A recent report from the U.S. Department of Labor dismisses this myth. The DOL report states that "the raw wage gap" between male and female full-time workers had shrunk from 37.9% in 1970 to 21.5% in 2007, and states that "the raw wage gap continues to be used in misleading ways to advance public policy agendas without fully explaining the reasons behind the gap." (2) The Time figures of 33% and 25% are therefore fortunately off the mark and the higher estimate perhaps conflates full-time and part-time workers, an elementary error of statistics. So what about this 21.5% gap? Most of this raw wage gap is explained, according to the DOL, not only by the fact that women are more likely to work part-time than men, they are also more likely to leave the labor force to have children, and to stay home perhaps for years, and for elder care; some is explained by women choosing "family friendly" occupations (indoors, safe, sales) whereas some men choose the higher-paying (more dangerous or dirtier) jobs; women tend to work fewer hours per week, fewer weeks per year and fewer years per life. Most of this can be quantified; but not al. The decision whether to accept pay or to have the company pay health insurance, or to select a company that does.
The conclusion: "The differences in raw wages may be almost entirely the result of the individual choices being made by both male and female workers" (p.2). Certainly individual choices are constrained by cultural norms; but equally, they do exist. Given that about 80% of the jobs lost in the 2008-2009 meltdown, or mancession, as it has been called, were to men, (although to be fair Catalyst offers other data) and given that the educational advantages of women will likely persist over time, (little concern has been voiced about the 20% education gap), it seems probable that the average income disparities will be reversed in the near future (especially if one excludes Buffet and Gates from the equation). All of which may cause some Tennysonian "confusion."
That said, clearly not only is the meaning and structural reality of gender changing rapidly, but also we are becoming much more gender-equal societies, and also more meritocratic. And that is a glory to us all which we should celebrate. Yet while the gender equity has been closing in politics, occupations and incomes it has been widening in education. Furthermore the overall income inequality gap between top and bottom quintiles has been widening. It sometimes seems that as one gap closes another opens.
All this was made possible, in terms of proximate causes, by the pill, first approved by the FDA in 1960 and facilitating a precipitous drop in the fertility rate, which in turn facilitated women's access to education, jobs, money, the women's movement etc (discussed earlier); and in terms of more remote causes, by the values of the Enlightenment, epitomized by the Declaration of Independence and the slogans of the French Revolution. It has taken a while for the new values of liberty, equality and human rights to be implemented in structural reform, and the process is still continuing, as struggles over rights and freedoms continue, and the revolts in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, Zimbabwe and elsewhere testify. Still, while we will deal with our problems, we can also celebrate our glories.
(1) Globe and Mail 22 March 2011.
(2) U.S. Department of Labor, 12 January, 2009: An Analysis of the Reasons for the Disparity in Wages between Men and Women. CONSAD Research Corporation.