Sunday, August 13, 2017

Making Peace with True Gender Equality

At the aggregate level, the majority of college graduates across the United States are now women. The vast majority of college applicants with the highest grades, scores and accomplishments are women.  (A recent article I read noted that the single biggest beneficiary of affirmative action these days is white male college applicants as colleges scramble to come close to an equal number of women and men on campus--they fail--many colleges have 60% women or more) 

(why are all these women white? why couldn't I find a better picture?)
At the anecdotal level, most of young adults that I know that are succeeding in the world in conventional terms (education, career, independence from parents) are women (caveat: not sure if this is born out by statistics, but seems probable).  I should also note at this point that as I write, the distinction between the sex that someone is born with and the gender that someone identifies with is also completely being defined and so these changes that I am exploring increasingly do not take place in a binary gender universe, but instead within a continuum that I cannot entirely predict or imagine.

Yet we are still in a time when the vast majority of elected officials are men, the vast majority of CEOs of major companies are men, certain fields remain top heavy with men, and women (across all backgrounds) earn 70 cents to the dollar of men (across all backgrounds). 

So as this generation, in which women are, for the first time perhaps in thousands of years, more prepared to be the breadwinners than men are, comes into its own—the possibility for pushback is enormous.  The 119 cataclysmic election has been widely covered as part of the pushback, particularly as Trump beat the first female major party nominee for president.  Much of the analysis of why Trump won has focused on angry white voters rather than angry male voters, partly because white female voters defected in significant numbers from Clinton to Trump.

But I think we’re making a mistake if we think that men are the only people uncomfortable with a transition to equality.  In race relations, although I have no research to back it up, it is probably safe to assume that almost all people of color are comfortable with a swift transition to a leadership that looks more like the actual workforce or the electorate. 

But may not be the case with a transition to even an equal, let alone female-dominant, leadership of institutions.   In many instances, even some feminists, may be uncomfortable with a change of that magnitude—it shakes the foundations of family, of culture in a way that many can’t quite fathom.  I think it is not historical coincidence that we elected a male person of color president before we elected a woman (of any color).

I believe this because I see it in myself.  Here I am, a white woman, a lifelong feminist, and while I have no problem voting for female candidates (I do have a problem with Clintons, but I voted for her anyway), I do feel uncomfortable at the prospect of a world to come that might be disproportionately female-dominated.

Here’s an example, I’m a senior minister, the head pastor at my (small) church—an extreme rarity in the world of churches.  On the local email group of clergy, which is almost all male, my title often gets inadvertently dropped.  And I’m sensitive to this, and wish there were more female clergy in the world.    Yet, it makes me uncomfortable that in my denomination, the Centers for Spiritual Living, the vast majority of all ministers are women.  In 2014, in my graduating class from Holmes Institute for Consciousness Studies in Santa Rosa, CA, ten out of ten of us were women.

Until recently, that has worried me.  And I’ve had to look at that and do my work around it.  I’m irrationally bothered on both ends.  I’m bothered that the executive director and the Spiritual Leader of our international denomination (as wonderful as they are) are white men, in an organization that is dominated by women and has significant number of ministers of color and a commitment to diversity.  I’m bothered that in crowded fields of ministers vying to be called as senior ministers at larger centers, it seems (anecdotally) that the congregations are much more comfortable offering the pulpit to male than to female ministers. 

And yet I’ve also been uncomfortable with how few male colleagues I have.  It feels unhealthy and strange.  I grew up with a very strong relationship and identification with my (feminist professor advocate) father and my wonderful brothers and husband.  Yet, I also see that a strong part of my cultural upbringing is that it is women’s job to make men feel comfortable.  For example, in mixed company it is acceptable for men to talk about sports or comic books or microbreweries or other subjects that women may by and large take little interest in (or feign interest in).  Meanwhile, it is decidedly unacceptable for the women in that same mixed group to talk for more than a second about films that particularly appeal to them (acceptably and popularly demeaned as “chick flix”), shopping for clothing, or anything at all to do with menstruation or childbirth.  If women want to talk about such things, it is understood that they need to do it separately.  Men for the most part can talk about whatever they want, whenever they want (except extreme sexual objectification of women, which they are advised to take into their “mancaves.”)

I am reminded of the hilarious feminist comic Kate Clinton’s early bit on how if men menstruated, and they needed a tampon, instead of whispering shamefully on the sidelines and hiding it in a bag as they transferred it to another person, the men would shout out in groups, “anyone got a ‘pon?” and another guy, who would have a neat pack in his breast pocket, would say say, “sure, go long,” and pass it like a football.

So where am I going with this?  My point is that whether we realize it or not, every layer of our society, every class,  depends upon women trying to make men feel like men.  It is our job to do so.  And as we become the CEOs, the governors, the presidents, the senior ministers (all of whom historically relay on unpaid wives to bolster their careers and their egos and their lives), how do we do this?  Is there a role reversal?  Is it now men’s job to make us succeed?  Is it every person for themselves?  Who is raising the children? Is it to be generations of women giving birth and handing the child-raising over to men because they’re the ones with a paying job? 

I guess I sound like someone born 56 years ago that has more questions than answers and I’ve gone on too long.  Blog out.

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