On this last day of Black History Month and in anticipation of Women’s History Month starting tomorrow, I am taking a break from documenting our families’ history to talk about some bigger issues…
I am a rural raised, rural residing, heterosexual, higher educated, middle class, middle-aged, white women.
I was brought up in a household poor in income but rich in spirit. Despite growing up in a lower-bracket financially, I worked hard and studied hard, eventually earning two degrees.
I am married to my longtime love; together, we are raising caring, compassionate children. I am very spiritual, identifying as a Christian, and am grateful for the goodness God has given me.
All in all, I am what would be termed one of the “privileged” people, because I understand that, for the most part, the cards are stacked in my favor. Granted, I might not hold all the cards, but I have been dealt a pretty good hand.
Lately, I have read and heard too many diatribes from those who are similar to me in circumstances, lambasting the peaceful marches and movements for equality. They question the veracity of the concerns and grievances shared by many, many others— “others” being the operative word. For many of these individuals, if they do not personally witness or experience a bias, then obviously bigotry and oppression do not exist—something like the egocentric premise behind the adage, “If a tree falls in the woods and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound?”
In addition, some of these same people argue that they are not one of the “privileged” nor do they have any biases whatsoever. “Oh, please! Really? None at all? Wow, just wow!”
Let’s start at the beginning and address the “white” elephant in the room, shall we? In the United States, if you are of predominantly European descent (as I am, as evidenced by this family history blog), then you might be perceived in a more positive way by some people (albeit sometimes subconsciously) by virtue of your skin color. You probably are not aware of it or have even asked for it. It just is. In most areas of this country, you are the “norm”—almost everyone around you is the same as you, pigmentally speaking. You rarely are considered the outsider because of your skin color.
“It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences” ~Audre Lorde
Add to that, you are privileged by your skin color because, throughout history, this country has been predominately Caucasian. As a result, our history has been whitewashed. The majority of those in power have “looked” like you. Overall, being white has been the standard operating procedure of this nation. Of course, you cannot help being white; you were born that way. You are who you are—as long as you are not exploiting your skin color to your own advantage or to the detriment of others, there is nothing for which you should apologize. However, you must understand and accept that your skin color probably has been to your advantage, not to your detriment.
And, on the flip side, those who do not share your pigmentation have experienced and continue to experience discrimination, both big and small, because of their skin color. Just because you do not “see” it does not make it so. Do not discount or diminish other people’s experiences.
SEXUAL ORIENTATION DISCRIMINATION
“For the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. They may allow us to temporarily beat him at his own game, but they will never enable us to bring about genuine change. Racism and homophobia are real conditions of all our lives in this place and time. I urge each one of us here to reach down into that deep place of knowledge inside herself and touch that terror and loathing of any difference that lives here. See whose face it wears. Then the personal as the political can begin to illuminate all our choices.” ~Audre Lorde
As Salt ‘n Pepa quipped, let’s talk about sex. If you are, like me, heterosexual, you are part of the majority. About five percent of the population in the United States identifies as either gay/lesbian or bisexual. If you are straight, you are not the underdog. You have not experienced backlash because of the gender of the one you love. Because you are straight, you have not been ostracized because of your sexuality. You are one of the “privileged”; please treat those who experience bias and hatred because of their sexual orientation with compassion and respect.
“As women, we must stand up for ourselves..As women, we must stand up for each other. And finally, as women, we must stand up for justice for all.” ~Michelle Obama
Equal Pay: About 50.8 percent of the U.S. population is female; 47 percent of the labor force and 59 percent of the college-educated, entry-level workforce are women. Despite that, in the United States, the average women earns 84 cents for every dollar the average man makes. Some people attribute this to the fact that women, as a whole, are the caregivers in the family, taking more time off work and working at more part-time jobs, but this is not always the case.
Case in point: Several years ago, I worked at a job where I had more education and experience than the only man in the same job; however, the male made more, because, according to management, he had a family to support. (Can you believe this was in the last decade and not the 1950s?)
“The battle for the individual rights of women is one of long-standing, and none of us should countenance anything which undermines it.” ~Eleanor Roosevelt
Maternity/Paternity Leave: The United States is one of only three countries in the world that does not guarantee paid maternity leave. While some states have introduced paid maternity (and paternity) leave—California, Rhode Island and New Jersey, in most states, paid parental leave policies remain up to individual employers. Some private companies also give paid maternity leave to employers; however, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, this only accounts for about 12 percent of new mothers, with only five percent of low-wage earners receiving paid maternity leave. Having a child in America is especially tough for the 40 percent of families who have a female breadwinner.
