A poignant question from a mother recently floated across my social-media feed. “Can we stop telling young girls they can be anything they want,” she asked. “Because it is simply not true, not under the same conditions as boys. And raising girls like this will only ensure they will be caught unaware.” In other words, since we don’t have true gender equality, should we keep promising it?
Anything men can do, women can do. Often better.
Let’s get that straight right now. With the possible exception of being a dad, I can’t think of a single thing a woman can not do.
I’ve heard all the excuses against this. Women aren’t strong enough for some “man’s work.” Women are too “emotional” to make some tough decisions. Women’s periods get in the way. Their “biological clocks” mean you can’t rely on them for career longevity. Blah blah blah.
These are just rationalizations to justify a broken system. In this day and age, absolute gender equality should be an absolute given.
The problem is the word can.
That post that floated across my feed had a second part. It’s an imaginary conversation between society and a young girl:
Society: You can be anything you want to be.
Little girl: President of the U.S.A.?
Society: Ummm. No. Anything else?
Little girl: A doctor?
Society: Okay but only if you are very good and if you take a lower pay.
Little girl: A fake, nameless one – in a spoof sci-fi show?
Society: Wait a few years, we are working on it. But be warned that a lot of men won’t accept that.
Yes, a woman can do anything she wants. That means, she is capable. But will society let her? Many times, the answer is “Nope. Too bad.” Need a few examples?
How about girls wanting to be professional baseball players? No can do. Did you know in the entire 900-year history of Venetian gondoliers, there has only been one woman? Well, not really; she recently transitioned to the man she always knew herself to be. Want to join the military? Better stay out of the infantry. Because “incorporating women into the infantry does not add to the infantry mission to ‘locate, close with, and destroy the enemy by fire and maneuver and/or repel the enemy assault by fire and close combat,'” says this “award-winning” essay predictably entitled “Why Women Do Not Belong in the U.S. Infantry.”
“But wait!” you say, “women are in almost every other profession out there.” Sure, but how many only got there after a seemingly endless climb up a mountain of adversity and bias, that those equally skilled and qualified men never had to endure?
A case study in modern gender equality
Let’s take a subject near and dear to me: women’s soccer. I love watching it. They are awesome athletes. There’s a lot less diving, a lot more ball movement, and a lot more strategy. In short, I think they outperform men.
In the U.S., women’s soccer is wildly more successful than men’s. Our national team, which is just 30 years old, has won three world championships and four Olympic medals. And in 2015, women’s soccer in the U.S. brought in at least $20 million more in ad revenue than men’s.
But our men are paid four times as much. They’re even given more per diem when touring. By the way, it isn’t just an American problem. On the national stage in the 2015 Women’s World Cup, the teams were relegated to play on crappy fields that were falling apart. The purse for winning that World Cup? About $2 million. Compare that to $35 million for men. I could go on for pages.
So yes, these women are able to do the same thing as men. Maybe even better. But you certainly may not argue they’re being treated equally. Nor may you rationalize that any of that is fair.
Here’s the reality of gender equality in society today.
A massively overqualified woman didn’t become President, and a massively under qualified man did. Why? Well, for starters, a significant body of solid research shows that she lost because of sexism. And as an added bonus, in the wake of her defeat, the women and girls of our country are now experiencing a huge backlash of sexism which that election unleashed.
Yes, girls grow up to become doctors all the time. Yet in 2017, major headlines still read, “Women doctors are still getting screwed over.” They have to put up with far more sexual harassment, annual reviews that are systematically biased lower than men, and a culture that quietly but disproportionately punishes them for maintaining a healthy work-life balance. Oh, and on average, women doctors make up to $50,000 less per year than men.
Or consider this Hollywood headline: “After 19 male-led superhero movies, how much progress does Wonder Woman represent?” Hang on. Nineteen to one??? Don’t even get me started on what we make our women heroes wear. I mean, you’d never see this, right?
Maybe our girls would benefit from more honest encouragement.
Do you think, when they were little girls, today’s women expected to do be competing under such lopsided conditions? Surely, that isn’t what their parents meant when they said: “you can be anything you want.” And that isn’t what those young girls heard. So are we really doing our daughters any favors by promising them that they can be anything they want when they grow up? It is certainly what we want for them. But it isn’t the world they are likely to inherit.
It’s a little wordy, but maybe this would be a much better message to give our girls:
“Girls and young ladies, your parents, teachers, mentors, and friends all want you to grow up to be anything you desire. You have the capacity to do it. But the path there may never be fair to you. It may be a constant test of your strength, character, and conviction. We never wanted these obstacles to your future, but this is your reality, and you need to be ready. With each generation, it will get better, and you will play an integral part in that. Maybe you will be able to tell your daughter she can be anything she wants, and mean it.”
Featured image from pixabay.