Tag Archives: gender equality

Equalizing

Recently, Virginia became the 38th of the United States to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment.  It’s been a long-fought battle for proponents of dismantling all barriers to women achieving full and complete equality with males.  Earlier this month supporters became ecstatic when both chambers of the Virginia state house approved the amendment.

“We must begin to see a world without discrimination of any kind,” declared Virginia State Senator Mamie Locke.  “Equality based on sex is not just good for women, it is good for society.”

Ratification of the ERA reached a critical flashpoint in the 1970s, as more women entered the workforce and began seeking higher levels of education than at any time in U.S. history.  When Congress submitted the ERA to the states for ratification in 1972, it gave it a March 1979 deadline for 38 states to ratify it.  They didn’t make it.  In 1979, however, the U.S. Congress gave the ERA three more years to get ratified.  Again, it didn’t succeed.  By then, most judicial and legislative experts declared the amendment dead.  Even the U.S. Supreme Court, the only court to review it, acknowledged that.

Proponents remained undeterred.  The slew of legal machinations born of this ongoing effort is astounding, which is understandable.  Our education system often discusses our founding fathers, but – outside of Betsy Ross – says little about our founding mothers.  Yes, men devised and built much of the infrastructure and technology that has helped the United States become a wealthy, powerful nation.  The same is true for most other developed countries.  But women have been at the forefront of change and progress as well.  To deny their impact is essentially telling only half of the story.

Still, ERA critics state the ratification process has been unnecessarily complicated and even unconstitutional.  Others point to the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which includes the term “equal protection of the laws,” and often refers to citizenship matters.  Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg (undoubtedly the most progressive of all the Court’s judges) opined that any attempt to ratify the ERA would mean starting over again.

But, as the old saying goes, be careful what you wish for; you might just get it.  Full gender equality doesn’t just mean equal pay for equal work – which has been the crux of the argument.  It could also mean certain employment standards would have to be adjusted or eliminated.  For example, one could argue that physical fitness requirements for firefighters could be declared illegal based strictly on gender.  Some women may be able to meet those particular goals, while a number of men couldn’t.

A new argument that has arisen is that the ERA will prevent pro-life advocates and groups from protesting abortion, which is generally aimed at women.  It’s a dubious claim at best.  Perhaps some birth control methods could come under greater scrutiny.  Since birth control pills and IUD’s are consumed primarily by women, does that mean they will have to be deregulated and sold over-the-counter like condoms?  Or will condoms become available only by prescription?  That’s a disaster waiting to happen!

I personally want to see how ERA advocates react to women being compelled to abide by Selective Service.  Currently, all able-bodied, able-minded males in the U.S. are required to register for Selective Service within 30 days of their 18th birthday.  There’s no penalty for late registration, but there are a slew for non-registration.  Men who don’t register usually can’t enter college or get financial aid.  In some places, they can’t even graduate from high school, or could have their diploma rescinded.  They can’t obtain federal job training, or get jobs within the federal government.  All men who immigrate to the U.S. before their 26th birthday must register in order to garner full citizenship.  Failure to register is a felonious offense and punishable by up to 5 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

Selective Service is the most blatant and deliberate form of gender discrimination.  The education penalties alone are violations of Title IX, an act passed by Congress in 1972 and directed towards ending gender imbalances in the education system (mainly college).  Contemporary feminists had argued that all-male schools, for example, are unconstitutional if they receive federal funding.  But, as I see it, Title IX means nothing, since Selective Service permits discrimination against males.

The Selective Service system refers, of course, to a military draft, which has not been in place in the U.S. since 1973.  While it basically means all young men must be available for compulsory military service, it actually means that group is expendable.  When the concept of women serving in combat positions in military conflicts arose, many people expressed horror at the thought of women coming home critically disabled or in body bags – as if we’ve made our peace with men returning in the same conditions.  Selective Service, therefore, makes young males cannon fodder.  Even some disabled men have to register for the draft; that is, if they can leave their dwelling under their own power.  If disabled men have to register, why shouldn’t able-bodied women be required to do the same?

How will the ERA affect family leave policies in the American workplace?  Most health insurance policies require coverage for pregnancy, and most companies allow for X amount of time off to care for a newborn.  But very few companies maintain paternity leave, and I don’t believe any insurance policies plans consider such time a medical issue.  Will pregnancy no longer be considered a unique medical condition, but rather, something chronic like diabetes?

