A Battle Worth Fighting: Gender Inequality

Delta Winds cover 2009Delta Winds: A Magazine of Student Essays
A Publication of San Joaquin Delta College


A Battle Worth Fighting: Gender Inequality

Paula Thomson

Imagine, if you would, what could be successfully accomplished if women, given the same opportunities as men, would consolidate their efforts, energy, and resources to achieve common goals and to face challenges in America? Collaboration and healthy competition in the workplace would increase productivity ten-fold, child raising and managing the household responsibilities would be a shared duty, and society would radiate goodwill for all. In this idealistic world, people would live in tranquility where cooperation among men and women would be commonplace. This could be a societal template for the future generations to follow. However, throughout the history of America, the oppression that women have endured has had an adverse effect that puts boundaries on every aspect of humanity. Rather than embracing women as worthy of equal opportunities in life, some men have approached the women's movement as a threat as they erect impenetrable barriers to change. The imbalance of power and limits to opportunities squelch women's contribution to society; many women possess undiscovered talent, intelligent foresight, and a plethora of ideas. The 1900s witnessed an uprising from women who fought a tough battle to gain ground on discrimination by men. With the momentum for the advancement of women's rights going full speed ahead, I believe the struggle for equality is moving in a positive direction with changes in the family, in the workplace, and in society.

The definition of the word "right" is descended "from the Middle English word, riht, meaning the power or privilege to which one is justly entitled" (Merriam-Webster). For the women who have stood on the front line of this conflict, they are only requesting "the privilege to which they are justly entitled" (Merriam-Webster).

With multiculturalism in America, the role of women in the family varies from household to household. In Maxine Hong Kingston's memoir, The Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood Among Ghosts, she learns firsthand through talk-stories told by her mother and behaviors that are modeled by men in her family that inequality exists if you were born a Chinese girl. In one of Kingston's fantastical stories, the baron states, "'girls are maggots in the rice.' 'It is more profitable to raise geese than daughters'" (43). Often she experiences times when her Great-Uncle would only invite the boys in her family to go on outings while buying them candy and new toys (47). This unsettling climate that Kingston and her sisters live in as children casts a dark cloud on the preferential cultural favoritism that exists.

The Latin American culture that I was raised in socializes women to work at home, to raise children, to care for the house, to cook, and to take full responsibility of the home. As the oldest daughter, I was taught to shoulder most of the work in the home. Memories of my brothers not helping with chores around the house caused feelings of resentment and anger that would rise up but went unanswered as, ultimately, I was held fully accountable. My approach and strategy changed with my four sons, to whom I teach that it is not acceptable for one or two people to carry the heavy load of responsibilities. Teaching them to be independent in both outdoor as well as indoor tasks is a goal that I set out to accomplish. The difference between my childhood home and my home now is that my husband and sons share in the tasks around the house. For me an important factor in childrearing is to end this cycle that women in my culture have come to accept as normal.

In Gloria Steinem's article "What It Would Be Like if Women Win," she predicts that in her utopian world " for the American child's classic problem--too much mother, too little father--that would be cured by an equalization of parental responsibility" (par. 10). Furthermore, she suggests, "there will be free access to good jobs--and decent pay for the bad ones women have been performing all along, including housework" (par. 4). Steinem proposes that "men will have to give up ruling-class privileges, but in return they will no longer be the only ones to support the family, get drafted, bear the strain of power and responsibility" (par. 6). So in a perfect world, the children will have equal access to both parents with the workload evenly distributed.

Likewise the oppression that women face in the workplace includes a gender imbalance in wages and upper-level positions. Kingston writes in her memoirs about a boss who was planning a banquet at a restaurant accused of discrimination by CORE and the NAACP. When she refuses to type the invitations, she is fired from the job (49). The unfair action of her boss strengthens Kingston's stance in her fight against cultural injustices and prejudices that victimized others.

When I started working in a clerical position at a health insurance office, I was shocked at the biased advantages that men had over women. Although the men were given different job titles, some of them received higher wages while performing the same job as women. In addition when affirmative action became the new trend in America, several men in our office were hired due to their African-American or Asian affiliations and not because of the skills that the position required. Until I witnessed these discriminatory actions, which had a profound effect on me, I had a gross misconception of the necessity and the purpose of the women's rights movement.

