Isn’t it Getting Better?!?

Since I’ve started thinking, talking and blogging about male privilege, I’ve gotten the “Isn’t it getting better?” question a lot. Like during almost every interaction. And my answer is always a qualified yes. Let me illustrate.

On Tuesday night, the great states of Massachusetts, New York, California, Washington, North Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Missouri and Nebraska each sent women to the United States Senate. Combined with the women already serving who were not on the ballot last night, it will make the next Senate the most diverse ever in terms of gender, with 20 women taking their seats when the Senate picks up again in the Winter.

Especially in light of other gains by women in the political world, doesn’t this mean that the situation is getting better for women? Isn’t it an indication that the playing field is leveling out?

A qualified yes.

It’s a “yes” in the sense that 20 women will be debating legislation for the first time in the Senate’s history. Indeed, just 82 years after the 19th Amendment, 20 women will be serving in the venerable Senate. Put another way, Amy’s grandmother was alive when women finally got the right to vote, and now she’s alive to see 20 women in the Senate. That’s coming a long way in a relatively short amount of time.

And yet it’s a qualified “yes” in the sense that also shows us just how far we have to go. Women make up over 50% of the population in this country, yet only 20% of our government’s most important legislative body is composed of women. In other words, when a piece of legislation is debated in the Senate, 50+ percent of the population is represented by only 20% of the present Senators.

So, yes, we’ve come along way. And, we have a long way to go.

I felt the same way when I heard the news last August that after years of effort women were finally going to be permitted to join the membership of Augusta National Golf Club, perhaps the most prestigious golf course in the world. That Condoleeza Rice and Darla Moore are now able to play Amen Corner is surely a win in the battle for gender equality. But, again, it’s a qualified win. To me it smacks of tokenism. After all, does opening the doors to two particular women suddenly mean that parity has been reached in golf in general or at Augusta in particular? I think not.

So, yes, as a society we are changing. The playing field is becoming more level. And yet the change is coming slowly and there remains a long way to go, in the political and athletic arenas and in other areas as well, in our country and around the world.

The bottom line, then, is that the march to gender equality is in large part just getting started.

I’ll close with a quote by journalists Sheryl WuDunn and Nicolas Kristof, from their book Half the Sky: “In the nineteenth century, the central moral challenge was slavery. In the twentieth century, it was the battle against totalitarianism. We believe that in this century the paramount moral challenge will be the struggle for gender equality around the world.”

What about you? Where do you see the gender playing field leveling out around you?

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