“Although the official ideology and the government support liberty and equality, men and women do not share an equal status in the United States.”
In order to respond to the statement that “although the official ideology and the government support liberty and equality, men and women do not share an equal status in the United States,” it seems to me that it would be helpful to more broadly define what is meant by the word “status.” Therefore I will briefly discuss the legal, political, economic, and cultural status of women in the United States. In this way a conclusion may be drawn as to if and why the initial statement is valid.
The Legal Status of Women.
Let us assume that the words “official ideology” in the above statement refers to the constitution, legislation and court precedent over the nearly two hundred and thirty years’ history of the United States of America. These are the documents that describe and implement the ideas that our nation ascribes to and must be consulted to determine the legal status of women.
Although encouraged in letters by his wife Abigail to “remember the ladies” (Butterfield), John Adams was clear that he and the other authors of the new constitution intended to preserve a patriarchal system when he replied “Depend upon it, we know better than to repeal our Masculine systems” (Butterfield). The fourteenth amendment to the constitution guarantees due process to all persons, but qualifies this by referring only to “male citizens” in its second section (Ireland). In July 1848 at Seneca Falls, N.Y., Elizabeth Cady Stanton proclaimed “all men and women are created equal” and that “the history of mankind is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations on the part of man toward woman.” (Rothenberg, 449) This proclamation, harkening back to the founding documents of our nation was the opening salvo in a battle for women’s rights that would achieve a major victory with the gaining of the right to vote in 1920. Other legislation passed during the late 1800’s granted civil and contractual rights to married women (Compton). The deaths of hundreds of young women during the shirtwaist factory fire of 1911 called attention to the plight of women workers and their lack of basic rights galvanizing both the labor movement and the demands for women’s suffrage. While the passage of the nineteenth amendment in 1920 guaranteed women the right to vote it was a very narrow, albeit powerful, entitlement. The equal rights amendment, a much broader amendment guaranteeing that “equality of rights under the law should not be denied or abridged on account of sex” was passed by the United States Congress and sent to the states for ratification but failed to pass after prolonged attempts that it should do so (ACLU). Reintroduced in 2003, it has yet to come to another vote before the Senate or House of Representatives. A final telling fact about the status of women in the United States is that it is the only developed nation that has failed to ratify the Convention to Eliminate All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), an international treaty delineating the basic rights of women (Brettell, 327)
The Supreme Court has defended and expanded the rights of women for the past thirty years but more recently the majority on the court willing to vote strongly in favor of women’s rights appears to be shrinking (NWLC). Should George W. Bush be reelected to a second term, he will be probably have the opportunity to appoint as many as three replacement justices to the court. Should they be young, conservative justices, some say that women’s rights before the law may be at risk for the next forty years. While today women appear to enjoy many legal protections and rights, it is up to individual women to exercise these rights. But even though the past three decades have produced tremendous legal gains for women, some feel that they still do not have full constitutional protection that an equal rights amendment would give them (ACLU). All these factors represent significant indicators that women in our society do not yet have equal status before the law.
The Political Status of Women.
In order to compare the political status of men versus women in the United States, we may focus on the male / female composition of the political parties, the elected civil government, and the military. In 1992, women made up more than half of the electorate (Fitzpatrick) and continue to vote in numbers equal with men. After the 2000 election there were twelve female senators, a thirty-three percent increase and fifty-nine female house members, a five percent increase. Still these numbers represent a very small percentage of the total number of members in the congress. The two developed countries that have the highest percentage of women elected to their parliaments are Norway and Sweden with approximately forty percent each (Bonvillian 224). Ironically, these two countries are also well known for their patriarchal culture. Madeleine Albright, the former Secretary of State, is the highest-ranking female political official to ever serve in our government (Gendergap). While there has never been a woman candidate for President of the United States, Geraldine Ferraro ran for vice-president in 1984 along with presidential candidate Walter Mondale, the former V.P. under President Carter. Mondale and Ferraro subsequently lost the race to Ronald Wilson Reagan who was reelected to a second term by a landslide. During his first term in 1981, Reagan had appointed Sandra Day O’Connor to be the first female Supreme Court Justice. President Bill Clinton appointed another woman, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg to the court in 1993. Both O’Connor and Ginsberg are still sitting justices. In addition, out of the 1,612 Federal judges, three hundred and thirty-two (20.6%) are women, over twice as many as there were in 1997 (Gendergap). We tout these advances as demonstrating a steady progression towards gender equity, but must also remember that the population of the United States is approximately fifty percent women.
