A story came across my feed that an Ohio college halted construction until an allegedly sexist “Men Working” sign was changed. Let’s just get the facts straight up front – it was an all-male crew working the construction site so the site was more “fact” than “sexism.” To be fair, I completely understand their frustration that it’s silly to halt construction (paying jobs) over it. I don’t think shutting down construction was an appropriate response. (Truly, freaking out over the construction sign is possibly the worst possible attempt at furthering the feminism/diversity cause.) That said, there are plenty of women working construction; I’ve seen them with my own eyes.
So with a hot button issue like this, it didn’t take long for the battle of the sexes to ensue. But I didn’t see a heartfelt discourse and debate of the issue. I didn’t see productive discussion about how we can reach equality in the system. Instead what I saw was angry men insulting women in comments and social media shares. I imagine most men and even many women think it’s a dumb argument about a dumb sign, and frankly that’s true, but the underlying issue of sexism in the workplace and in certain occupations is far from dumb. The comments I saw made it very apparent that this still needs to be talked about. Some of these people might be surprised that women are allowed to wear pants now.
Sexism still exists. It’s not always obvious. But it’s palpable. It’s tangible. Women are still not considered equals to men in countless trades, and in some are frequently overlooked entirely as job candidates. It’s not just in physical jobs like the construction industry and the military. It’s found right here in my industry, the white collar, “we’re so hip with the times” tech business. It’s surprisingly difficult to be taken seriously as an authority on what I do when compared side-by-side against my male counterparts in the industry. For whatever reason, you just don’t see a lot of household names of women in SEO (they’re out there somewhere – just fewer and further between).
And for whatever reason, we’re still making less money than our male counterparts. Yes, the mythical glass ceiling is real, my friends. For every $1.00 a man earns, women still make only $0.77 - even though we work many of the same jobs and do much of the same work. Despite being perfectly capable of doing the same work and leading companies effectively, women make up only 3% of CEOs in the Fortune 500, even though more than half of college graduates are women at this point. Granted, we only got the right to vote 92 years ago (my great grandmother is alive and well at 100 years old) so we’ve a bit of catching up to do. And only recently, in the last generation or so, have we really started to get beyond the whole “women are only teachers and nurses” bit. Not that being a teacher or a nurse is a bad thing for a woman or a man – very respectable careers that our nation absolutely depends on. But somehow, it’s almost as if we’re perceived as less qualified for the job. No, women being “more emotional” is not a valid reason for anything, much less not to make us CEO or President of the United States.
Now before I get outcries from men about the stigmas attached to men who become nurses, secretaries and other job roles primarily filled by women – believe me, we know. Ridiculing men for doing “girly” jobs is just as insulting to us as it is you. It implies that those jobs are somehow inferior or weak. And before I get complaints about the women who are “man-haters” – I think that’s mostly a myth, but if they do exist, they’re few and far between and I can confidently say they don’t represent the general population of women.
The trouble is, any time we raise a stink about something like having to choose between careers or motherhood, or complain about a sign leaving us out of things, or make a fuss about earning a smaller paycheck for the same work, we’re suddenly branded “feminazis” or “bitches” – even by members of our own sex. It’s a real shame that even we women can’t all get on the same page about this already and actually support one another. (Come on, it’s 2012.) You know what? All decent men and women should be feminists. If anyone knows or loves a woman, they should be proud to call themselves feminists. We’re not all militant, bra-burning, man-haters, and in fact anyone who is just happens to be part of a particularly narrow-minded minority. The rest of us are women who just don’t want to be taken for granted.
So let’s talk about a woman who has risen to power in my line of work – technology, and specifically, search engines. New CEO of Yahoo! Marissa Mayer is both a hero and a mythical creature in the eyes of many tech women, especially those who are mothers. She rose to the top in the tech industry, took charge of a company greatly in need of her expertise, and despite being pregnant was still chosen to become their CEO. She gives us hope that women can have it all, that maybe we won’t be forced to choose between being mothers and being successful professionals. But then when you take a step back you realize that Mayer makes gobs of money and probably has incredible family and nanny support to make it possible. Not all of us are that fortunate. Sure, some of us may be breadwinners who can have the stay-at-home-dad arrangement that allows us to pursue our careers aggressively, but can we admit how rare it is? Even if we wanted to go back to work a week after having a baby, we’re still supposed to be laid up for weeks to months in recovery solely because our body needs us to be. (If I ever hear the term “baby vacation” again I swear I’ll…) At the end of the day, most of us who choose to have a family inevitably put our careers on hold thereby slowing the rate of career growth, because being a mother is just more important at that time. It’s a choice we always have to make. It’s a choice men rarely have to make. (Why? I don’t know. Maybe because women tend to make only 77% of what men make and we get stuck as default parent as a result! Only a guess.)
I don’t have the answers on how to fix this ongoing problem. But it starts with acknowledging that there is a problem. As long as women in SEO and female CEOs of Fortune 500 companies are a novel concept, we still have a problem. If that means I have to take lumps for being a feminazi, bitch, nag or any other derogatory anti-women slur, for the greater cause of equality of the sexes in the professional world, then so be it. I’ll take the long-term view and brace myself for it in order to do my small part for the greater good. But I have every intention of making noise about it until we reach that point of equality, and making up that 23-cent difference is a good starting point.