The Chicken or the Ovary

Take a look at this startling graphic from a recent article at the NYTimes on the brick wall that equality for women has hit in the US.  This graphic represents official policies around the world for paid maternity leave:

I can’t believe this is accurate.  In my mind, there is absolutely no way in Hell we could lag behind Afghanistan.  It makes me want to move to Canada.

But even if Afghanistan is not as progressive as this graphic purports, it is absolutely true that we lag behind the most developed countries of the world and those which have the highest standard of living.  There have been other studies that show that the greater the number of female elected representatives in a country, the higher standard of living.

What Stephanie Coontz, the author of the article, does not explain is how things got to be so bad here in the US.  Why did the progress towards gender equality stall here in the US as this graphic shows?  What factors caused it to hit a brick wall in the US but not in Britain or France or Canada?  If I reach back into my memory banks to when progress stalled, I think the problem started right around the time I was in college in the 1980s.  Those were the Reagan years.  That’s when Anita Bryant was touting the virtues of orange juice and the vices of homosexuality and Phyllis Schlafly hit her stride.  It was also a period of intensification of the Cold War and the rise of the religious right.

I think there is something else going on here that has allowed the forces of reactionary conservatism dig its talons into American society to the point of imperiling it permanently.  I think it is the mythology that we grew up with that we’re number one.  That attitude that we’re free and have liberty in greater degree than other countries might just be an artifact of the case that we have enough power in our nuclear arsenal to blow the rest of the world to smithereens.  We’re “free” because no one dares mess with us.  Of course, that is only one possible interpretation of the word “freedom”.

But if our concept of freedom derives from our military strength, then is it any surprise that the genders are unequal in this society?  And now that women are allowed in combat, will gender equality improve?  After all, up until this year, women were precluded from being equal participants *officially* in activities that have been highly prized in our country since the cold war.  If we are a military society, is full participation the only route to equality in the US until it is achieved?

And what about the role of international billionaires, the James Bond villains that have now taken over the world? Do they see gender inequality as a means to breaking labor protections and bringing workers to their knees?  Will we see an uptick in gender related issues in places like Spain, Ireland and Greece or were the seeds of their current economic problems already present because of endemic gender inequality compared to their neighbors?

Just curious.  Other perspectives welcome.

One other thing that this graphic says to me is that as far as the US workforce is concerned, we are already at the bottom of the pile when it comes to labor protections.  There really isn’t any barrier to employers ripping the economic floor out from under us and they’ve done just that in the past decade or so.  That’s because women now make up a good proportion of the workforce and our wages are lower, our employment protections are there in theory but not in practice and paid maternity leave is just an illusion.  If you’ve got it from your employer, know that it’s a gift to you, not your right.  It’s probably calculated based on how much vacation and sick time you have, if you get any at all.  You come back to work exhausted and impoverished from spending your money on daycare.  And in this employment climate, you may not come back to a job at all.  What were you thinking by getting pregnant when there is so much to do and a zillion people waiting for your job?  If you can afford a kid, you can afford to stay home and give some other breadwinner your job.  Right?

The only solace there is to this workplace environment is the knowledge that it can’t last.  The MBAs and business majors are evolving the workplace so rapidly to optimize as much efficiency out of each worker that it’s getting to be impossible to get any work done at all.  We see this in the banking industry and the pharma industry most significantly.  Change for change sake is not necessarily a good way to do business.  There are limits and we are reaching ours.

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