The Future is Female

Morgan Gage, Staff Writer

Women lining the streets of Washington, stone faced and starving to be equal to men in not only the eyes of the law but in society. Their fingers curl around picket signs until their knuckles turn white, and their cries are met with contempt from the very men they’ve claimed oppress them. This is a familiar image to anyone who has turned on the news in recent months but also one that should be familiar to anyone who has cracked open a history textbook. While the suffragettes of the early twentieth century and the feminists of today have different tactics, different signs, altogether a different aesthetic as they’ve traded being beaten in the streets for wearing pants and desiring the right to vote on a national level for mini skirts and #MeToo, the movements these women align themselves with are the same at heart. Their marches are born of a desire for equality. Sexism in the workplace has come to light in recent months as the #MeToo movement makes headlines, drawing out women across multiple industries from Hollywood to factories. Gender discrimination is deeply rooted in the history of America, and the #MeToo movement should be praised for bringing the lingering effects of that history to light both as far as equal pay and sexual assault are concerned.

Historically, women in America were seen as the property of their husbands or fathers. Many 18th century laws explicitly banned women from owning property or voting on the national level, and until 1839 this was the case nationwide until Mississippi made it legal for women to own property. Even this advance was conditional: they could only own property with the permission of their husbands. While colonists were arriving in America in the early seventeenth century from Europe, it wasn’t until 1920 that women obtained the right to vote with the ratification of the 19th amendment after years of women being arrested for “unlawful voting,” banned from practicing law once married, and being beaten in the streets for demanding to be equal in the eyes of the law. This is where the narrative ends for many citizens of the United States. Suffrage was the beginning and end of the movement for women’s rights, but this flaw in logic prevents people from acknowledging other rights that were hard won such as the right to contraception (one that is still a matter of discussion today) that was granted in 1965, laws that former President Johnson signed into law that prohibited discrimination on basis of gender in 1968, and, as recently as 2016, Hillary Clinton became the first woman to run for president. The fact that the first female presidential candidate only made it onto the ballot two years ago speaks of gender discrimination on a societal level though not in the eyes of the law.

#MeToo first began to appear on Twitter as early as October 2017, following up the emergence of information concerning Harvey Weinstein, Hollywood film producer, and his history of sexual misconduct towards the actresses in the films he produced. Women flocked to their phones to share their own side of the story with well-known actresses such as Uma Thurman, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Jennifer Lawrence sharing their own stories of sexual assault and pressure placed on them in order to preserve their acting careers. While much of the focus has been placed on the entertainment industry with silent protests taking place at the Oscars and other award ceremonies, many women were inspired by the movement in other industries and came out to share their stories. For example, the struggle of blue-collar women was brought to light as many women who worked in Ford Motor Company’s factory in Chicago, Illinois.  came out to share the sexual harassment they faced on a daily basis despite company policies that prohibited the behavior that many men- both coworkers and superiors- consistently exhibited. Often times, women at the factory were subjected to crudely drawn pictures of male genitalia in their workspace, groping, as well as supervisors demanding sex in exchange for better job assignments. If women complained, their supervisors oftentimes made them take on more strenuous tasks while on the clock and coworkers mocked them, one woman reporting that her fellow employees accused her of “raping the company.”

Despite this, the men in question often kept their jobs which led to multiple lawsuits including a string of lawsuits in the 1990’s . While they work for a company with a vast Human Resources department and judges continuously side with the women when lawsuits are pursued, workplace conditions haven’t seemed to change according to the women who work at the Chicago plant despite Ford attempting to reduce the incidents of sexual harassment due to a lingering culture of sexism and discrimination cultivated by most new hires coming in as friends or family of employees at the factory and, according to The New York Times’ writers Chira and Einhorn, a sense of loyalty among workers to the company and the belief that sexual assault allegations coming to light would harm the company itself. All of these factors combine to make a toxic environment for women and speak of gender discrimination on a societal level that shouldn’t be ignored. From top Hollywood actresses to unknown Ford factory workers, society’s view of women leads to sexual harassment, lower wages, and lower morale among women going into male dominated industries which was demonstrated in the film industry where in 2017 only 27% of producers in Hollywood are women and only 13% are directors according to a study by San Diego State University.

A degree of skepticism comes with any movement, and Kathryn Pratt, the social studies curriculum head for Whitehouse ISD,  is undetermined on her view of the movement and said, “I would caution women and young ladies that before joining any movement you research what that movement is fighting for.” Despite her warning, she also added,  “I would encourage all women to stand up and fight for what they believe in, just be sure before you align yourself with any movement you know what you are agreeing to represent.” Of course, anyone getting involved in a movement, especially one of the scale of #MeToo At the end of the day, we must all reflect on how far we’ve come. More women have positions in Congress than ever. We have seen our first female presidential candidate in 2016. Most importantly, progress has not stagnated, and our society is pointing towards improvement with many individuals being held accountable for their actions just in the past year.

Beyond California and Chicago, incidents such as these happen everyday all around us and should be pursued with the same degree of diligence that we are giving the cases that make breaking news pages and trend on Twitter. The #MeToo movement is about solidarity; in order to reflect this solidarity, men must ally themselves with women in ensuring equality and women must raise each other up rather than give into the tired cliches of “cat fights” that have a place in 90’s teen movies rather than our day to day lives. Cultural change does not come from shouting from the rooftops. It comes from ordinary men and women who raise their children to expect better rather than resign themselves to discrimination with the age old “that’s how it’s always been” as an excuse, exhibit positive behaviors for coworkers, employees, and peers to model themselves after, and allowing hope to fill their minds and hearts. The key to a better future is refusing to settle for less.