It is intimidating to enter into a major that you know almost nothing about, and a major that historically has not had a great deal of women in it. When I decided on my major and announced it to my family and friends, I got a lot of confused looks. There wasn’t really a lot of excitement or congratulations. They told me “that’s a good field to get into” rather than “what a great choice for you!” This is understandable, since I do not really seem like I fit into the business world. My personality is very shy, and I have showed more aptitude for reading and writing than business. In addition, I had never really told anyone that I wanted to be in the business world. This reaction wasn’t uncalled for, but it made me nervous that no one seemed to believe in my decision.
When I started in my major, I had no experience in Business or Finance, and everything was new to me. I had to learn very fast and start from the bottom to be where some of my classmates already were. Some people had been investing already, and some had been reading and listening to podcasts about the market for a while. Surprisingly, there was an almost equal mix of men and women in my classes. In some of the upper-level classes, there might have been more men, but it was pretty close. The university did a great job in this way. Nevertheless, I still was intimidated by some of the men in my classes who acted like they knew everything already. They already had the upper hand, because more men have been in Finance historically, and the field may be more partial to hiring them.
In the US we don’t often talk about how women are not allowed the same education as men. While there is a conversation to be had about it, the sort of disparity we see in the US is nothing compared to what we see around the rest of the world. In July of 2017 the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) released a report that outlined some of the gender discrimination happening within education around the world.
Their World then released a summary article later that month which highlighted and quoted some of the key reasons discussed in OHCHR’s report we are seeing such wide gaps between boys and girls around the world. Some of the primary offenders are: gender discrimination and the belief that girls do not need an education because that is not where their value lies, discriminatory legislation which values men’s education over women’s and does not cater to the different needs of either (such as not providing alternative learning methods to pregnant girls or new mothers), girls are more likely to drop out which makes the cost of an education expensive to families in poverty, if the school is farther away from their homes they are less likely to attend because their movements tend to be more restricted than boys’, and girls are more likely to be subjected to gender-based violence perpertated by male students, teachers, and staff.
Women on average pay more than men for the same products. Gender discriminatory pricing is the tendency within the health and beauty industry to price products marketed towards women higher than products marketed towards men. The term “Pink Tax” comes from the color schemes associated with female products. Even if the product functions and is designed exactly the same, but the women’s ‘version’ is pink, on average the price will be higher.
How much higher? Bank Rate published an article at the end of March 2020 that states the tax costs “the average woman $1,300 a year and impacts all aspects of daily life from shopping to dry cleaning.” This article also speaks to the scope of this issue and gives some incredible information on the topic. While often not considered, this gender price discrimination can also drive the cost of young girls’ toys 2 to 13 percent higher than toys designed for boys. This discrimination is far reaching. What about our clothes? Are women’s clothes using the same amount of labor and fabric but being sold at a higher price? Most people would automatically say yes and there is hard evidence to support this. There is about a ten percent difference between women and men’s designed jeans. Women tend to get quotes or pay higher prices on services, such as drycleaning or auto mechanic work. The Bank Rate article also reveals how tarrifs, taxes imposed by the federal government on imported goods, also falls criminal to this discrimination, though not always in men’s favor—women’s bathing suits face lower tariffs than men’s.
Historically, America’s finest and most elite universities (also known as the Ivy League) were reserved solely for male students. Of the 12 Ivy League schools only Cornell University was coed from its founding in 1865. Only in the 1960s did the other universities begin opening their doors to women, but with hesitation. As then Yale president Kingman Brewester Jr. said at a 1967 meeting of alumni, “our concern is not so much what Yale can do for women but what can women do for Yale,” reiterating elitism among gender and education. The last Ivy League to finally go coed was Columbia University in 1983.
Women are becoming prominent members of academia. Colleges around the nation are reporting inspiring and positive numbers for female representation. In 2019, 57% of Bachelor’s degrees awarded in the US were awarded to women. Every decade there are exponentially more students attending college, and as the numbers increase women continue rising as the majority attendee.
