I recently watched On the Basis of Sex, the new movie about Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg. It tells the story of how the Ginsbergs (Ruth’s husband Martin was a renowned tax attorney) won Mortiz v. Commissioner of the Internal Revenue. It was a seemingly unimportant little case, but winning it overturned 178 American laws that discriminated against Americans based on gender. As I watched, it occurred to me that, though I wasn’t alive for the set up scenes of the 1950s and 60s, the actual case took place in my lifetime!
It blew my mind to think that when I was born, women were still fighting for equal treatment. They couldn’t even get a credit card without a husband’s permission. History class taught me that women got the right to vote in 1919. As far as I was concerned, that was the end of the story when I was a kid. After all by the time I was coming of age in the 80s, it was pretty common to hear, “Girls can be anything they want.” I guess in some ways it’s a real testament to how far we’ve come (or my parents’ protective nature)—that I can’t remember a time when women were treated Mad Men style.
Though I grew up in a less blatant era of sex discrimination I have felt the sting of gender inequality. Whether it was being told by an early boss at a radio station that “listeners just feel more secure with male commentators,” or a few years later learning that a male colleague with my same position at a TV station was making more than I was, I have been treated as less than because of my gender. (The male reporter by the way had never worked in live media, while that was my 3rd job in the biz.)
So what’s the point? We’ve all been hurt or overlooked for something in our lives, right? The point is that although as Americans we are making a better effort to work toward gender equality, we aren’t there yet. I could site the fact that women still earn 19.5 percent less than their male counterparts or that they disproportionately bear the responsibility for childcare. Most people know that. They just don’t care unless it directly affects them. But here are some things you may not know: Beside inequality in reproductive healthcare, women aren’t afforded the same level of general healthcare. Diseases and disabilities that disproportionately affect women are often under-researched or the studies (like those for coronary heart disease and ADHD) are conducted at much higher rates on men. And did you know that Title IX of the Education Act signed in 1972 “prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in any federally funded education program or activity.” It doesn’t just exist to help women in sports, but also covers sexual assault. There are still cases of this law being challenged in court to this day. Unfortunately, it takes more than a law to create equality. It also takes action. If there is no one to report an issue to, the law isn’t taken seriously by those reported to, or the person reporting doesn’t feel safe reporting the law, the law might as well not exist. Without enforcement, laws don’t matter.
In order to continue to strive for true equality we need more women in government—better representation. Women make up a little more than half the population but have yet to catch up to their male counterparts when it comes to government.
I’m not going to ask you to care because it’s the right thing. I want you to think of this from a completely selfish point. Suppose our country was invaded by Canada. (My family helped settle Quebec, so please no emails about Canada bashing. This is just an example.) Now as we were imagining our Canadian conquerors, let’s look at them objectively. We usually like them. In fact, they’re about as close to Americans as it gets without being US Americans. Beside that whole conquering thing we usually get along. They’re nice and we can trust them, can’t we? Now let’s suppose that the Canadians decide to set up a government and give us the right to vote. But they explain we don’t need to send any Americans to represent us because they know what we want and what’s important to us. They promise they’ll do their best to make sure our needs are met. Would you be comfortable with that?
Probably not. It has nothing to do with how well we like them. It comes down to human nature. People ultimately act in the interest of self preservation. And no matter how much we like or indentify with someone else, the fact of the matter is we can’t know what we don’t know. There are certain lessons that we can only learn from being in our own skin. It might be as simple as a tall person instinctively knowing to duck their head when going through a door that would never have crossed a short person’s mind. Or it might be considering the wider picture of healthcare because a woman stops to realize something her male counterpart didn’t—that the effects of a particular treatment of medicine hasn’t been studied on a woman.
Self-representation is a cornerstone of democracy. The more diverse voices that contribute to the political conversation, the stronger our foundation becomes. Having equal representation in the political arena allows us to look at issues from any angles and find the best solution. It increases objectivity which in turn lessens the reins of oppression.
Equality might seem like a done deal for many of us, but there are still girls in Mali that don’t have the opportunity to attend school, Saudi women still don’t have the right to travel without a male relative’s permission, and recently an Egyptian actress was brought up on criminal charges for wearing a revealing (shear but long) evening gown. If these sound outrageous, consider the case of WNBA star Kristi Toliver who plays professional basketball for the Mystics. She also assistant coaches the Washington Wizards for just $10K a year! Why because NBA and WNBA regulations don’t allow her to make more for this extremely high profile job. WNBA regulations cap the entire team collectively at $50K for off season work. Could imagine LeBron James or Kevin Durant being held to those same standards?
We live in an exciting time. This past fall 2669 women across the country won major party nominations for legislative seats! Women are finally coming in to their own politically. It doesn’t really matter what side of the aisle they’re on. All that matters is that they get a chance to finally share their voices. Please join us January 25 at 7 pm (and Sunday January 27 at 2pm) on Politically Speaking to hear some of those voices. It’s your right!