Rights to Fight For: Women deserve equal opportunity

Every now and then I get dismayed at the state of women’s rights, and I lose any sense of cool composure I might have been carrying. Anytime Title IX gets casually badmouthed or antiquated arguments against female leadership are thrown out as accepted facts, I can hardly pull myself off my soapbox. When I notice guys around me approaching women with a use-it-and-lose-it maxim, and worse when the women alter their behavior to fit their attitudes, I may as well be turning green and tearing my shirt apart in a combined Brandi Chastain/Hulk style, reaching for that stupid bra I can’t wait to burn. Half of me turns into a self-righteous feminist while the rest of me feels this odd sense of inadequacy to either change the way of the world or to change myself to fit it.

As women, we pay more, we get paid less, and we work harder for respect than our male counterparts.  Women’s rights have come a long way in America and in many places around the world, but there are still significant lengths to go before women experience true equality.  Issues like how women are viewed and compensated as professionals, women’s roles and rights in society, cultural expectations or lack there of for women, and women’s empowerment through sports are all related and affect females daily in a multitude of ways.

These issues need to be near and dear to our hearts.  They need to be the topics that we keep a watchful eye on and protect as direct pathways to our well-being.  When women’s rights or aptitude come under question, our validity is at stake.  The choices we have and the opportunities available are dependent on the world’s view of how women stand in each of these venues.

For instance, in the workplace, many know the latest report that women receive $.77 to every $1.00 men make.  Whether we think we know why this is or not (some have blamed women’s lack of ability to negotiate salary or their disproportionate time off for family reasons), there are new studies that show outright injustice in both perceptions of ability and compensatory needs.

One study followed transgenders, women who changed to men and worked in either the same profession or job.  They experienced inexplicable preferential treatment when working as men, including praise, promotions, and economic gains. The book, Just One of the Guys, which is on my reading list this month, goes into full detail on the subject.

This July, the New York Times reported on another study that explored gender differences in raises offered.  The academic study found that men were offered 71% of money allocated for raises. The women and men receiving raises were in the same positions as far as ability and expertise, but managers admitted offering less to women essentially because they felt they could get away with it- women are more understanding and less likely to question the reasons given for lack of funds.

While knowledge like this can be disheartening or even angering, we are better off if we look at it as useful.  We have a sort of scouting report of the opposition to equality, so we can be prepared to beat it.  (Excuse me while I slide into my sports analogy of the day, I’ve held off for so long!)

There are certainly times to defend ourselves against negative perceptions of women.  When our abilities and intelligence are under attack as found in the transgender study, we must speak out and defend ourselves.  An educational film called Miss Representation is circulating through small watch parties throughout the US in hopes of bringing to light harmful gender inequities in culture.  Their goal is to defend women and girls against negative cultural messages.

There are also some times when we need to go on the offensive and attack out-dated mindsets and ideas, as in the cases of not getting equal opportunities as men.  Author Hanna Rosin does just that with her new book entitled The End of Men, which is also on my reading list.  Obviously meant to ruffle a few feathers, her book highlights how women are gaining on and surpassing men. 

However, the most important thing to keep in mind is that we have to play our game, our style. We have to be our best to show that we can.

Pat Summit, one of the most respected coaches in all of sports regardless of gender, is a great example.  She stands for women’s rights as much as anyone I can think of, and she does it simply by being exceptional and standing up for what she deserves.  In her early years of coaching at University of Tennessee, the school wanted her to cut back her basketball team’s budget. Instead, she successfully proposed that all women’s sports receive financial support from revenue-producing men’s sports, just as all non-revenue men’s sports did.  She set the bar for women’s coach’s salary and for resources given to women’s teams.  She fought to keep the rules for basketball the same for men and women.  She also supported men’s athletics, one time sporting an out-of-character cheerleading uniform and singing “Rocky Top” during a men’s basketball game.  In response, her son said, “It’s not so much going out and changing the minds of men. It’s empowering women to do whatever they want to do.”

However you choose to defend or promote women’s rights and empowerment, you need to be well-educated on the discussions and facts that surround them. In the next few weeks, we’ll explore various dimensions of women’s rights and empowerment so that we will know how to approach these issues as they come up.