Even though there is much evidence that women are successful as police officers and firefighters in this country, and have served honorably and valiantly in the armed services of other countries (Brettell 29) the United States has still not removed many restrictions against woman soldiers performing combat duty (Brettell 22). We can never realistically maintain that women share an equal status in the United States until the numbers of men and women in our government, judiciary and military are more or less even.
The Economic Status of Women.
Author and educator Camile Paglia once said, “It is capitalist America that produced the modern independent woman. Never in history have women had more freedom of choice in regard to dress, behavior, career, and sexual orientation.” Women’s entry into the marketplace is a modern example of “contribution to subsistence” (Stone 15) and has been a major factor in the increased status of women in the United States. Still, women in the workplace often report limitations imposed upon them due to “internalized sexual stereotypes that discourage women from seeking work in careers” traditionally labeled as “masculine”, or from acting in a competitive and assertive manner thereby running the risk of being considered “unfeminine”(Blau 175).
It is a fact that for the past thirty years the disparity between rates of pay for men and women in the same job has steadily decreased (Blau, 260). The speed with which this gap has been closing has slowed as it has narrowed. Many reasons are given for why women on the average are still paid only approximately 95 percent (Furchgott-Roth) of what men make in comparable positions. In many cases women are not paid less simply because they are women; but because individual employers assume they can pay someone less than the next person for the same job. This is not done from a desire to deny women their rights per se, but because it is a way to reduce costs and increase profit. This happens to men as well as women who are often unaware of what others are being paid or are aware and are hesitant about refusing to accept less. Salary estimates may be accomplished by accessing data contained in national labor surveys and having a clear picture of one’s worth in the market place or by being a member of a labor union and collectively negotiating pay rates. Statistical data supports the idea that women are more likely to support collective bargaining but are not usually employed in fields that have a history of organized unions (Blau, 295) We are a capitalist, market driven society, and because of this, women have been able to make greater progress toward gender equity in the marketplace than in any other area of American society. But it is obvious when we look at the gender of the presidents and CEO’s of the companies in our nation, at the middle managers, retail general managers, and production foremen, that women do not hold an equitable share of these postions.
The Cultural Status of Women.
It seems to me that government is not the overriding authority in the lives of men and women nor is politics or economics. These three effect and are affected by culture, but by far culture is the overriding factor. Culture is all around us pervading every aspect of our thoughts, our lives, and our behavior. “Gender” is the word used by anthropologists to describe the combination of factors, ie: roles, ideology, and identity, augmented by the influence of ethnicity, class, and religion, that have a cumulative effect upon how male and female humans view and conduct themselves in a particular society (Brettell 69) All of these factors revolve around the society’s culture. Today our cultural viewpoint is constantly informed by the arts, music, and information provided by commercial media conglomerates.
Consider the family. Many Americans, especially a few decades ago, would describe the ideal family consisting of a father who is able to earn enough money to support his wife who is the mother to a couple of their kids (Brettell 127). But historically the nuclear family is a relatively recent concept. For the greater part of recorded history, the individual’s survival has more often depended upon the tribe, or upon the extended family. This type of domestic network is an indicator of the level of cooperation and stability within a society (Brettell 361). Brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles, neighbors, the church, all these were likely to provide substantial amounts of support to the individual. Along with this came a responsibility to the group and a sense of identity within it. This sense of community may have made it easier to accept the necessity for hierarchy and of acknowledging one’s place within it. The industrial revolution separated the family. The yeoman farmer was transformed into a factory worker, attaching a specific artificial monetary value to his labor while automatically devaluing the important but unpaid tasks of married women (Bonvillian 157). The trivialization of domestic labor and homemaking and its devaluation by a money oriented society has degraded the quality of life in America (Bonvillian 181). The amount of money necessary to recapture the type of life provided for both individuals when one of them makes their contribution by working in the home is way beyond the economic means of most families. Later in the twentieth century as more women entered the marketplace as workers, the idea of men and women competing with each other as individuals gained the ascendance rather than the idea of cooperating as couples. The idea of feminism as “a doctrine that advocates or demands for women the same rights granted men, as in political and economic status” (Stone 6) presumes no authority or hierarchy within the family, a reasonable assumption when there are only two people and both are wage earners. However this idea of “companionate family” (Stone 68) still assumes the overarching hierarchy of government and a solid economy to preserve and protect the status quo. Nevertheless, even in the face of this “enlightened” view of modern marriage, a survey of domestic plans and preferences among students married or planning marriage taken in 1997 showed nearly 74% of college women were planning to interrupt their careers to care for children in the home (Stone 175).
