Speaking of Women's Rights: Toasting with a Glass Half Full. Or Half Empty. Or Both.

Thursday, December 31, 2009

Toasting with a Glass Half Full. Or Half Empty. Or Both.

It seems just about everybody is glad to bid 2009 ‘good-bye, good riddance, don’t let the door hit your rear on the way out’. Before we do, though, I can’t resist one of those “10 (or so) Best and Worst” lists. It’s a reflection of sorts on the status of women in our society, as filtered through the media.

Most Uplifting News:
Old stereotypes can be destroyed. Girls are NOT worse at math than boys -- except in sexist societies. In countries with gender equity, and, I suspect, with stellar educational systems, girls do as well as boys. Sadly, the U.S. has . . . neither. Yet. But at Legal Voice we’re doing everything we can to take care of the equity issue.

Americans believe that women have more of the attributes necessary or desirable to be a good political leader than men do. (No offense intended to great male leaders; I didn’t do the research, I’m just re-reporting it.) Those attributes include honesty, intelligence, creativity and decisiveness, all of which points to more stereotype destruction.

The truth about women's leadership is also emerging, if slowly, in business. A number of studies have shown that women score better on a number of leadership issues, when rated by peers, subordinates and bosses, and that they are viewed as overall better leaders.

For the first time ever, five women received a Nobel Prize in one year, and they included not only women in the arts (not common, but not that remarkable) but also in the sciences and in economics, which occur much more rarely. No longer must we stop our Nobel list-making at Marie Curie.

Women can be just as greedy and immoral as men (back to eliminating stereotypes). Among the AIG executives who resigned in a huff because they might not get paid $10 million or so is corporate vice chair Anastasia Kelly. But some commenters have pointed out that she’s getting much more flak than the men are, and had to work much harder to get where she just was. Okay, maybe this one goes in the second half.

On the Flip Side:
Even though women are widely perceived to have the traits of great political and business leaders, Americans still don't think women make better leaders. And women lag far behind men in holding top executive positions in corporations. What’s up with that? Can you say ‘cognitive dissonance’? Well, I guess not, and that’s part of the problem.

Oh, and women still get paid far less. No need to say more than that (and too many sources to bother citing them). Except that women of color get paid even less than white women, putting them at the bottom of the legendary, and often illusory, American ladder to success.

Also, women’s enormous productivity in the workplace isn’t matched by appropriate laws, policies or societal views supporting adequate (in some arenas, any) paid leave, flexible work schedules, or accommodations for the real lives of women, men or families. For that matter, it’s not matched by true comprehension and acknowledgement of the dimensions of this problem and the havoc it wreaks not only for families, but for our society as a whole and for our economic future.

We still have to count the number of women who win prizes, are great leaders, are considered important, etc. (yes, see the Nobel Prize item above.) When we can’t count them anymore, then we’ll have equality.

Even when we count them, we don’t count them. Voters in the Associated Press poll couldn’t come up with 10 top female athletes who are also women. Come on, people, HORSES? Yes, great athletes, those horses. But I don’t see equines on the list of top male athletes. Actually, let’s debate whether the top 10 males are actually men, Mr. Steroid Guys.

Finally, Ellen Goodman has stopped writing a regular column, four decades after she – and the full-blown women’s movement, really – started out. Yes, she’s only one woman, and no, I didn’t always agree with her, but Ms. Goodman’s insight, passion and wit will be sorely missed. And as she noted, we’re at a point of good news/bad news for the movement, with undeniable progress and much still left to do.

AND WE WILL DO IT. Count on it. Join us.