The Atlantic recently published an enlightening article titled Why Men Are the New College Minorityin which they state Carlow University has a 6:1 ratio of female to male students. Now, this isn’t entirely normal, and it is also notable that Carlow has always had a hard time recruiting male students because it started as an all female school. Still, the numbers are encouraging, if not comical and ironic.
Female genital mutilation is an atrocity and still practiced heavily in some parts of the world. American society rejects the standard, recognizing the harm and devastation it can cause. The World Health Organization defines FGM in an article from February as involving “…the partial or total removal of external female genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.” This article emphasises their total rejection of the practice and clearly states that it has no health benefits for females. In fact, they specifically urge all health care providers to not practice FGM. Then why does it exist?
FGM is practiced in Africa and a few communities in the Middle East and Asia. While the reasons vary across the cultures, mostly the continuation of this act is motivated by social conformity, the desire for women to be more ‘marriageable’ as adults because of it, and the idea that FGM contributes to the positive upbringing of women. Recently, a mother was convicted in the UK for inflicting FGM on her three year old daughter. An article from The World Bank describes that FGM might not be as far away as we think. The article draws statistics from the United Nations Children’s Fund, which estimates that 200 million women in the world have been subjected to genital mutilation in their lives. Usually, these procedures are done before the girls are fifteen, without anesthesia, and is carried out by a traditional practitioner.
When I walk into nearly any store, I can’t help but gravitate towards the toy section. This may be because I am an aunt of two adorable kids whom I love to spoil, and it may also be because I am very in touch with my inner child. But when I step into that laughter filled area, I see a clear divide between what toys are deemed suitable for girls and which toys are considered appropriate for boys. Now, I want you to think of yourself in my position, imagine how I find myself standing between the two isles noting the clear difference between them. To the one side my eyes are assaulted with every shade of pink imaginable with spots of purple and soft greens. On the other side I find stark blacks and greys, bold blues and dark greens. On one side is soft fabrics, on the other hard metals. To my left I will find a wide array of kitchen sets and dolls, princess dresses and ponies. On the opposite side of the isle is cars and tool sets, Legos and plastic guns. On one side hangs a sign labeled ‘Girl Toys’ on the other a sign reading ‘Boy Toys’. And it’s not just in physical stores, even on major retailers’ websites there is a clean split between girl and boy toys with no option of toys for all. But why is this the case? Has it always been this way, or can we fix it? Is this the way it should be, or is the separation harmful for both girls and boys?
Contrary to many beliefs, the idea of splitting toys across gender lines is actually a fairly new concept. As recently as the 1970’s, a mere 50 years ago, the idea of having toys separated into boys’ and girls’ sections would have been ludicrous. According to Elizabeth Sweet, an assistant professor of psychology at SJSU, “In the Sears catalog ads from 1975, less than 2 percent of toys were explicitly marketed to either boys or girls”. In recent history, most toys could be found in a wide variety of bright and bold colors such as red, blue, yellow, and green. They were also advertised for all kids, showing both boys and girls playing together on the box. Toys were marketed not based on the gender of the kids playing with it, but what the toy could teach all children. Toys were separated within a single aisle based on whether they helped children develop social skills, fine motor skills, spacial skills, or emotional skills, attributes that are necessary for all children. In fact, the sorting of toys into gendered aisles didn’t become a thing till the 80’s and wasn’t as clear and prevailing of a split until the 90’s. So, the divide between girls’ and boys’ toys hasn’t always existed, but is it really a bad thing?
Studies have shown that the divide between toys can actually be very detrimental to young children. One of the primary ways that this is the case is due to the effect that marketing can have on kid’s interests. What is being advertised for kids to play with teaches them what is acceptable for them to be interested in. In a study completed by NPR, it was discovered that when computers were first released they were highly marketed towards boys, which resulted in a great decrease of women in fields like coding. This is because it was promoted that liking computers was for boys, so young girls were pushed away from being interested in going into computer jobs. This can also be seen on the reverse, where boys are pushed away from more ‘feminine’ jobs, such as early childhood teaching and cooking, due to toys like kitchen sets and baby dolls being marketed to girls. But the way in which interests develop isn’t the only way that dividing up the sections is harmful to kids. Many toys are designed to specifically target a certain attribute or skill. Professor Judith Elaine Blakemore at Indiana University said in an interview with the NAEYC that “moderately masculine toys have many positive qualities (spatial skills, science, building things, etc.) […] it is the same for some moderately feminine toys (nurturance, care for infants, developing skills in cooking and housework).” For example, Legos help young children develop fine motor skills, and for quite a while there was no girl equivalent to Legos to help young ladies develop these skills.