It is generally assumed by anthropologists that all known societies have been patriarchal, women and their contributions to society being valued to a lesser or greater degree, and in some instances approaching gender equity (Stone 6). Alternative lifestyles and sexual orientations can be found in all times and in all societies (Stone 54). Nevertheless, the story of civilization is the story of relationships between individual men and women.
You must remember this
A kiss is still a kiss, a sigh is just a sigh
The fundamental things apply
As time goes by
And when two lovers woo
They still say, “I love you”
On that you can rely
No matter what the future brings
As time goes by
These sentiments are universal and cross-cultural. The style of kissing or the language may be different but the emotions and intent always remains the same. Politics, culture, religious practices, the ideology of the moment, all may conspire to frustrate the designs of the lovers but does not succeed. Older and wiser heads, otherwise conservative, prudent, and reasonable in their actions, having experienced this type of love in their youth, ally themselves with the young couple. They know that there is nothing more important on earth than that this type of love be allowed to flower.
This is the sentiment that overcomes us in our youth, when we are too inexperienced to discount it. As sure and as mighty, as unyielding as the ocean tides, it ensures the procreation of the species. This is the type of romantic relationship that all men and women of natural and normal psyche, sexual preferences notwithstanding, yearn for with their mate. Many pass though this life with their dreams unrealized although enough achieve this state of bliss so that all may know in all nations and in all times that this type of love is an achievable reality. This is the way of nature for the man and the woman, and it is undeniable that most often, throughout recorded history and across all cultures, the male takes on the dominant sexual role. While culture and government may declare them to be equals before the law, this primary relationship, so ardently dreamed of and earnestly sought for, has an overarching impact, subtly or not, upon all cultures and all body politics, including that of the United States of America. It is unlikely that it will ever cease to exert its decisive influence.
This type of highly sexual, tender romantic relationship should and often does permeate and continue throughout the life of the married couple (Stone 48) This is after all the primary reason people marry, in order to legitimize the sexual aspect of their relationship, marriage being unnecessary for an enduring platonic relationship. Marriage also establishes a political entity, the family, within which minor children may be nurtured and protected from the harsher outside influences of the society and the state. Being a wife and mother has long been regarded as being one of the most important things that a woman can do in her life (Compton). There should be no objection to this idea if were not for the fact that we have failed to recognize that being a husband and a father is one of the most import roles in life for a man and that the contributions that all the members of a family make have considerable worth, even if they do not result in monetary gain. In my opinion, the personal relationships most often found within the family are the only ones that provide any lasting comfort or happiness. For the overwhelming majority of the inhabitants of the earth, nothing matters in the end, except who we loved and whom we were loved by. In our society we do not, in my opinion, value the average individual. We embrace the cult of celebrity, denying that the day laborer, the housewife, or that the mundane duties of father and mother have much value. While we may occasionally lift up a fanfare for the common man, it is apparent that we do not adequately acknowledge and celebrate the tremendous value that the average women brings to her family, her society and her culture, and that women do not have the equal status that they should have in our culture.
The complexity of gender roles and the different forms they take over a man or woman’s lifetime make it impossible to definitively describe the standing of all men versus all women in America (Stone 35) But it seems clear to me, when separately considering each of the areas described above, legal, political, economic and cultural, that women are very far from enjoying equal status with men in America.
I make no apologies for the fact that I am a Christian, and that I believe in God, not as a theological concept, but as a living individual with whom I am in continual, and personal, contact. I believe, as was so hastily discounted on page sixty-eight of ¬Gender and Culture in America, that the family is in fact “a sacred refuge in a corrupt world”, and that I have the authority as well as the power to institute such a family and, having done so, to justly and in the spirit of self-sacrificial service lead and rule those women and men who would voluntarily join themselves to me, as well as any minor children that should come within my sway.
For those who would bristle at the previous paragraph, remember that I am talking about those who “would voluntarily join.” Anything else would amount to tyranny, to be rejected on its face. Before anyone can be counted as a member of a family, they must first be recognized as individuals granted by their Creator with inalienable rights. All individuals having reached their majority, have the right to be equal before the law; to have a equal voice in the body politic; to enjoy the fruits of their labor; and to be recognized before God and their fellows as having intrinsic, eternal, and immeasurable value. I therefore strongly support the concept of gender equity in society, and I am committed to doing what may be done to see it become a reality in the republic of which I am a citizen, and throughout the world.
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Butterfield L.H., (Ed). The Book of Abigail and John: Selected Letters of the Adams Family, 1762-1784. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1975), 121- 123
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Copyright (c) 1994, 1995 Compton’s NewMedia, Inc.
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Paglia, Camille. “The Big Udder”. Philadelphia Enquirer May 12, 1991
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