You've just landed on Planet Zuto. Thus begins a recent article in The Atlantic titled Why the U.S. Economy Is Biased Against Men . The author, Marty Nemko, plants his readers on this fictitious planet to demonstrate that, given a blind test, the facts of the U.S. marketplace actually add up to a bias against men rather than women. It's fascinating to see someone try and state the position of the other side in the modern realm of gender bias, and Nemko makes many important points:
- Across all careers, surveys report that childless women under 30 make more than men.
- More than 90 percent of workplace deaths, military deaths, and severe workplace injuries occur to men.
- Women but not men are encouraged to form committees and caucuses to advance their sex's causes in the workplace.
- U.S. unemployment is higher for men than women.
Unfortunately, many of the Nemko's objections are still rooted in the classic chauvinism which rightly contributed to the rise of Feminism in the first place: that men are designed to work more, harder, and in higher positions than women, and that women are destined to make the sacrifices required by at least one parent in order to rear children.
It is as though Nemko has no idea that while Feminism is a collection of movements aimed at defining and defending equal rights for women, it also seeks gender equality by acknowledging that men are also harmed by sexism and gender roles.
For example, Nemko points out that women's advocacy groups pressured the government to create "The Family and Medical Leave Act, which allows employees to... take up to 12 weeks every year... to care for a relative, with a guarantee that their job will be held for them until they choose to return." It's hard to believe, but Nemko is pointing to this advance in employee benefits as a symptom of the anti-male problem (because women take the majority of FMLA days), as though attempting to even this playing field in a way that benefits both parties is fruitless because no man will ever truly desire to take the family leave he's allowed today to help raise his family.
If Nemko is correct, men are suffering a bias which exploits their unwillingness to take benefits they are offered, a bias which discourages them from taking action to help themselves. Nemko says, "Men's efforts to organize into groups have largely been ridiculed, for example, portraying men's groups as troglodytes tromping into the woods to beat tom-toms. And men's organizations have been pressured to admit women, for example, the service clubs: Rotary, Kiwanis, and Lions."
He apparently finds it unimaginable that any man would want to join a successful women's business organization, making it a gender neutral business organization, when he could create a men's organization and go up against his rival women. Here I must point out that, had men been quicker to open the doors of Rotary, Kiwanis, and Lions clubs to women in the first place, to help promote the cause of young people regardless of gender, there wouldn't have been a need for NOW or Catalyst or any of the other myriad women-specific groups.
My gut reaction is to tell guys like Nemko to quit whining. After all, we're talking about a collection of economic woes which these men are (allegedly) suffering now, but for the first time in history. Women, on the other hand, have suffered all of these prejudices for hundreds of years. Thousands of years. Sex discrimination is literally written into scripture, for crying out loud. And American men are pitching a fit after less than two decades of (alleged) struggle? Talk about a low tolerance for pain.
That's why Nemko's column comes off tasting more like sour grapes than an inconvenient truth. However, after careful consideration, my response is deeper than, "You made this bed for me, man, so now that you're lying in it, shut up about how much it sucks."
As a young woman today, I've been raised with an eye on the rearview mirror. I know that my grandmother's college education was the exception rather than the rule, and that she never had the opportunity to begin or advance any kind of career based on her education because societal norms dictated that she should marry, have children, attend church, and give back to her community. I know that my mother began her insurance career after being hired to fill a position which no man would have even interviewed for, and that she was paid less than she deserved because she lacked the business savvy to ask for what she was worth. I also know that she advanced quickly in her office both because she was a diligent worker and because a woman above her reached out proactively to help make it possible.
I know that generations of girls before me were offered very few extracurricular sport options in school, and those were underfunded and constantly usurped by sporting events played by boys' teams. And though I had more than enough opportunities to play sports once I got to high school, I attended a school where the smaller, danker, less-equipped gymnasium was still referred to as "the girls' gym," and was where the girls' basketball teams continued to be forced to practice when their schedule conflicted with the boys' teams.
In other words, decades of sexism, beaten back by the active and vocal Feminists of my mother's generation, still found a way to infiltrate my life in this way. And while the boys I went to high school with weren't to blame, they still weren't educated or sensitive enough to notice it as a discrepancy.
Interestingly, the difference in the historical perspectives of young women and young men is actually evidence of Nemko's argument rather than my own. Along with my fellow girls, I've been rallied. I've been told repeatedly that I am the intellectual equal of my male counterparts. Hear me roar. As Nemko points out, today's boys and young men aren't the recipients of this kind of cheerleading. Worse, they are told that their attempts to succeed, especially to win out over the girls in their classes and on their teams, are sexist. The result is that "so many young men are often back living with their parents, often stoned and/or playing shoot-em-up video games, while the young women are launching their career[s]."