But what can we do about it? Many organizations are pushing for toy companies and sellers to stop dividing and marketing toys based on gender; the Let Toys Be Toys movement is one of these groups. They are a British group pushing for “the toy and publishing industries to stop limiting children’s interests by promoting some toys and books as only suitable for girls, and others only for boys.” On their website they give updates on what companies are doing to fix this problem, as well as giving recommendations of toys for every age group regardless of marketed gender. And many retailers themselves are working towards having gender neutral, or at least gender equal, marketing. This can be seen in Hasbro’s most recent string of commercials for their Nerf line, where both girls and boys are shown using their toys with no clear color divide, and Kirkbi, the owners of Legos, who have started promoting a wider variation of Legos for girls and Legos for all kids. The final thing that can be done, as consumers, is to look past the gender labels when shopping for toys. Ask the kid what they are interested in and shop based on what the toy can teach them. Don’t be confined to the rigid pink and blue, play kitchen and toy tool set, girl and boy divide. My nephew loves the color purple and my niece wants to grow up to be just like Bob the builder. Why should they be limited to only blue toys and only dolls?
Many women have experienced gender discrimination when visiting the doctor. It is a normalized experience to not be taken seriously when reporting symptoms to a physician. When you start asking around you’ll find stories of women observing abnormalities with their own bodies and seeking help, only to have their concerns down played or attributed to something much less severe than their body seems to be reporting. Personally, after experiencing the worst pain I had ever encountered that had lasted for hours, I was hospitalized and diagnosed by a male doctor with a type of ovarian pain which was often attributed to mild or sharp pain. Later I spoke with my female gynecologist and she said it had likely been a large cyst erupting. I will never find out what happened to me that day.
An article by Camille Noe Pagan in the New York Times gives great insight with statistics related to gender discrimination and pain management according to female patients:
About a year and a half ago, I got really sick. I’m still not sure exactly what I had; it must have been some form of tonsillitis. All I knew was that it lasted for two weeks and I was absolutely miserable. I couldn’t eat anything because it felt like fire in my throat when I tried to swallow, and I could barely open my mouth wide enough to get a spoon in. I was never hungry and all I could stomach was applesauce, water, and occasionally some ice cream. Because of this, I lost around 10-15 pounds in two weeks. I never actually weighed myself, but I knew I had lost a lot of weight from other people’s reactions to me.
I went home and got a lot of surprised looks from people close to me. They commented that I looked great and that I must have lost weight. I told them that I lost the weight because I had gotten very sick, but they somehow ignored that and kept commenting on how great I looked. At one point, after I had told them that I was sick, someone asked me if it was healthy that I had lost this much weight in so little time. I was taken aback, as I had already told them no, it absolutely was not healthy. No one had asked me if I was okay, if I was still sick or what I thought I had. No one really cared about my health at that moment, they just saw that I was skinny.
Feminism is defined as the belief in the social, economic, and political equality in the sexes. It is a very well-known term and movement with many people around the world proudly identifying as feminists. A lesser known term and advocate identity is the term womanism/womanist. Feminism and womanism sound very similar, but there are significant differences worth noting.
The term “womanist” was first coined by author and poet Alice Walker in her 1983 collection of essays, statements, etc. titled In Search of Our Mothers’ Garden: Womanist Prose. In Walker’s full definition of what a “womanist” is, she describes them as a “black feminist or feminist of color,” someone who is “wanting to know more and in greater depth than is considered ‘good’”. Walker’s secondary definition of a womanist is a woman who loves other women in any way, whether that’s sexually, non-sexually, or a lover of the culture and “emotional flexibility” of women. For Walker, a womanist loves the things in life that really matter, such as dance, music, food. But most of all, she loves herself.