Equality in America
The Use of Gender Quota to Promote Gender Equality in America
Over the last century we have seen, slowly but surely, women globally gaining their rights and moving toward ending their oppression. Nations around the world have struggled with how best to tackle this persistent gender inequality, some doubting that it is an issue to be dealt with at all. Despite contradicting opinions on the state of women’s equality, one issue that has been pervasive is the lack of women represented in political offices. This is a problem of particular importance in places like the United States where ideas of freedom and equality are championed, yet where this lack of representation is also most rampant (Krook 2009). The past twenty years have seen greater international efforts to address this issue, some with things like gender quotas and others without, each having different results. For example, France passed quota legislation nearly 20 years ago that required parity, but the change has been slow and they have yet to come close to their goal of equality (Freedman 2010). Unlike France, the Netherlands have not passed any formal legislation, rather their parties willingly chose to pursue more equal gender representation which has brought them great success–nearing true parity (Norris 1997). This difference reflects how different cultural and political climates can affect the success of efforts toward gender parity.
Though their success has not been guaranteed, gender quota legislation is still a popular way for governments to focus on this issue. Supporters of this believe that there are structures present in politics that are barring women from entering and that this type of legislation will account for that hurdle. Gender quotas are legislation designed to try and resolve the disparity between men and women in elected offices. They began in the early 20th century and have been widely adopted in various parts of the world–including Africa, South America, Asia, and much of Europe–particularly in the past 20 years. There are different types of quota systems and ways of adapting them to fit the various forms of government and political climates of the nations where they have been adopted. They state that there must be a certain number or percentage of women in office and try to achieve this by requiring more women to be considered as candidates or for more women to be chosen as candidates. This can be done through voluntary party-based action or more official legislation (Krook 2009).
While the gender quota method seems logical based on commonly held ideas about what is keeping women out of office, such as a deliberate exclusion of women from entering politics or sexist voters, when looking more closely at the problem, it becomes clear that quotas are not a true solution. A gender quota would not address the deep, lasting effects of sex inequality in American society that underlie the lack of political representation of women and thus would be a superficial solution at best. In the United States and elsewhere, despite any apparent commitment to justice or equality, there still exists a strong sense of gender difference and appropriate behaviors for men and women, namely gender stereotypes (Levinson et al 2002). While this has become lesser recently, the way children are socialized still affects their self-perception and notions of traditional gender roles, causing women to lack political ambition (Lawless and Fox 2010). Some believe that the increased encouragement women might feel because of gender quotas may improve their confidence in women being able to enter political office, thus causing them to consider candidacy. But, despite the possibility of an increase in women considering themselves as candidates–the first stage of political ambition–the encouragement will not likely translate into a significant increase in the number of women who actually run (Krook 2010). This is because the other factors deterring women’s political ambition are still in place, like self-doubt and perceived levels of discrimination, as well as attachment to gendered family roles, such as being a mother or a wife (Lawless and Fox 2010). The things causing women to not run for office are so deeply rooted in American culture that they must be attacked directly in order to be solved, something a quota cannot do.
Americans still hold onto gender roles and stereotypes and these gendered perceptions are what keep women out of office. Men and women are socialized differently from early childhood to have and value certain traits. Consequently, the things often viewed as important for politics are things women are socialized into suppressing or are stereotyped not to have (Levinson et al 2002). As a result, women are less likely to be viewed and to view themselves as viable for candidacy. In this case, the root cause of women not entering office is not necessarily a structure keeping them from following political ambitions, but a lack of those ambitions. Because of the way American women are socialized and raised, they are much less likely than men to consider candidacy or decide to run (Lawless and Fox 2010). Many different factors, both internal and external, related to women’s roles and psyches, contribute to women not being considered for candidacy. The fact is that, at this point in history, it is unlikely that a women wanting to enter politics would be actively deterred from doing so, rather that desire would be rooted out during childhood or untapped in adulthood. The solution is not to open politics up to women as if they had been locked out before, but to recognize the hindrances that lie deeper in the foundation of American culture.
