“The story of women’s struggle for equality belongs to no single feminist nor to any one organization but to the collective efforts of all who care about human rights.”
Those words from acclaimed journalist and women’s rights activist Gloria Steinem call us today, on the 109th International Women’s Day, to collective reflection and action toward a more just and equal society.
Echoing Steinem’s words, organizers of this year’s event, and the year-long action it’s meant to inspire, are reaching out to men as much as women, to embrace a balance of opportunity, status, respect and compensation that truly benefits all in society — male and female, young and old.
Taking up the slogan “Better the balance, better the world,” the organizers strike a hopeful tone that progress is being made, pushing discrimination and inequality into a more rapid decline.
“From grassroots activism to worldwide action, we are entering an exciting period of history where the world expects balance,” they wrote on the event’s website. “We notice its absence and celebrate its presence.”
It is fitting to have a day to celebrate advances in “gender balance.” We should celebrate its presence. But I, the middle-aged man from Oklahoma, would like to pause to point out its persistent absence.
You need not look far in our society to see just how far we still have to go before we can claim parity of opportunity between the sexes. And it starts with the way we see the world, from our news outlets to art, entertainment and sports.
Men produce 62.3 percent of news reports at 20 of the nation’s top news outlets, according to a 2017 Women’s Media Center study, while representation of women as anchors, field reporters and correspondents was in decline, falling to 25.2 percent of TV news reports.
A 2017 analysis of 2,000 screenplays found in 78 percent of Hollywood films a male lead has the most dialogue, and in 66 percent of films the second-leading speaking parts also are male. Only 18 percent of films featured women in two of the top three speaking roles.
The greatest disparity is in sports coverage, which skews wildly male. A 2017 USC study found 95 percent of sports anchors, co-anchors and analysts were male, while 90.1 percent of sports print editors were male. Coverage of women’s sports accounts for only 2-4 percent of airtime, even though 40 percent of competitive athletes and 43 percent of NCAA scholarship athletes are women, according to a 2017 University of Minnesota study.
It’s been 171 years since the women’s rights movement began in the U.S. at the Seneca Falls Convention. And still, our children today see and learn to accept as normal a society in which women’s voices and accomplishments are stifled to a staggering degree.
In esoteric terms, gender equality or balance is simply the right thing to do. If we’re to call ourselves a just society, finding that balance is imperative. But, for American women and families this isn’t just a philosophical conundrum. Gender inequality has real, tangible and damaging impacts.
men, adding up to a yearly wage gap of $12,055. Oklahoma women lose $10.2 billion yearly to pay inequality.
A more recent study by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research analyzed wage disparities between men and women in comparable jobs. According to that study, if women in the United States received pay equal to men in comparable jobs, poverty for working women would be reduced by half and the U.S. economy would add $482 billion.
Equal pay for equal work would cut the poverty rate nearly in half, 29.3 percent to 15.8 percent, for single working mothers. In Oklahoma, that reduction of single working moms’ families living below the poverty line would be almost a third — from 33.7 to 23.2 percent. That’s a significant impact in a state where one in five children live below the poverty line.
It is great that the world — or some of it — will pause today to celebrate advances made toward gender equality. But, we shouldn’t let that celebration hide from our view the glaring inequality that still plagues our society. There remains much work to do, and I fear its progress will remain glacially slow until the great mass of our society — male and female — decide to recognize and care that inequality persists.
We must embrace the truth if we wish to change its character. And, as Gloria Steinem quipped, “The truth will set you free, but first it will piss you off.”