Editor’s note: Voices is a weekly column that provides a platform for Central New Yorkers to comment about the issues of the day. If you’d like to submit a column, email Larry Dietrich at firstname.lastname@example.org.
First, let me be clear: I don’t like theme months. Black History Month, Gay Pride Month and Southeast Asian Month make it too easy for people not to take seriously the challenges minority groups face and make light of their struggles by segregating attention and media coverage to that month. Or we caricature groups with gee-whiz stories about the first black firefighter or the first openly gay politician and fail to address institutional barriers and outright prejudice that hold back minority groups from equality and common decency.
But, alas, discrimination endures. People of color are stereotyped; black men disproportionately fill our prisons; and gay men and lesbians face unreasonable hurdles to safe, comfortable lives. Designating a month to focus on the accomplishments at least offers an opportunity to take stock in hopes that next year will be better.
That’s why I think it’s important to recognize March as Women’s History Month.
Yes, we’ve come a long way. But there’s still a long way to go.
“Through the grit and sacrifice of generations, American women and girls have gained greater opportunities and more representation than ever before,” President Barack Obama said last week in a presidential proclamation about Women’s History Month. “Yet they continue to face workplace discrimination, a higher risk of sexual assault and an earnings gap that will cost the average woman hundreds of thousands of dollars over the course of her working lifetime.”
Let’s start with equal pay.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the median annual earnings of women 15 or older who worked year-round, full time in 2012 was $37,791. The median annual earnings of men was $49,398. Women working full time, year round earn 77 cents to the dollar that men earn.
I concede this is not necessarily an apples-to-apples comparison. More women than men leave the workforce when they have children. (We’ll leave that discussion for another time.) According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the gap is 19 to 14 cents if calculated looking at weekly or hourly wages. I’m not an economist. But in what world is 86 cents to the dollar equal?
While more women than men attend and graduate from college, the gender gap lives in the business world. In 2012, 67 percent of college graduates and 70 percent of valedictorians were women. But in 2013, only 23 women were CEOs in the Fortune 500, and women own only one in three U.S. businesses.
The news in publishing is no better. The VIDA Count 2014, an annual counting of the ratio of women writers and reviewers, as well as reviews of books written by women in major (and influential) publications, found limited progress since its first analysis in 2010. The report released last month found The New York Review of Books published 800 pieces; 636 had male bylines and 164 had female bylines. McSweeney’s came in at 76 percent male bylines; Harper’s, 74 percent male; Times Literary Supplement, 72 percent male; and The New Republic 78 percent male.
The Women’s Media Center recently released the Status of Women in the U.S. Media 2014. Among its findings:
- Newsroom staffs have remained at about 36 percent female since 1999.
- Men were quoted on the front page of The New York Times 3.4 times more than women. (More women were quoted when women wrote the story.)
- At the New York Times, the Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal and the top four syndicates, male opinion page writers outnumber women by a ratio of 4 to 1.
- White males (who are 36 percent of the U.S. population) represent 64 percent of guests on Sunday talk shows on ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC.
- Men represent 90 percent of sports editors.
- Of the top 100 films of 2012 (a year that saw women with fewer speaking roles than any year since 2007) women played 28 percent of roles with speaking parts.
Even Google, it turns outs, slights women. According to SPARK Movement, a girls’ advocacy group, of the 445 doodles published on Google homepages worldwide between 2010 and 2013 that celebrated individuals, 82 percent featured men, while 17 percent featured women. (Although it was nice to see March 1’s doodle celebrating Women’s History Month.)
I could go on, listing areas where women are not represented.
Then there are the categories in which women are over-represented: low-wage jobs, single parents, victims of intimate partner abuse. Numbers don’t tell the whole story. But in a country where women just barely outnumber the population of men, it would be nice to see gender gaps narrowing. Women’s History Month reminds us of the slow pace toward gender equality.
Renée K. Gadoua is a freelance writer and editor who lives in Manlius. Follow her on Twitter @ReneeKGadoua.