And let’s not forget the men who would like to take paternity leave. Although the United States has the Family and Medical Leave Act, which allows for parents (both male and female) to take up to 12 weeks off following the birth of baby, there is no rule requiring that the leave be paid, and companies with fewer than 50 employees are exempt.
Don’t believe me? Here’s what happened both times when I was pregnant: My company was very small (less than 10 employees). Both times, I had to fight to get even an unpaid maternity leave, as my boss knew that he was not mandated to provide one at all. In the end, both times, I was permitted to have eight weeks of unpaid leave and not a day more. (And this was within the last 15 years! And I was management… Can you imagine how hard it must be for mothers who are not salaried?)
Equal Representation: Despite the fact that women make up half the world’s population, less than one-quarter of the world’s countries have had a female head of state. As we are all aware, the United States, which is considered a “leader” in women’s rights, has never had a female head of state, while many countries commonly thought of as anti-women’s rights have had females as leaders. Only two countries have at least 50 percent or more of their seats in government filled by women—Rwanda and Andorra. Five countries have no women at all in their governments.
“Tremendous amounts of talent are lost to our society just because that talent wears a skirt.” ~Shirley Chisholm
It is not just in government where women lack power; the same is true in business. Even though women earn almost 60 percent of undergraduate degrees, 60 percent of all master’s degrees; 47 percent of all law degrees, 48 percent of all medical degrees, and more than 44 percent of master’s degrees in business and management, including 37 percent of MBAs, only 14.2 percent of the top five leadership positions at the companies in the S&P 500 are held by women. Out of 500 companies, women held only 21 (4.2 percent) of CEO positions in S&P 500 companies. Women hold just 16.9 percent of Fortune 500 board seats. In the financial services industry, women make up 54.2 percent of the labor force but are only 12.4 percent of executive officers and 18.3 percent of board directors; none are CEOs. Women account for 78.4 percent of the labor force in health care and social assistance but only 14.6 percent of executive officers and 12.4 percent of board directors. Again, none are CEOs. In the legal field, women are 45.4 percent of associates but only 25 percent of non-equity partners and 15 percent of equity partners. In the field of medicine, women comprise 34.3 percent of all physicians and surgeons but only 15.9 percent of medical school deans. An in information technology realm, women hold only 9 percent of management positions and account for only 14 percent of senior management positions at Silicon Valley startups.
“I raise up my voice—not so I can shout but so that those without a voice can be heard…We cannot all succeed when half of us are held back.” ~Malala Yousafzai
The representation of women of color in corporate leadership roles is even worse. Women of color represent 36.3 percent of our nation’s female population and approximately 18 percent of the entire U.S. population. They make up about one-third of the female workforce. And yet, women of color occupy only 11.9 percent of managerial and professional positions. And of those women, 5.3 percent are African-American, 2.7 percent are Asian-American, and 3.9 percent are Latina. Women of color hold only 3.2 percent of the board seats of Fortune 500 companies. More than two-thirds of Fortune 500 companies have no women of color as board directors at all.
VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN
“We live in a world in which women are battered and are unable to flee from the men who beat them, although their door is theoretically standing wide open. One out of every four women becomes a victim of severe violence. One out of every two will be confronted by sexual harassment over her lifetime. These crimes are everywhere and can take place behind any front door in the country, every day, and barely elicit much more than a shrug of the shoulders and superficial dismay.” ~Natascha Kampusch
Domestic Violence: In this country, one in four women has been or will be the victim of domestic violence. This is more common than those suffering from breast cancer (1 in 8 women) or Alzheimer’s (1 in 6 women). According to the FBI, from the end of 2001 through mid-2012, more women were killed by their husbands or boyfriends (11,766) than U.S troops killed in Iraq (4,486), U.S. troops killed in Afghanistan (2,002), and people killed in the terrorist activities on American soil (3,073) combined! What is even sadder, in some countries and cultures around the world, domestic violence is accepted.
Sexual Violence: Every 98 seconds, someone is sexually assaulted in the United States. One out of every six women in the United States has been the victim of rape or attempted rape. The likelihood that a person suffers suicidal or depressive thoughts increases after sexual violence. 94 percent of women who are raped experience post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms during the two weeks following the rape. 30 percent of women report post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms nine months after the rape. 33 percent of women who are raped contemplate suicide, with 13 percent of women who are raped attempting suicide. Approximately 70 percent of rape or sexual assault victims experience moderate to severe distress, a larger percentage than for any other violent crime.
“If there is one message that echoes forth…let it be that human rights are women’s rights and women’s rights are human rights, once and for all.” ~Hillary Clinton