Aaron W. California
It is common in nearly every culture to find positions of employment that are gender stereotyped. In the U.S., according to the American Psychological Association, “more than 90 percent of elementary school teachers are women.” For many Americans, being an elementary school teacher is seen as “feminine” or a “woman’s” position. Men, of course, are allowed to become elementary school teachers if they wish. Throughout history, women have been forced to fight for the right to hold positions of employment that were legally reserved for men only. Fortunately for some women, as Bob Dylan put it, “the times they are a-changin.”
The U.S. launched its first submarine in 1900. For more than 100 years since the commissioning of the first U.S. submarine, women were banned from serving on board. There is no clear reason for the preventing of women serving on submarines, therefore I will address what took place on April 29, 2010. On this date, the U.S. Navy lifted their ban on women serving aboard submarines. This surprised me, as until now I assumed women were still not allowed to serve on U.S. submarines. Perhaps it was a bit of my own pride keeping me from imagining women serving on submarines. I have to admit, I did see submarine service as “a man’s job.” Never did I question my own thoughts and beliefs regarding women on submarine duty.
Nevertheless, I am excited to learn that things are changing for women, however slowly it may be. As of now, 43 women have begun service on U.S. submarines; indeed this is a very small number among the ranks of thousands of male naval servicemen. The courage these few women have to serve on male dominated vessels will hopefully inspire more females to pursue service on U.S. submarines.
Women are often a far cry away from being openly welcomed into desegregated fields of employment. The history of women in the New York Fire Department is one example of society’s continued fight against integrating women into a once male-only profession. The American Civil Liberties Union reports that “only 37 of the 10,500 firefighters in New York City are women.” Currently, female firefighters in the NYC Fire Department are being harassed by their male coworkers. Female firefighters are experiencing “silent treatment from their male coworkers, finding their firefighting gear tampered with, and…complete refusal to impose accountability on the perpetrators of harassment and discrimination.” Why are women being subjected to such abuse?
One reason, among many, many others, is the natural instinct to dominate women. The natural reaction for many men to having a female leader is to feel ashamed. Men feel this shame due to the instinct they have to be over and more powerful than women. Perhaps the male firefighters molesting their female coworkers feel as if they are no longer in control, “like men should be” they may think in their minds. If men are ever going to work peacefully alongside women in any profession that was once only open to men they will be required to let go of the desire to control women and the feelings of hurt pride when women are above them in ranking.
What purpose do male-only organizations serve? Sure, it’s understandable that men want to be only with men at times, just as women have girls’ nights out. There is a problem, however, when the “male-only” sign hangs over public fields of employment and government positions. It is a problem when, after sexual segregation has ended, women experience discrimination, verbally or physically. What is it about women being in once male-only positions that elicits so much violence? I mentioned earlier the vast majority of elementary school teachers are women, 90 percent, according to the APA. Are men who become elementary school teachers discriminated against by women for choosing a female dominated position? Clearly not. In fact, many school districts around the U.S. are actively recruiting men to take on the profession of an elementary school teacher.
Brenda Berkman, the first female NYC firefighter, has said discrimination against female firefights will stop when “the department stops repeating the mistakes of the past.” Indeed, much of the discrimination against women joining such professions comes from the desire to hold on to the traditions handed down from generation to generation. The NYC Fire Department has a long history of being a male-only group, as it was not until 30 years ago that the Department allowed women to join. Like a bad habit, keeping women out of positions based solely on gender differences is a practice that needs to be broken.
Psychology teaches something called extinction. Extinction is the ending of a response or behavior in a human that is no longer wanted. To end an unwanted response or behavior, patients are either denied what triggers the unwanted response or behavior, or exposed to what upsets them until the negative feelings go away. Professions discriminating against women need a good dose of extinction. Women need to be integrated into once male-only positions until the harassment and the violence stops. The women who continue to work in once male-only professions despite discrimination will lead the way in ending male-only policies.
Men who hold chauvinistic views towards women joining their line of work need to do much in order to change. The reasons why men discriminate against women are endless. One of the most important keys to ending discrimination against women is having men make some personal life changes, yet changing personal beliefs is no easy task. Men will need the courage to seek professional help to realize they have a problem. Men will need the bravery to question the validity of their prejudicial views against women. Men often see being proven wrong as shameful and an attack on their personal pride; men will have to find the nerve to swallow their pride in order to end discrimination and violence against women.
It is men who will need to take a step back and see the work women can do. If men would but swallow their pride by recognizing and appreciating the quality and effort women put into the profession, they can begin to see women as their professional equals. Men will need the courage to question the saying “don’t send a woman to do a man’s job.” Men will need to ask themselves some important questions, namely “what exactly is a man’s job?” and “if women can do what I do, is there than any reason to continue their exclusion?” The fall of male pride and chauvinistic ideology will be necessary before violence and discrimination against women will stop.
What does it mean to now have women on board U.S. submarines and fighting fires alongside men? It means, although often little by little and while enduring harassment and discrimination, what Bob Dylan said is true, “the times they are a-changin.”