I was recently afforded the opportunity to attend a gala dinner. Previously unbeknownst to me, a gala is a black tie affair and women dress in formal gowns or dresses. This new knowledge left me standing in my closet looking at my sad collection of clothes wondering what in the world I was going to wear.
This was not the first time this had happened, of course. I stand in this position on most mornings, trying to decide what to wear to work. I try to pick things that look good on me, but at the same time I don’t care as much as some people about whether my assets are being shown off. I absolutely hate this non-stop merry-go-round of choosing outfits every day. Standing there trying to decide if I own anything nice enough to wear to a gala was when a horrifying and bone chilling thought crossed my mind, was Caitlyn Jenner was right? Was the hardest part about being a woman deciding what to wear?
It certainly seemed so at that exact moment in time. That is until my higher reasoning abilities kicked back in. (Somehow standing in front of too many clothes reduces me to my 14 year old self complete with adolescent anxiety as well as world view.) I recalled all the recent articles I had read on Equal Pay Day, as well as my own personal struggle with balancing motherhood and a full time job.
“Start early and begin raising the bar throughout the day” ~ Bruce Jenner
Bruce Jenner (now Caitlyn) won the decathlon in the 1976 summer Olympics. Up until 1972, less than 20% of participants in the Olympics were female. Just 20 short years ago, prior to 1996, less than 30% were women. Even in the most recent summer games, less than half of participants were female. Historically, sports have been primarily dominated by men. Thanks to women’s soccer, basketball, golf, and other leagues, the bar has been raised in regards to women’s sports, but there is still a long way to go too.
The media gives most of its attention to the more familiar and traditional teams. Some sport clubs go back over a hundred years. Women’s teams sometimes find it difficult to compete for attention. But in an age when our young girls are being told they can be and do all the same things a boy can, does our society follow through with that promise?
When my daughter grows up she can be a judge, doctor, engineer, scientist, or any number of other professions that have previously been dominated by men. But if so, will the media nickname her like they did Lucy Jones, the Earthquake Lady? Jones discovered her love for science in the late 60’s and early 70’s. Similar to professional sports, not many women were entering the field of science at the time. She said once in an interview, “The guys doing the same thing don’t get called ‘the earthquake guys.’”
You’ve come a long way, baby
During the Victorian era, women were considered the property of their spouse, with all their earnings, possessions, and even their very bodies belonging to their husband. Physical activity for girls was believed to be inappropriate and even dangerous. Young women were warned to keep their health for giving birth to their husband’s children. Women were offered only selective education. They could study subjects which would aid them in becoming interesting conversationalists such as history or geography. They were discouraged from attending universities and it was reported that higher education would even make them ill as it went against their nature.
In this new millennium, surely we are more progressive, right? Nope. Despite making up over 58% of the workforce, women still only make 78.3 cents per dollar of what men make. In the last 25 years, we have only closed the gap by 10 cents. At this rate, my granddaughter might have a shot at equal pay. And this is despite the fact that over half of high school valedictorians are female, and more women are graduating college than men. In 2003, there were 1.35 females for every male who graduated from a four-year college and 1.3 females for every male undergraduate. So what’s the deal?
My two cents
Our society, whether we like to admit it or not, greatly shapes the way we think. And unfortunately our society is greatly shaped by our media. Hopefully this doesn’t shock anyone too much, but the media is generally out to sell something, which means they have an agenda, an ulterior motive. This applies to the news, sitcoms, reality television, and most of all, to advertising. If you take a look at what the media tells us, we can more easily see how this view of women as well as other beliefs have come to be. (A full analysis of how the media shapes current thought is enough to fill several books, and has. Here is one of my favorites.)
I don’t have all the answers. I do know that as a marketer I can see through a lot of the “spin” thrown at me, and still I have succumbed to society’s influence. We could bury our collective head in the sand and go dark. But I would rather be in the fray trying to make a difference and change things for the better. “Be the change you wish to see in the world,” is a good motto to live by.
What are your thoughts? Do you see society and media’s influence in your life, in the lives of those around you? What can or should we do about it? As mothers we can do our best to raise a generation of people who treat everyone with fairness and equality. As working mothers we can take advantage of ‘take your child to work’ day (April 28, 2016) and show our children of both genders what equal work looks like. We are society. Can we change the long-held belief that women are somehow less deserving than men? What will you do?