Will the Violence Against Women Act have to be restructured to include men, or will it be eliminated altogether?  First enacted in 1994, the VAWA seeks to improve criminal justice and community responses to domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking in the United States.  In effect, it’s also a highly sexist piece of legislation because it assumes either that only adult females are the victims of violence or that adult females are the only victims of violence who matter.  The law has been amended in recent years to include lesbian and transgender women – as if men, again, aren’t worth the trouble or should just be left to fend for themselves with laws and processes that don’t really help.

Currently in the U.S. vehicle insurance rates are slanted against males.  Most companies will lower insurance rates for females when they reach the age of 21, but only for males when they reach 25.  Men can earn lower insurance rates if they marry or have children.  Years ago women often couldn’t enter into a contractual agreement without a man as cosigner.  That’s now illegal, but will the ERA render the insurance rates’ gender disparities invalid?

Aside from forcing women into the military alongside men, one bloodcurdling fear among social conservatives is that the ERA will compel society to establish unisex public lavatories.  Early opponents seemed to focus on this in particular.  If that happens, will locker rooms fall to gender equality next?  Will doctors be forbidden from letting prospective parents know the gender of their baby after a sonogram?

As a writer, I wonder what the ERA might do to language.  It’s more common now to use the term humanity instead of mankind.  Will gender-specific pronouns fall out of favor or – worst – be outlawed?

How will the transgendered be impacted by the ERA?  Growing up there were only two genders: female and male.  Now we have such classifications as non-binary and cisgender.  Excuse me?

I know some of these issues seem almost comical, but we really have to think about what gender equality means.  I fully believe women are just as capable as men, when it comes to professional matters, such as business and law enforcement.  But men and women each possess qualities that are generally unique to our respective gender.  Neither set of attributes is superior to the other; they’re meant to work in concert with one another.  I’ve always said that, if gender and racial oppression hadn’t been in place for so long, we might have made it to the moon 200 or more years ago.  Telephones, motor vehicles and television could be ancient equipment by now.

But alas, our world hadn’t become that progressive until recently.  Still, aside from restroom signs and military deployments, gender is not always fluid and malleable.

What does gender equality mean to you?

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No Defense Here

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At some point in the late 1960s, a Mexican-American guy got arrested in Dallas for a series of robberies.  The incident garnered some media attention, but was pretty much a non-event.  Until someone at my father’s workplace mentioned it.

An older White man approached my father and said something to the effect that the police had arrested “your brother Rodriguez.”  He knew what the old man was talking about.  My father promptly reminded the man “my name isn’t Rodriguez, and that guy isn’t my brother.  Now shut your ass and leave me alone!”

The old man apparently was offended at my father’s brusque language and complained to the company owner, another old White (albeit Jewish) man who said something to the effect of, ‘What did you expect?’

My father often found himself in such uncomfortable situations; where some Hispanic individual would do something stupid and / or criminal enough to get media attention, and some non-Hispanics would assume my father was guilty by association.  It actually still happens.  A lot.  Just ask Black men when other Black men get arrested.  Or Hispanic men.  Or Native American men.  Even in this second decade of the 21st century, in a post-civil rights America, crime still often bears a Black, Brown or Red face.

That mess stormed into the public conscious last week when Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump dismissed a 2005 conversation with an entertainment journalist as “locker room banter.”  With a monster hurricane having just ripped through the Caribbean and the U.S. east coast and the Zika virus still a threat to public health, this is what the American media and much of the American public has focused on: eleven-year-old verbiage from two old men trash-talking on a bus.

The dialogue hasn’t discouraged Trump who is roaring ahead with his campaign – undoubtedly one of the most bizarre in recent memory – even as one woman after another jumps forward to proclaim they’ve fallen victim to the type of actions the business tycoon describes in that brief snippet.

There’s no getting around it: what Trump said in that piece is deplorable, and his attempt at an apology is as sincere as a 13-dollar bill.  Even before then, I didn’t like him.  But, aside from the rancor bubbling over this mess, it’s amazing the number of men who are also publicly proclaiming their ardent respect for women and disdain for Trump.  Athletic coaches at the high school and college levels are gathering their young male acolytes to warn them that such talk about females will not be tolerated.

Personally, I don’t feel the need to refute Trump’s so-called “locker room banter.”  I don’t have a guilt complex over it and I’m not hopping up and down trying to convince any female within ten feet of me that I’d never talk that way about them.  And neither should any other man.

