• September 5, 2015

Equity for Women--Still

For the 10th-anniversary issue of The Chronicle Review, we asked scholars and illustrators to answer this question: What will be the defining idea of the coming decade, and why?

Nearly 25 years ago, when a case about employers and pregnancy benefits came before the Supreme Court, Thurgood Marshall noted that the key question was whether "women, as well as men, [can] have families without losing their jobs." That's a question of equity, and it is the battle for equity that will define the next decade.

There is a lot of talk about postfeminism these days; all of it is simultaneously silly and dangerous. The half-century struggle to establish equality between men and women remains unresolved. To be sure, much progress has been made when it comes to equal access to education and training, equal pay for equal work (and for work of comparable worth), and equal promotion to leadership positions in all fields. These accomplishments are real, but they are incomplete. Moreover, those accomplishments rely on a definition of equality that is rooted in sameness—same access to opportunities and the same rewards—but it is the less-understood idea of equity that will be most bedeviling and vital during the next decade.

The idea of equity—outcomes that justly and fairly accommodate different situations—for all citizens, men and women, goes to the heart of democratic practice. Equity recognizes, as Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg phrased it, "a woman's autonomy to determine her life's course." Achieving that goal will require us to adjust, disrupt, and reimagine how men, as well as women, live their lives.

We can begin in the workplace. Unpaid family and medical leave is no gift at all for people whose rent or mortgages will therefore also be unpaid. Employers need to be able to accommodate workers who must leave to become caregivers. School districts have long embraced the concept of the "permanent substitute" to cover for teachers on maternity leave; inventive programs are now under way to staff research laboratories so that they don't depend on a single principal investigator.

But the workplace is only the beginning. The deeper question is whether we really believe men and women are equal. If we do, then we would eliminate legal preferences based on marriage, opening them to all citizens, and embracing same-sex marriage; we would more easily recognize gender-based violence as grounds for asylum; and we would scrub our citizenship requirements of gender bias (eliminating, for example, the ease with which unmarried American men can deny citizenship to the children they father abroad).

The feminist visionaries of the 1970s named what were then new harms: quotas masquerading as preference; sexual harassment; and criminalized abortion when it was known to be a safe medical procedure. The visionaries of our own time need to focus on new harms, like family-responsibility discrimination. The struggle won't be pretty. But since virtually all of us are happy to enjoy feminism's accomplishments, we dare not let them erode; we'd better embrace the challenge of making equity in our relationships, public and private.

Linda K. Kerber is a professor of history and a lecturer in law at the University of Iowa.


1. timbitts649 - August 30, 2010 at 08:43 pm

What an absolute crock, Linda.

For one thing, there are far more women, than men, graduating from high school, and university. Why don't feminists complain about this inequity? Boys are falling behind.

More education eventually leads to higher wages. I know dozens of men who financially support women, when they have families. An equal world implies half of all women earning more money than their man.

Ok, let's go there...if that were the case, how many ladies would be willing to marry a guy who earned less than him? Not many. How many ladies would tell the guy, "honey, you stay at home, and look after the kids, I'll be the main breadwinner for twenty years"? Not many.... Most women would laugh at the idea.

Feminists want it both ways. In the romance dept., they still want to marry Prince Charming, who sweeps them off their feet, and who happens to earn more money than them. But in the work force, they want to be the boss of men. Very few women "marry down".

At home, a modern man puts up and compete with, a bossy feminist women who wants to control the home, and at work, it is the same thing.

I know what women want: to control men.

All this feminist crap means the male is no longer included, as part of a Western family. Males are optional, and can be rotated, at will, by unhappy females. It's interesting that 75% of all divorces, are instituted by females. I believe any society that fully embraces feminism, will eventually destroy itself. Feminism destroys the family, and marginalizes males. Matriarchy will not work.

