Sunday, December 18, 2011

Making Women Count: Ending the Year on a Low Note

Last year around this time I read a little book by Susan Bulkeley Butler called Women Count: A Guide to Changing the World. I was so inspired by the book's message (Butler re-assesses how far we’ve come – and how far we have to go) that I made it my 2011 blog goal to Make Women Count. Looking back on my blog postings throughout the year I have to admit many of them were down right depressing.  Here is a sampling:

Shadeism:  I discover that discrimination still exists between lighter-skinned and darker-skinned members in the same community. Mothers along with their daughters, some as young as six, continue to use potentially harmful skin lightening creams. The question has to be asked, "Don't women already have enough to deal with?"

I am Guilty of Gender Bias - In the midst of my Making Women Count Project, I am disappointed with myself when I automatically and wrongly assume a woman I was introduced to is the subordinate and the man she is with the manager.

Muslim Women Reformers - Ida Lichter’s book Muslim Women Reformers: Inspiring Voices Against Oppression I read of the horrific plight of Muslim women and the brave women reformers who risk everything including their lives to fight for social and political rights.

Should Employee Report Sexual Harassment - In this true story, both the female employee and her female manager are afraid to report sexual harassment for fear of retaliation while their male manager continues to grope, intimidate and harass them. 

The Body Project - In Joan Jacobs Brumberg's book The Body Project: An Intimate History of American Girls I read increasingly since the early 1900s middle-class adolescent girls and women went from developing their inner beauty to working on their body; so much so that their bodies have become a project.

Gender Wealth Gap - In Mariko Chang's book Shortchanged: Why Women Have Less Wealth and What Can Be Done About It I learn that although women are making advances in the pay gap they still drastically drag in the wealth gap owning only 36% as much wealth as a man owns.

Lisa Bloom Preaches to the Choir - In Lisa Bloom's book Think: Straight Talk for Women to Stay Smart in a Dumbed-Down World I learn twenty-five percent of young American women would rather win America's Next Top Model than the Nobel Peace Prize and that twenty-three percent would rather lose their ability to read than their figures. Come on ladies please stop spending so much time watching reality TV and start spending more time reading.

Then last night I viewed this enlightening video:

In the video Sheryl Sandberg informs us we still have a real problem:
Women became 50 percent of the college graduates in the United States in 1981. Since then, we have slowly and steadily made progress, earning increasingly more of the college degrees, taking more of the entry-level jobs, going into previously male-dominated fields, moving up each step of the ladder. But there is one big exception to this improvement -- the top jobs. Thirty years later, we have not come close to holding our proportional share of positions of power in any industry.

More alarmingly, the numbers at the top are no longer improving. In the 2008 election, women lost seats in Congress for the first time in three decades. Across the corporate sector, women have held 15 to 16 percent of the C-level jobs and Board seats since 2002. Globally, only nine of 190 countries are led by women. So even as people worry about boys falling behind girls in education and write articles with headlines like "The End of Men," we have to acknowledge that men still run the world. Our revolution has stalled.
For me the lowest point of the video was Sheryl's revelation that:
My generation really sadly is not going to change the numbers at the top.  They are just not moving.  We are not going to get to 50% of the population.  In my generation we are not going to get to the 50% of women at the top in any industry.
What generation is Sheryl talking about? Sheryl Sandberg was born August 28, 1969 and is seven years younger than me.  She is right though; my generation and those of you who are a few years younger are not going to achieve this. We had too far to go:

I remember my female dorm mate back in 1981, a civil engineering major whose professor advised her to change her major because women were not qualified to be engineers.  She stuck it out though, coming home in tears more than once after being publicly ridiculed in class.  He gave her a "D."  She graduated five years later with a B.S. in Engineering. I haven't kept up with her, so I don't know where she is now, but I do know she struggled to even become an engineer.

