Thursday, May 29, 2014

Does gender matter? Yes.

Thoughts – normative versus positive statements: After years of looking at existing gender roles, it was interesting to move from theorizing about the nature of gender in society, and to have a frank discussion in class about the practical nuances of gender in the work place (and to see that some people in a business class setting don’t have the PC cudgel over their heads).

However, for theorizing on a power gradient that doesn’t find me at the bottom I often feel as if those who are at society’s bottom are over-stating their case. Of course when I theorize from a position of weakness I myself feel empowered. Basically I see class and not race.  But gender does matter, in many ways.

The problem is, we can’t just solve everything by women leaning in – though I am attracted to the idea. The important thing is that in spite of years of feminism (You can date it to about 1848 in Saratoga Falls) there is still this divide. So it is not just women needing to lean in, but important for those who control the structure to stop thinking power and opportunity are a zero-sum game and that we can grow as a country better when women’s roles in both the workplace and the home are given value on par with what men see their own value. This is true for gender and sex and race.

The discouraging thing is that some recent studies have shown that even in egalitarian settings like Sweden, there is limited income mobility. Those born poor are going to stay poor, and those born rich will stay rich. We can point to several counter examples that might disprove that narrative, but the broad sweep of the numbers say that you probably won’t be the president if you were born poor or female or trans or of a darker shade of skin. 

You have to look at the history and see that there are two strands for the out group to try to gain power. There are assimilationists who try to come into the existing power structure, and there are revolutionaries of many stripes that want to overthrow the existing patriarchy / class structure / gender norms / etc. I am not one for chaos and revolution. I’d rather sit on my couch and read a book. However, the revolutionaries have long been marginalized as too extreme and the people who just want a seat at the table have been fed, but then ignored. I don’t know what the answer is but I have the feeling that outside of a revolution, the power structure will remain in place and only slowly be chipped at by minority groups of all stripes. They will continue to have to both conform to and break away from stereotypes. They will have to be twice as good for less pay. 

We still remember Ginger Rodgers and Fred Astaire. The thing is Ginger did everything Fred did, only backwards and in heels. That sticks with me, and it remains true. I can see the inequity in the system, but I struggle because I feel weak and powerless to change such an entrenched edifice. 

Maybe I have to get off my couch.