Monday, October 26, 2009

Time Magazine Proves That Sexism Has Been Solved!

It was with much glee that I opened the October 26, 2009 issue of Time magazine. It promised to deliver a Special Report on "The State of the American Woman." Prime blogging fodder, right?

It did not disappoint. Upon opening the magazine, Time Managing Editor Richard Stengel straight away informs us that their "Time/Rockefeller Foundation poll shows that women have become dominant in our society" (page 6). (All subsequent quotes and statistics from Time article, unless otherwise noted).

As a Vagina-American myself, I was quite eager to see this quantitative proof that sexism is over and that we now live in a matriarchy. Turning to the Special Lady Report, complete with pink charts and graphs of course, I was treated to the results of the alluded to poll of 3,413 American adults. Indeed, I saw, women have come a long way baby since Time last reported on the status of women back in 1972.

Back then, for instance, women only made 58 cents for every dollar a man earned whereas now we earn 77 cents for every dollar a dude earns. Now, 57% of college students are women, while in 1972 43% were. Now, 38% of TV news correspondents are women compared to 5% back in '72. And, now we have 2 female Supreme Court justices, 6 female governors, and 7 female Cabinet members compared to 0 in 1972.

The statistics continued on like that. And, well, unless my lady brain was missing something, most of the statistics didn't actually demonstrate that ladies are now "dominant" in society. While it is undeniable that women have made measurable progress in society since 1972, it is absolutely bizarre that Time and Mr. Stengel would frame the progress that women have made as though the "battle of sexes" is over, feminism is irrelevant, and that full equality has been achieved.

While it is true that 57% of college students are now women, many of the statistics that Time presents as well as the fact that so few women are in leadership positions in the public sphere, underscores how erroneous Mr. Stengel's conclusion is regarding the "dominance" of women in society today. Let's remember that women comprise roughly half of the American population and, therefore, statistics showing that they comprise less than half of any given profession utterly fail to prove women's "dominance." In fact, they sort of prove the opposite of that.

For instance, even though women comprise about half of law school classrooms, women comprise 22% of the Supreme Court. In its history, only 3 out of 101 justices on that court have been women. 17 out of 100 US Senators are women and 74 out of 435 US Representatives are women. 6 US governors out of 50, as Time mentions, are women. Still, while one woman has come close, no woman has ever been President of the US. While many women are responsible for purchasing decisions in their own private homes, only 12 Fortune 500 companies are run by women.

Time's Managing Editor doesn't give his readers very much credit by concluding that women are now "dominant" in society as anyone who actually looks at the statistics would be hardpressed to draw the same conclusion. That's why I wonder if Mr. Stengel's comments speak more about the State of the American Man and, specifically, his possible angst with respect to women's progress. Although women have not actually achieved full political equality, does Joe Everyman instead misinterpret the progress that women have made as Woman's Dominance of Society? Are people just sick of listening to feminists complain about shit and so they hope that if they tell people over and over again that women are now equal (or dominant) that feminism will end?

It always makes me chuckle a little when men tell women that we are already equal in society. As men, they may believe themselves to be neutral and objective, but they really don't have the lived experience to be able to make that call, do they? I always wonder why, in light of the objective evidence that says otherwise, some men nonetheless insist that Sexism Has Been Solved and Society Has Been Feminized! Are they so scared of equality that they try to convince women that their battles are over?

Articles such as Time's, relegating women's concerns to "special" issues as though every other issue is devoted to men and More Important Things, are not often done well by mainstream magazines. Rarely do they go beyond a surface level and sometimes, as we have seen here, they even make claims that counter the statistical evidence they themselves present.

For instance, upon reading this article, I'm sure I wasn't the only one left wondering, if women are going to college in greater numbers than men, then why do they lag behind men in leadership positions in the public arena? Are they opting out of careers to raise children, is sexism at play, and/or is something else going on? And, while Time ominously claims that women are "more powerful- but less happy," they fail to explore that in any detail, letting readers assume that women's increased power has led to their greater unhappiness.

The two biggest failings I see in Time's "Special Report" are that (a) its conclusions contradict its own evidence, and (b) it emanates a subtext that tries to convince women they are already equal and will become even more unhappy if they become any more "equal."

For another take on things, I recommend checking out Barbara Ehrenreich's recent smackdown of the jubiliant anti-feminist "I told you so" in response to studies "showing" that women are more unhappy with their improved status in society.

To end, it would have been interesting had Time chosen to include American women with same-sex partners in their report on American women. As two ladies live in my household, I don't find the "battle of the sexes" and the resulting "constant negotiation" of role expectations to be all that relevant to my experience at home. (Two ladies in the house means lots of housework gets done, total bonus!) It could have been telling to see how women in same-sex couples fared with respect to happiness, success, and division of labor compared to women who lived with male partners. The failure to even consider or include women in same-sex relationships left me wondering the answer to the question that Time raises but fails to answer.

What, if any, is the state of the American woman as defined on her own terms, and not by her relation to men?

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