Which brings me to Rebecca Traister's book Big Girls Don't Cry: The Election that Changed Everything for American Women one of my last reads of 2011 recommended by Kim at Sophisticated Dorkiness. I don't particularly enjoy politics, so I really struggled to finish this one; especially the chapters covering the contest between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. Since Kim mentioned she enjoyed the chapters after Hillary was out of the race a little bit better I forced myself to soldier on. In the end Hillary Clinton won the New Hampshire primary, and became the first woman ever to win a presidential primary contest - a fact down played by the media  Though with her loss to Barack Obama, many first wave feminists also lost hope of seeing a woman elected president in their lifetime.

The book brought home the realization that both sexism and racism still exist in America and played a role in the 2008 election. Both Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin were victims of sexism.  Plus, feminists questioned whether a Sarah Palin win would actually be harmful for feminism. Here is what Lafferty had to say about Sarah Palin in the Daily Beast:

Not believing in abortion personally was one thing. But preventing other women from exerting full control over their bodies and health, assessing their value as lesser than the value of the fetuses they carried, was, it seemed to me and many others, fundamentally anti-feminist and anti-female.

Other interesting tidbits:
Michelle Obama has been forced to tone down her power and brain to better suit the media's demand for a more subdued and traditional first lady.

And as to Hillary – it was easier to embrace this woman in a state of diminished power, once she had lost the big prize, when she was no longer threatening the chances of the cool guy.

In conclusion:
As the title of this blog post indicates my Making Women Count project is ending the year on a low note, although I am energized to hear Sheryl Sandberg state she is hopeful that future generations can achieve the 50%.  While revisiting my initial Making Women Count post, I realized that despite the depressing revelations and disappointing results Making Women Count continues to be important goal for me. I have decided to continue with the project in 2012.


  1. You are way too hard on yourself, Savvy. You have brought important topics to the fore. You have read and read and read and brought summaries of the best and recommendations of things we can read to better ourselves. You have PERSONALLY made a contribution to pushing and pulling each and every one of us UP into the 50%-to-be. I very much appreciate your effort and am glad you are continuing.

    Hope you and your family will celebrate the upcoming holidays in the way you most enjoy and that you will be happy. 2012 will be a banner year. I am sure of it!

  2. Love your project and how much you read and did through it. You are right that it is so disheartening to put it all together though and realize where women are...

  3. Anonymous12:58 PM

    Thoughts on your post: I felt that your approach to this inflammatory subject was more controlled and responsible than most, well done.
    On the proportion of women in power positions, in making the statement that women deserve 50% of the positions you would need to prove that the same proportion of women as men want them. My casual observations don't support this. Or you could say that they aught to want them. I am not sure how this could be done while still being consistent to your position on individual self determination. Being free to choose means free to choose either way.
    Or you could believe in absolutism, but then you might want to rewrite your assessment of Palin.
    It would also be helpful to your message if you clarified if you are a believer in female equality or superiority. different of your expressions conflicted with each other in this regard.
    Merry Christmas,

  4. I don't know. I think you had kind of an inspiring year. At least you inspired me! Keep up the great work. You are one of my favorite bloggers, not to mention one of my favorite women bloggers. You do good work here. Don't get discouraged just yet.

  5. Webb,
    Thank you for your kind words you always help me get back up when I’m down. You should see my reading list for 2012. Happy holidays to you, Mitchell and your family as well.

  6. Amy,
    Disheartening is the perfect word. It is exactly how I felt.

  7. An acute angle,
    Thanks for sharing your "angle." I appreciate feedback and reading alternate perspectives.

  8. CR,
    Your comment means so much to me. Though you do know you are the one responsible for 90% of the books I read.

  9. Anonymous9:46 AM

    Thank you for the great post! I am going to check some books you mentioned :)
    You inspired me to create ne blog ( ) :) Some things just cannot stay unsaid :)

  10. WOW, these are really something, but my guess is that you are a little hard on yourself. I think it is a great idea to continue your project, THANK YOU for what you do.

    Visiting via SITS Sharefest

  11. Bare Foot Med Student:
    It is hard to not get discouraged. It seems as though for every step forward a women makes she takes one step back and we are still our own worst enemy. I plan on writing more about this in the future. Thanks for stopping in.