2. firesidetartan - August 31, 2010 at 10:22 am

(1) Immediately I saw the Chronicle's "big idea of the next decade" I immediately thought of equality of the sexes. Thank heavens someone has the breadth of vision to include it.
(2) I fully agree about equality not being sameness, but "equity" - i.e. "outcomes that justly and fairly accommodate different situations".
(3) The struggle for equality of the sexes in the United States is not just 50 years old. It has been going on since before the Revolution of 1776 and the first struggle, which women like Abigail Adams fought, failed with the Declaration of Independence when it stated that "all men are created equal."
(4) The only way that inequality of the sexes can be addressed is with ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment. This is still languishing after 87 years and awaits only three more states to rectify that fundamental inequality written into the fundamental law of the U.S. with the establishment of the nation.
(5) The ERA states: Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.
Unlike the writers of the Declaration of Independence, Alice Paul, the woman who crafted the Amendment, drafted it to include both sexes, and so when ratified, it would work both ways and address the kind of male inequality that the previous writer commentator is, quite naturally, concerned about.
So please look up the Equal Rights Amendment and work for three states to ratify and overcome other obstacles.
(6) And please look up the history of the long, long fight that women had to win the vote - 90 years ago just last week. They were not given it. They were tortured in the U.S. for their campaign, even as the U.S. was fighting for democracy abroad. It is only in the context of that struggle that women's extreme positions even today can be understood even if you don't agree with them
(7) It is also in the context of equal rights for both sexes under the law in the U.S. that many of the points that the author of the original article become moot. One equality of the sexes in in the fundamental law of the land, the debate will automatically be raised to a higher level and many countless costly individual battles that currently take up so much time and energy can be dealt with much more quickly, easily and equitably.

3. sher2824 - August 31, 2010 at 11:59 am

I too believe that gender equity- *global* gender equity- is the next major iconceptualization of the decade. While I agree with her general point, the author ignores *global* feminist pursuits and definitions. Her comment, "To be sure, much progress has been made when it comes to equal access to education and training, equal pay for equal work (and for work of comparable worth), and equal promotion to leadership positions in all fields," is laughable when applied abroad. Globally, 60% of the children out of school today are girls. In South and West Asia, two-thirds of out-of-school youth are girls.

Consider statistics from the book _Half the Sky_ which notes that “more girls have been killed in the last fifty years, precisely because they were girls, than men were killed in all the battles of the twentieth century”; “every year, another 2 million girls worldwide disappear because of gender discrimination” resulting in how “107 million females are missing from the globe today.” Yet the chief economist of World Bank argues that “Educating girls yields a higher rate of return than any other investment in the developing world,” with the Secretary General of the United Nations echoing how “study after study has taught us that there is no tool for development more effective than the education of girls.”

We need a global (ie broader) perspective on women's equality to include women *and girls* outside of Eurocentric definitions of need and progress while recognizing that American women are still underpaid, still hypersexualized, still commodified, and still considered responsible for the totality of the family's functioning.

4. trendisnotdestiny - September 02, 2010 at 12:06 am

Eve Ensler's recent NY monologues on what it is like growing up to be a woman in this time and space. From body image to sex trafficking, we have done very little in honoring the tenets of feminism or in addressing those forms of power that make the lives of women worse.... In my mind, feminism (a true understanding of it without pejorative portrayals) is one of the only "isms" that can make our environment, relations and time spent here better...

5. mwilsonk - September 02, 2010 at 09:55 am

#1, timbitts649,

I am not sure where you get your peculiar ideas about "what women want." I work full time at a large university. My husband makes considerably less money than I do. He does the laundry, the grocery shopping, the cooking, lots of the cleaning and takes our child to doctor's appointments and after school activities. All of the women who hear about his role in our family life are incredibly jealous. I certainly have no desire to "rotate" him.

Your post has simply served as a pointed reminder that misogyny still exists.

6. joanmklaus - September 02, 2010 at 09:59 pm

What has happened to the Women's Movement in the last 30 years? How did it evaporate? Was it the Barbie Doll? Was it the macho emphasis on sports? Maybe it is the Cosmo goofiness? In any case, this is a serious dilemma for young women. They are unrecognized achievers. Go Sally Ride, etc.

Joan Klaus

7. flyingsquirrel - September 08, 2010 at 09:14 pm

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