Conversely, there is a claim that progress that has been made in gender equality has not been fully disclosed and publicized. According to John Leo's article, "Our Addiction to Bad News (Minority and Women's Leaders Ignore Accomplishments)," he criticizes minority and women's leaders for withholding the positive changes that have taken place. Responding to a 1995 report from the Glass Ceiling Commission, he states, "to bolster female support for affirmative action, the commission was determined to highlight some allegedly impenetrable barrier placed before white women" (par. 8). Moreover, he expounds that:

"The trouble is that women are rapidly running out of barriers. In a single generation, women have gone from low-level, sex-typed jobs to a point where they account for roughly 40 percent of medical and law students, executives, administrators, managers and Ph.D. candidates" (par. 9).

Leo assesses that "we pay a high price for this strategic negativism. Progress is made to seem hopeless" (par. 5). His perspective on the public's purported lack of awareness of the advancements made in minority and women's equality merits consideration and open-mindedness.

In addition the progression of the women's movement can be credited to the bold and courageous women of the early 1900s who blazed the trail for women today. Steinem explains that "after the Nineteenth Amendment legalizing women's suffragethe women's rights movement moved into a period of dormancy. However, by the 1960s, women were again beginning to question their status in American society" (par 1). The reawakening was a result of the convergence of women's voices. In Anna Quindlen's article "Everyday Equality; Each of Us Rose on the Shoulders of Women Who Had Come Before Us. Move Up, Reach Down: That Was the Motto of Those Worth Knowing," she admits:

"As a teenager, [she] was outspoken and outraged[who] got on the equality bandwagon because [she] was a young woman with a streak of ambition a mile wide, and without a change in the atmosphere [she] thought [she] was going to wind up living a life that would make [her] crazy" (par. 2).

In 1970 Quindlen illustrates the power of unification for change when she writes that "46 women at [NEWSWEEK] magazine charge it with workplace discrimination; today NEWSWEEK publishes an annual issue on women's leadership" (par. 8). She claims that in the "fight for equality" women were not trying to replace men but to make adjustments that need to be made (par. 6). Quindlen states, "the battle was really against waste, the waste of talent, the waste to society, the waste of women who had certain gifts and goals and had to suppress both" (par. 6).

Overheated with frustration about Chinese cultural limitations, Kingston erupts. She confronts her mother in the following way: "[My American teachers] tell me I'm smartI can get to collegesI could be a scientist or a mathematician if I wantnot everybody thinks I'm nothing" (201). In an effort to promote her individualism, she stages her uprising against gender discrimination as she describes that "[she] went away to college--Berkeley in the sixties--and [she] studied, and [she] marched to change the work" (47).

In conclusion women's voices are converging as one as they are demanding respect in the form of equal rights for women. The dream towards gender equality could not have been realized if not for the efforts of the 1900s women, who pioneered the first paramount movement, and writers like Quindlen, Steinem, and Kingston, whose voices articulate what women have not been able to verbalize, whose voices reach out to bring awareness for all to hear. If women solidify their stance with keen vision, tireless determination, and celebratory moments while moving towards their goal, they will continue to be a force to be reckoned with for those people who refuse to bend with the winds that proclaim "equal rights for women." At the same time if people remove the barriers that have placed limitations on women, work could be carried out harmoniously, expeditiously, and efficiently to achieve common goals and to overcome difficult challenges. America faces these challenges. Together the possibility of an equal partnership between men and women can materialize, creating a positive change in the family, in the workplace, and in society.

Works Cited

Kingston, Maxine Hong. The Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood Among Ghosts. New York: Random House. 1975.

Leo, John. "Our Addiction to Bad News (Minority and Women's Leaders Ignore Accomplishments)." Opposing Viewpoints Resource Center. Gale Group. 1995. San Joaquin Delta College Library, Stockton, CA. 5 Mar. 2009 < http://galenet.galegroup.com >.

"Merriam-Webster Online." Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary. 8 March 2009 < http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/right >.

Quindlen, Anna. "Everyday Equality; Each of Us Rose on the Shoulders of Women Who Had Come Before Us. Move Up, Reach Down: That Was the Motto of Those Worth Knowing." Opposing Viewpoints Resource Center. Gale Group. 2006. San Joaquin Delta College Library, Stockton, CA. 5 Mar. 2009 < http://galenet.galegroup.com >.

Steinem, Gloria. "What It Would Be Like if Women Win." Opposing Viewpoints Resource Center. Gale Group. 2003. San Joaquin Delta College Library, Stockton, CA. 4 Mar. 2009 < http://galenet.galegroup.com >.