Since high school, I’ve spent time in men’s locker rooms and can say without wincing that I’ve never heard men talk like that about women.  Men say all sorts of stupid shit in locker rooms, but I cannot recall anything of that sort.  As a writer, I’m prone to listen in on other people’s conversations.  I’ve always wanted my characters to speak and behave as normal as possible, so they’ll be more realistic.  Yes, men do talk about sex in locker rooms.  (And, in other Earth-shattering news, the sun rises in the east.)  I’m certain women engage in similar talk, even though most won’t admit it.  Men also talk about body parts.  Mainly their own body parts.  Usually, though, we talk about work, home, family, cars, sports, our individual exercise routines – but never something so vile as sexually assaulting or molesting women.  I know some men have talked openly like that.  I’ve just never heard it.

But it’s not enough to point out that most men don’t talk in such a debasing manner about women.  It’s more important to realize that most men don’t act that way either.  The vast majority of men don’t harass and / or sexually assault women.  I know that contradicts feminist ideology, but it’s painfully true.  Men are much more likely to assault other men or even themselves than they are women.

Yet, while plenty of people like Trump think their wealth and power make them better than the rest of us, there are others who latch onto the Trumps of the world in the hopes of improving their own station in life.  Trump surely has no genuine respect for women overall, but a number of women swoon over men like him daily.  This is one thing that upsets most average men.  Women often claim they want a man who is honest and fair-minded.  But, as some men view it, women really just want a man with lots of money.  Even some of the most successful and well-educated women often still expect the men in their lives to earn more than them.  Why?  Just in case said woman decides she’s tired of working?  I don’t know.

Women, on the other hand, often say their lack of opportunities in life put them in a position where they’ve had to find men who have money, or at least a job that pays above minimum wage.  On average, women still earn less than men, but women are superseding men on the educational front.  If you break that down from a racial viewpoint, the gaps grow even larger.  Gender politics, like racial politics, is ugly, and no one wins the argument.

I’ve heard more than a few women engage in “locker room banter” – in public – in front of me and other men.  I’ve endured my share of harassment from both women and men.  It was never caught on video or audio.  And I rarely complained out loud about it.  I knew few would believe me, especially because I’m a man.  Therefore, I understand how some women feel about life in the work place during years gone by – long before the term “sexual harassment” was ever created.

Former Texas Governor Ann Richards once advised young women to complete their education and not depend on a man to take care of them; “when the Prince is middle aged with a pot belly and a wandering eye, you’ll be glad you have a degree and can support yourself if you have to.”  As expected, social and religious conservative across the state and the nation dumped their snarky bile on Richards; denouncing her as anti-family and anti-marriage.  Richards shrugged it off, even after losing her 1994 reelection bid.

Trump is in a class all his own – and I don’t mean that in a good way.  He’s harking back to those golden years gone by; when people didn’t have to be politically correct, especially White male people.  But, as part of that elite and much-reviled 1%, he obviously believes his wealth and power give him license to say and do whatever he wants.  Plenty of people in his social class possess such self-righteous haughtiness.  Despite all his money, Trump is still little more than a loud-mouthed bum.  He’s a disgrace to all men – White or not.

My paternal grandfather once said you can dress a donkey up in silk and satin, like a thoroughbred horse, but eventually it’ll start bucking and kicking like the animal it truly is.  Now, I don’t mean to disrespect donkeys by comparing them to Trump.  Talk about being disrespectful!  But I think you get the idea.

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International Women’s Day 2013

“Above all, be the heroine of your life, not the victim.” – Nora Ephron

“Above all, be the heroine of your life, not the victim.” – Nora Ephron

Today is International Women’s Day, an unofficial global holiday in which we honor all the accomplishments women have made and continue to make in every society.  Since women have been around from…oh, Day One, it’s only proper to acknowledge they’re not akin to decorative plates – sitting on a shelf looking pretty without any real purpose in life.  Sadly, many countries still treat females as second-class citizens; refusing to pay them equal wages for equal work and provide them the same educational opportunities as men.  Fortunately, things are changing for women across the world, as national leaders realize the importance and value of women’s contributions.  One of these days – hopefully, not too far away – we won’t need a day like this.

Click here for a comprehensive list of some of history’s most famous – and infamous – women.

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