Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Women's Equality Day

August 26, 2013 is the 93rd anniversary of the certification of the 19th Amendment, giving women the right to vote.  My grandmother was 29 years old at the time, and it was the issue of her generation.  Her dedication to voting lasted all her life. 

Today women serve in government and business leadership roles nationwide, however the numbers are troubling.  Women comprise 51% of the U.S population, yet according to a Rutgers University study Women Officeholders, women hold only 10% of the Governor seats, 20% of the US Senate, 18% of the US House of Representatives, and 24% of the seats in State Legislatures across the nation.  Is it any wonder that women’s viewpoints are ignored when policy issues regarding women are discussed?  I’m reminded of the 2012 photo of all men sitting before a US House committee meeting setting birth control policy. 

In 1985, I worked for a defense contractor. Employees were not allowed to discuss salary with other employees.  I supervised a group of about 10 production engineers, and shared an office with another supervisor of a similar group.  “John” and I were the same age (32), we both held engineering degrees, and we had equivalent work experience. Once I inadvertently saw John’s pay stub and learned that he was making more than 20% higher salary than I was.  When I asked my manager about the difference his response was “John has a family.” 

Well, I had a family too.  My husband was a post-doctoral fellow making very little money while he did heart research at a major university.   Today he is a well-know scientist in his field. My first child was born while I worked at that company. Not only could I not talk about or negotiate my salary, the system was rigged against me from the start.  Lower salary has meant lower retirement earnings.  John could accumulate much more from those years than I did. Whether John or I had a family should have had no bearing on our salary. Whether we were married or single shouldn’t matter, either.

A generation later the statistics aren’t much better.  Women in the same jobs make 77% as much on average, as men.  Source: Women's Pay Gap 1951-2011.  All families suffer for the inequity.  More single-parent families are led by women than by men, and most two income families rely on the income of a woman.  The antiquated idea that a woman’s income is “extra” hurts us all.

If employers paid women equivalent to men, billions of dollars would be added to the economy, by some estimates 3-4% annually. WageGap/Economic Stimulus.  That’s why, on Women’s Equality Day, I support Equal Pay for Equal Work.  It’s fair, it’s good for the economy, and it’s long overdue. For more information on the gender Wage Gap, visit AAUW-The Simple Truth.

Gwen Markham

Vice President, National Organization for Women Oakland-Macomb Chapter

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Gender 101: Beyond a Boy/Girl World

Is this a boy or a girl?

A girl?

Okay, now how about this person?

A boy?

The bigger question is: what makes you think so? You probably guessed by the length of their hair and their clothing, minimal as both may be in this case. But in my experience, most gender minorities, women included, know full well that gender is more complex than that.

While our culture aims to combine gender and biological sex and acknowledges only two genders as legitimate, a variety of gender identities exist beyond male and female. Most of us were taught that gender and biological sex are one and the same. We were taught that our only choices are male or female. But today, an entire community of people is proving firsthand that gender isn't static, and that there are more than two rigid options: the transgender (or trans*) community.

So if gender and sex aren’t synonymous, what makes them different? According to the APA, sex is “assigned at birth” and it “refers to one’s biological status as either male or female.” The APA also notes that sex is determined by a person’s chromosomes, hormones, and anatomy.

Gender, on the other hand, is a combination of behaviors and characteristics that are related to but not always identical to biological sex. This suggests that part of gender is how we fit into the world around us – and is determined internally, not externally. Gender identity, a closely related term, involves, “how we feel about and express our gender,” from the length of our hair to whether we think of ourselves as masculine or feminine.

It's understandable if you’re still little skeptical about the difference between gender and sex. That’s because if you’re like most people, your biological sex and your gender are identical, or at least very similar. If you fall into this category of people, believe it or not, there's a word for that. You're cisgender. Likewise, people whose sex and genders differ are called transgender.

For more information on transgender people, visit the links below:


American psychological association: sexuality. (2011). Retrieved from http://www.apa.org

Planned Parenthood Federation of America Inc. (2012, 05 31). Planned parenthood. Retrieved from http://www.plannedparenthood.org

Photos courtesy of aisteel.co.za

Kai Niezgoda, NOW Intern

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Patricia Lockwood isn't Laughing

Trigger Warning: Sexual Assault

At some point, most of us have had a family member or acquaintance make a joke about sexual assault. The debate has been going on for ages – are those sorts of jokes inappropriate, or should feminists just lighten up about it? Personally, I think that we should do anything but lighten up. After all, according to the most recent statistics from RAINN, one in six American women are survivors of sexual assault.

If whether joking about this very serious matter was even a question, that question received an answer from poet Patricia Lockwood when she published her poem, “The Rape Joke,” on The Awl on July 25th and it quickly spread across the internet, both inside and outside of feminist spheres.

Lockwood's frankness, honesty and a large helping of irony bring the speaker in the poem to life, though the contents of the work are graphic and could be triggering for some readers. This is the most striking aspect of the poem, however. Lockwood takes a subject that many would rather keep at a distance – for example, by using crude and misogynist humor – and makes the issue very immediate and very personal. To anyone who's made an attempt to conflate humor and sexual assault – and honestly, to anyone who hasn't – read Lockwood's poem here.

I dare you to laugh at a rape joke ever again.

Kai Niezgoda
NOW Intern