Friday, May 4, 2012

Changes in Gender Equality in My Lifetime

No-one older than 60 needs to read this post. You already know how different our society is from when we were young.

So I'm 62, and when I was a little boy ...

The professions were largely closed to women. Law schools and medical schools didn't admit significant numbers of women, and there were hardly any female ministers.

Birth control was hard to obtain and illegal in some places, abortions were illegal and dangerous, pregnant girls had to drop out of school, and people "had" to get married.

Women were either "good girls" or sluts, and only sluts enjoyed sex.

Everyone knew women couldn't understand math or science, handle financial matters, or control their emotions enough to think logically.

When I was a young man ...

Women were just entering the professional and corporate world, and men had a hard time figuring out how to treat women as colleagues and friends instead of sex objects and lovers.

Men were presumed competent. Women had to prove themselves every day.

Unlike men, women were expected to choose between having a career or having a family. A woman who wanted both was accused of "wanting to have it all."

A man who spoke confidently was a leader. A woman who spoke confidently was shrill.

Now that I am an older man ...

We have made progress, but women have not yet achieved true equality. We have yet to elect a woman as President. There are still far too few women in Congress. There have been only four female Supreme Court justices, three of them presently serving on the High Court.

Led by educational institutions, the workplace is steadily opening up to women. However, one segment of our society that has been notoriously slow to recognize the basic equality of women is organized religion. Many of our churches, synagogues, and mosques still ban women from the clergy. News flash to religious institutions! Men are not closer to God than women! Discrimination on the basis of gender is gravely immoral! Catch up, people!

Another manifestation of gender equality is the gay rights movement. Homophobia is in large part based upon traditional notions of strict gender roles. Men should not be "effeminate" and women should not be "masculine." A man should not be a "wife" and a woman should not be a "husband." Men cannot raise children and women should not work outside the home. Men on top, women on the bottom. It's not the sex, its the symbolism!

If gender doesn't matter - if people are people - then men should be allowed to marry men and women should be permitted to marry women.

We are not entirely past those days when it was common to refer to someone as a "lady doctor" or a "woman lawyer" or a "female minister" as if she were a special kind of doctor, lawyer, or minister. But it is not as common or acceptable as it used to be. And until Rush Limbaugh uttered the term the other day in reference to Danica Patrick (of all people), I hadn't heard anyone pejoratively refer to a "woman driver" in over 50 years. Nina Mandell, New York Daily News, Rush Limbaugh on Danica Patrick: "What Do You Expect from a Woman Driver?"

Ahh, it brings you back.

Wilson Huhn teaches Constitutional Law at The University of Akron School of Law.

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