Let’s talk about women.
For centuries, women could choose between two professions: wife or nun. Then, in the Victorian era, our choices practically doubled when “governess” was added to the mix. By 1965, women had a huge array of careers to chose from: “governess” was replaced by “teacher”, and secretary, nurse, and stewardess (flight attendant to you) were added to the mix. What else do women want?, I hear Don Draper ask.
It’s a fair question. On one hand, women’s rights have come a long way in the modern era. We can vote. We get paid for almost two-thirds of the work we do. We can control our own reproductive rights in most states, and no longer have to get written permission from our husbands for medical procedures.
On the other hand, how many pilots of commercial jets are female? According to The International Society of Women Airline Pilots , there are 4000. Sounds pretty good, until you learn there are 130,000 male pilots, or 97% of the total. How many female doormen are there? Doormen, as a profession, may seem a bit rarified – but it is interesting to note that while that most professions have are gender neutral titles (like firefighter instead of fireman), “doorman” has slipped through the cracks. Door person? Door guardian? So there’s more work here to be done, for sure. If you doubt me, then I’d suggest you may care to take a peek into your company’s IT department: I guarantee you’ll find it’s a bit light on the women as well.
In fact, let’s talk tech. Most of you know I was born to be a geek from Day One. Getting my hands on that first IBM XT was pure heaven. Learned how to code and structure databases on my own, and though I can’t take credit single-handedly for the spaghetti tangle of legacy systems that plague our nation’s enterprises, I did my part. At one point, I was an active member of the New York City Association for Women in Computing. So I’ll use my own experiences to illustrate three concepts: “active sexism”, “passive sexism”, and “an unwelcoming corporate culture”.
The first story illustrates the concept of “active sexism”. “Active sexism” is what happens when women are mocked for what the Victorians called “aspiring above their station”. During my years with the AWC, many men, upon seeing my card (to whit, “Association for Women in Computing”) would quip “Where’s the Association for Men in Computing”? They would chuckle loud and long, elbowing their friends in the ribs who would then choke on their own spit trying to suppress the hilarity. Although this is mild in comparison to what, say, a Donald Trump could dish up, it’s still pretty strong stuff for a buncha nerds. “The Association for Men in Computing? You mean the IT department?” I’d say, or words to that effect. It looks stupid in print, but delivered verbally with a steely glint to the eye, it worked like a charm and shut them right up.
The second problem is an “unwelcoming corporate culture”. This is more entrenched, and therefore, harder to eradicate with a fast one-liner. A story to illustrate this happened to me at a job fair (so yes, before the Internet was invented). As I was wandering from table to table, I was buttonholed by an earnest manager who was eager to recruit me to his tech team. Seems they were an unrelenting sausage fest in the gender department, and it had come to his attention that they could solve this problem by hiring a woman. During the course of our talk, he admitted that they were having a hard time finding and retaining female programmers. “And why do you think that is?” I asked. “I don’t know! We’re a really fun, great team! We have all-night coding sessions where we order pizza and play Star Wars Trivia games, and afterwards it’s fooz-tag in pajamas!” Hmmm….sounds delightful, guys!
The last problem is the most pervasive of all: “passive sexism”. Sometimes, passive sexism has an outpost in your own head, where it says things like “you’re not as pretty as her” or “let HIM be the breadwinner – you don’t want that kind of responsibility”. Most of the time, passive sexism is displayed in subtle ways, often by very nice people who you value and like. Let me tell you a story. I worked with someone for many years who was intelligent, well-mannered, well-spoken, kind, and an all-round solid stand-up kind of guy. One day, about a year into our professional working relationship, we needed to solve a programming problem together. After batting around a few ideas, I came up with a good solution he hadn’t thought of. “Wow! You’re clever!” he said. Now, this is obviously a compliment – and I took it as such. But I couldn’t help noticing that he didn’t say that to any of our male colleagues when they solved a problem. And do you know why? Because in his unconscious mind, men were clever until they proved themselves to be idiots, and with women – it was the other way around. It’s not his fault, but that’s what you’re up against.
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t expect decades of gender roles to be reversed in a few years…oh wait, I do. I do want decades of gender roles to be reversed, right now. Let’s start with housework. Who does the cooking? Who does the cleaning? Is it still Mom? Well, not in my house, but I think we’re in the minority. And, let’s face it, I’m still the one who unquestioningly keeps the family in toothpaste. What about the 70 cents on the dollar women earn compared to men doing the same jobs? I expect Hillary to do something about that, pronto. What about the double standard in looks? That one is considered to be so “normal” these days that I will have to write extensively about this, just to make a dent. It’s like when I told one of my daughter’s friends that I don’t really enjoy shopping – you could almost see her brain implode.
So, all you young women in your 20s, let’s see you get busy on this. Every generation, we women have done our part to make things better – now it’s your turn. Men aren’t going to do this, because there’s nothing in it for them. You’d better get cracking. Here are a few ideas to help you along.
- Make him do half the work at home. Less than a third is not half.
- Ask for more money at work. Ask for it constantly, consistently, and without letting your voice go up at the end of the sentence.
- Stop caring about how you look. They’ve taken over your brain, and now it keeps nattering on about clothes, style, how much you weigh and what you ate. Evict those voices. Delete those apps. You can learn to speak fluent Japanese in the time it takes to maintain your weight on a daily basis.
So that’s it. Easy. If we all do our part, we’ll have true gender equality just in time for global warming to make Florida disappear (so, another few decades or so, sisters?) Now that I’ve solved that problem, I’ll grasp the third rail firmly soon and talk about race.