That's why Nemko's point has some merit. We may have reached a crucial new crossroads in the quest which began as a war for gender equality. It's high time we do the sensible thing and merge our efforts to work on behalf of the people. But this is where Nemko and I differ. I'm talking about all the people.
Trouble is neither side is willing to be the first to extend the necessary olive branch. Once again, this is the product of our history.
The bar men originally set for success in business is born of competition, and it is not the kind of healthy, enlightened competition which our society has learned to appreciate more recently: a type that recognizes a greater victory when the needs of the many are considered over the needs of the individual or the few. No. The competition which nurtured such rampant sexism in America for generations was and is ruthless, greedy, and unshakably focused on a single point of conquest. The flag hoisted high, claiming territory under a single name. It's a kind of competition which makes concessions (olive branches) appear utterly weak.
That's what women in America were once up against, but over time, they've learned to play that way, too. To gain equality in the marketplace, one which a country founded and governed by America's men had created as the only way to achieve the American dream, women knew they needed to take on the powers-that-were squarely. But the only way to make things square was to handicap those who had first salted the earth.
Today, this truth has begun to sound like rhetoric. Men are tired of hearing that "Girls Rule." But the men of my generation may have a right to be tired of it. It's all they've ever heard.
They grew up with feminists stepping up to the microphones, with Margaret Thatcher leading the United Kingdom, with zero tolerance policies on sexual harassment in their schools and their workplaces. They've never known a world without Title IX; girls have always played soccer on the fields right next to theirs. They've never known a world where girls were required to take Home Ec, a world without The Vagina Monologues.
But if women today, a more powerful group than ever before in history, aren't careful, they will be in danger of repeating the mistake of their male predecessors. We will become the pigs walking upright and wearing clothes, repeating sins, falling mightily.
Let us remember again that our pro-women rhetoric began the way most battle cries do: as sound bites, slogans that support (in summary) a complex cause, snippets short enough for a crowd to shout together to symbolize unity.
Girls rule. Equal rights for women. Sister suffragette.
At its purest core, the cause of Feminism was not meant to drag men down and rub their faces in the dust. Nor was it meant to stunt the growth and potential of millions of little boys. It was about equality. Bootstrapping women up to where they should have been all along in the marketplace, and reminding men that the responsibilities of fathers on the homefront extend deeper than mere provision and protection. These goals are still positive and worthwhile, and we still need to pursue them, but in a new way.
I am the product of a pro-girl education. I have had many profound female influences and role models in my life. But even as well as my childhood prepared me for "success" in the world, I want better for my children. That's the human way, isn't it? To want better for those who come after you. (Of course, if you ask Nemko, that's something women naturally think about more than men. I hope that's not true. Every generation deserves the full mindfulness of the entire generation before it.) What I think would make the world better for my children would be to begin working toward gender reconciliation.
In school, not so much pro-girl as pro-child. In business, not so much pro-woman as pro-worker.
Refusing to admit that the steps women were forced to take to shatter the glass ceiling might have strayed into a territory which creates a new ceiling detrimental to men, weakens us all. It will keep our interests divided.
I am as guilty of propagating the women-make-77-cents-to-men's-dollar statistic as any feminist. But while I still think it's a discrepancy we need to keep an eye on, I am willing to admit that the statistic is nuanced, possibly even outdated. This is one of the reasons I believe it is possible to make amends now, and that we should jump at the opportunity.
What would the world look like if the question of gender no longer tipped any of the scales? What if business-related clubs and organizations were all opened to both genders? What if youth sports teams established their rosters based on talent, skill, and capability rather than gender? What if we all set out to raise our children to understand people are different individually, but that those differences do not inherently extend from gender? What if we acknowledged biology rather than the deeply ingrained social mores inflicted on us by our ancestors?
What if we stopped pitting segments of our population against one another in the barbaric interest of death-match/winner-takes-all competition, opting instead to work for the greatest of the greater goods?
This doesn't mean that women shouldn't beware anti-Feminist actions like the repeal of the Equal Pay Enforcement Act in Wisconsin by Governor Scott Walker or the bizarre influx (and popularity) in the media's portrayal of successful women as being desirous of sexual domination , as in the best-selling book Fifty Shades of Grey . There will always be a need to protect the interests of women; we've simply been at the mercy of perjoratives and prejudices as a group for too long. But we can defend ourselves without becoming the aggressors. We can admit that the needs of men should be protected, too.
Nemko's piece reminded me of this, though he failed to accurately diagnose the "needs" of the men suffering economic bias. There may indeed exist a bias against men in our current economy, but the answer is not to regress or retreat. The answer is to reconcile. The success of our nation depends upon this shift of viewpoint; not retracting the advances women have made, but to advance further and in a direction which includes a humankind consideration of pure human rights.