Few social issues raise more frustration and sound bites than how to act on the need for greater women’s rights in the United States. While Americans generally do not oppose the ends of gender political equality, disagreement still rages about the means.
As was recently discussed at the British Council’s Going Global 2011, an international education conference, there is an immense gap between the high proportion of female students enrolled in higher education internationally and the strikingly low number of women in leadership positions. TCU students should understand the need to remove barriers to female advancement in the workplace.
Strong advocates of the first waves of feminism must consider the realities of gender and the extent to which public work to equalize social statistics should advance the feminist movement.
The first obstacle to balancing women’s equality in school with their equality in the workplace is organizational culture. The stumbling block of patriarchy defines many large institutions like universities.
Patriarchy is a traditional system by which men naturally assume positions of leadership due to gender expectations.
While retreating over time in everyday life, patriarchy still owns what Dr. Soon-Young Jung calls the “commanding heights of big businesses” in his research paper “Cooperatives: Business Opportunities for Women.” The psychological impulse to place men in positions of leadership must diminish to encourage workplace equality.
Following organizational culture is the obstacle of individual behavior. Women cannot work in a productive manner if they are victims of sexual harassment. While sexual harassment is reported by male victims, the rate among female victims rests much higher at nearly 50 percent of female workers reporting some form of harassment.
Harassment distracts and degrades a general work environment and must be reduced to allow women to function on their own merits and attributes. Important action to reduce harassment can occur through workplace programs that educate employees about the issue or through the action of executives and unions.
In the process of removing organizational and individual-level obstacles, women move toward optimizing their participation in the workplace. Yet even then, first-wave feminists must hold back any expectations of equality and consider a more recent generational view of women’s rights.
The object of women’s rights is fundamentally to allow all women to be themselves by removing social barriers.
Women who feel a strong interest in pursuing executive careers may have the chance, while those who wish to continue with established “traditional” gender roles may do so as well without being called unaware or backward-looking.
Much work still lies ahead in reaching that fundamental goal of equality. Perhaps true statistical equality will arrive when the measured structural change begins to affect thinking when deciding executive positions. But one thing is certain: in moving away from gender dependence in higher education, a new dependence on female equality without a rational and thoughtful plan is no better.
Pearce Edwards is a sophomore political science and history double major from Albuquerque, N.M.