Monday, August 3, 2009

Women in the 21st Century

As a man, I am perhaps not the best judge of the state of women in the world today, but, hey, it's my blog. I was struck today by two stories today at Salon: one on the Lingerie football league and one on the role of women in leadership positions in the UK. Is this where we expected women to be in the 21st century, now that we are almost one full decade into it? I distinctly remember my first days at Oberlin, where I quickly learned that the female college students were women, not girls. Now, I see girl used all the time to refer to female adults. Is this symbolic of anything?

Well, I am confused, in part because girls/women are in a better place in many ways. The media has been chock full of stories about girls dominating the grades and the clubs in high schools, in college admissions, and the like. While women are still under-represented at the Full Professor level, I have seen a sea-change at conferences, where women are fairly numerous even in areas which are seen as especially male-dominated (International Security).

Indeed, last year, we had a job search for a position on China, and we ended up interviewing three women. This led to rumors on the job blogs that we were looking only for women, but that was not the case. The three most qualified candidates happened to be women (just like the three best candidates for our International Political Economy position were males). Of course, the blogs revealed the fears men have of losing positions to women based on their supposed gender advantage. Well, I have seen enough sexism in the field to doubt such an "advantage."

The irony is that we didn't hire any of the three women--perhaps for idiosyncratic reasons, but we got turned down by all three, and perhaps the challenges of moving husbands had something to do with it. Also, moving families to Montreal is not so easy due to language laws. So, it is not clear whether this search proves anything--that women are favored, that women are excelling, or that women who are married cannot move as easily. Too many variables in play and just one anecdote.

And on a semi-related note, I don't think the female 911 caller was excluded from the beer summit due to her gender, but simply because she was not one of the central protagonists that night. Raising gender as an issue when it pretty clear is not is just as counter-productive to the cause as raising race when it is not (not that I am saying that about Gates).

So, fearless readers, educate me--is the gender beer-glass half-full or half-empty as we depart the first decade of the new millennium?

1 comment:

KathyS said...

It's both. Women are making progress, but there's backlash resistence because of that progress. The sexualization of women to sell things (lingerie league)is rationalized as female power, like back in the 1960's, but just like in the 1960's, women seen as too sexual are still supposed to be punished and seen as less moral, while male sexual behavior is not similarly judged and even celebrated. Working women are viewed as neurotic and still often portrayed that way in movies and t.v., but there are more women's movies getting made than there used to be and more lead roles on t.v., though it's an uphill battle. And women are still stuck fighting the same old battles -- reproductive rights, childcare, equal pay -- which means other battles progress less quickly. Violence against women has increased, but more women are independent from men financially and careerwise.

If poverty increases further, however, because of the economy, women's rights will go downhill. As the Great Generation steps down fully from governing, and the feminist generation and the post-feminist generation step into it, though, women's rights should improve. But if that happens, a lot of that will be non-white women who are dealing with far from feminist cultural backgrounds and families. And gay women are soundly oppressed.