Wednesday, March 08, 2017

International Women's Day

Today, the annual International Women's Day, is a global day that celebrates the economic, political and social achievements of women past, present and future. Some places like China, Russia, Vietnam and Bulgaria, make International Women's Day a national holiday.

It isn't a national holiday in the United States. We don't celebrate women here. We castigate them, grab 'em where it counts, take away their reproductive rights, call them names, offer wolf whistles at them, offer non-support to one another because one woman might get something another doesn't have, and otherwise do little to enhance and develop the one half of the population that the other half cannot do without.

That's one side of it, anyway. I went to an all-women's undergraduate college whose motto was "Women Who Are Going Places Start at Hollins." In that environment, I heard no castigation, no catcalls, had no one grab me, and found support from teachers and fellow students unlike any that I had experienced. It remains my go-to place when I feel a need for support and encouragement. The campus is not far from me and sometimes I simply drive there and sit in the parking lot, watching the young women stroll across the grounds, backpacks flung behind them. The world is wide open to them.

I'd love to think they would find a better world - a better place - than I have. A place where jobs are welcoming and open, not stifling and under paid. A place where men treat women as human beings, not as objects. A place where the "male gaze," so prominent in movies and TV, has been eliminated. (The male gaze is the way in which the visual arts and literature depict the world and women from a masculine point of view, presenting women as objects of male pleasure. As an example, Hardee's commercials are good at this. That company, whose CEO was thankfully not named head of the federal Department of labor, has ads where voluptuous women in skin-tight clothing sit on a car and chow down on a hamburger like they're giving a guy a blow job.)

U.S. women frequently point to women in Arabic countries as counterpoints to indicate that we have come a long way, baby, but have we?

Women's rights are still denied in many parts of the world, where women live as second class citizens. In the US, men and women have the same legal rights, but we still experience discrimination against women on a large scale. While women in the United states may have the right to vote, but females are still discriminated against in terms of educational and career opportunities.

The pay gap, in particular, remains a problem in the United States. Gender gaps in labor force participation are associated with lower growth rates the world over.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, a woman doing the same job as a man can expect to earn only 79% of what the male does if she works in the United States. In other words, for every $100 the man earns, the woman earns only $79. Over time, this adds up significantly, leaving the woman to have less Social Security income in her retirement years, as well as having fewer dollars to spend annually during her work life.

Fifty-seven percent of all women participate in the labor force. (Almost all women work at home, unpaid, doing laundry, taking care of sick children or parents, or simply being a mom. Staying at home ain't easy.) The most common jobs for women are secretaries/administrative assistants, teachers, and nurses. Among the top 25 most common jobs for women, being a CEO is not one of them.

Here's a little graphic of what has changed for U.S. women over the last 50 years:

One of those "helps," the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare), is in the process of being repealed and "replaced" by the current Republican Administration. The new proposal, unveiled yesterday, is not being met with much pomp and circumstance even from within the GOP, so it remains to be seen how that will affect women if and when it passes. Obviously, Republicans will continue their war on women's reproductive rights and their ability to manage their own health care. Apparently some of the good ol' boys still believe women shouldn't run when they menstruate, or sweat, or otherwise exert themselves, for fear of a fainting spell a la Scarlett O'Hara. "Don't worry your pretty little head about it," a phrase I heard frequently growing up, seems to be the political mantra when it comes to the so-called fairer sex.

But we have to worry about it, because no one is going to care of me but me, just as no one is going to take care of you but you. I am fortunate to have a loving and respectful husband, but not everyone woman is. Lots of women are married to assholes who do not deserve them.

Nor will my husband live forever. Even though I am not healthy, the odds still favor my outliving him. Women outlive men by about five to six years. By age 85 there are roughly six women to every four men. It is important that women prepare for this eventuality, but lower wages make that harder than it needs to be.

Today women went on strike all over the globe. On articles about a school system in Virginia that shut down completely because so many teachers requested the day off, I saw comments from women (and men) that were the verbal equivalent to being spat upon. Why should women "strike," when they supposedly have everything, these commenters said.

Because they don't have everything. Statistics everywhere back that up. Women who think they have equality are sadly mistaken and have been misled into believing that because they are not suffering hardship, others do not, either. But I assure you, that is not the case. In my work as a news reporter, I saw plenty of women who were mistreated, underrated, underappreciated, and unloved. I sat in the trailers of single women who had lost their husbands who had nowhere to turn, and I held the hands of other women who cried because they'd just lost their jobs at the sewing factory in New Castle and had no clue what they would do next (that was back in the mid-1990s; we don't have textile factories here anymore). Life isn't pretty, and it can be downright ugly even for the most beautiful female.

And while I'm speaking of ugly, I will leave you with these ugly facts from the CDC (which stands to lose funding under the new Republican Administration, by the way) to ponder (hit the first link for the .pdf if this is hard to read):

One last thing: if you're a guy, would you want to be a woman? Think about that, and if the answer is no - then think about why not. List those. That list of "why nots" are the things that need to change.

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