Quotas might seem like an obvious solution when considered on their own, when thinking about the societal norms that are causing women to not enter office, they do not seem to be addressing the heart of the problem. Legally mandating greater representation of women in office should have that effect, but when there is not a genuine commitment to the policy, there is little change seen. If those responsible for carrying out the changes the quota requires do not make an effort to do so, there will be no improvement (Krook 2009). Though most men claim to not favor other men over women as candidates, party leaders have shown this to be untrue. Party leaders and others responsible for recruiting potential candidates are biased toward men. Even women who are in similar positions of proximity to politics and qualification as men receive less encouragement to consider running for office (Lawless and Fox 2010). As the research done by Lawless and Fox (2010) shows, this type of encouragement is crucial for deciding to pursue candidacy, especially for women. Party leaders and political elites’ willingness to seek out and encourage women to run is an extremely important factor in whether a quota is successful or not (Krook 2009). As evidenced by the previously mentioned research, many men in positions of political power do not find women to be viable candidates. In many cases, they don’t even consider the qualified women they are in contact with (Lawless and Fox 2010). If there are not women actively seeking out these candidacies, it is not likely that a quota in place would increase women’s representation in office if the feelings about women as officeholders does not change first. Men, as well as women, are taught to hold certain views about women’s character and experience, falling into believing in common gender stereotypes (Dolan 2014). Until Americans are no longer taught to undervalue women and their abilities, there will not be as many women selected for office regardless of any legislation put in place.
Such legislation would also not solve the anxieties women have about sexism in the political arena. Despite the growing equality between American men and women, sex discrimination in the workplace–particularly higher level positions–continues to be an issue. This is a fact women are very aware of, particularly those in the pool of potential officeholders who tend to hold positions in these fields. Though discrimination persists, women actually tend to overstate the amount experienced by women in politics (Lawless and Fox 2010). Many women have internalized their gender role and, therefore, fear the repercussions of stepping beyond what is defined as acceptably feminine, as well as showing traits that would make them seem overly feminine and weak. Both men and women associate certain traits, such as emotionality and irrationality, with women and see them as possible hindrances to a woman’s political success (Brooks 2013). Women’s increased consciousness of their gender leads them to perceive more discrimination than actually is evident. The anxiety caused by this pushes many women away from the idea of pursuing a political career (Lawless and Fox 2010). A forced quota system would not alleviate these concerns. Unless the parties voluntarily adopted quotas, which seems unlikely considering the current feelings about quotas in America, the adoption of a gender quota would not actually signal a greater acceptance of women in office. Gender quotas are often adopted as a political strategy or are impressed upon the political elites by a higher power that wants to encourage gender equality (Krook 2009). Quotas as a means of trying to fix the gender problem are merely surface level. They are not going to change the previously held feelings of politicians about women, and, therefore, will not alleviate the concern about gender discrimination.
Not only do women fear discrimination from their colleagues, but also judgment of their personal lives from others because of their choice to pursue a career that could keep them from their families. One major issue making women turn away from politics is their disproportionate obligation to family duties, including housework and childcare (Lawless and Fox 2012). This can only be fixed through completing the work of redistributing those duties and eradicating the notion that women have a particular role and that their place is in the domestic sphere. Women have been tasked with most of the household responsibilities throughout American history and today vestiges of this role still remain as hindrances to women. A woman’s obligations to her family will likely prevent her from attempting to run a campaign while she has children to take care of, even if she considers politics as a potential career. Even though this adherence to traditional family dynamics may not keep women from considering running, it puts them in the difficult position of having choosing to prioritize work or family (Lawless and Fox 2012). Because American culture socializes women into the nurturing mother role, women feel much more responsible for their children and household in general than do men (Thompson and Walker 1989). This is especially relevant when considering the backlash women in politics face, being called bad mothers due to their perusal of a political career and constantly being asked about the wellbeing of their families. These statements about women in politics reinforce gender norms and can discourage women with families from wanting to run for office. Because this factor is one that is internalized and perpetuated by society, women are not likely to break from it unless its reinforcement stops. The adoption of a gender quota will not alleviate women of their disproportionately heavy load of household duties, nor will it convince them or the public that her career does not constitute neglect of her family.
The hurdle stopping women from entering politics is less so that women think women are unable, collectively, to be good politicians and qualified candidates, but that women individually are undervaluing their skills (Lawless and Fox 2010). Opening up greater opportunities for women, in general, may increase the number who already have strong political ambition to be elected to office, but it will not likely aid in increasing the number of women who consider candidacy and decide to run. Women have a tendency to feel that they are not as qualified as they are, a result of the socialization of girls (Bennett 1989). They are taught the virtues of modesty and submissiveness and they are subject to the negative stereotypes placed on women that affect their self-perception. Because of American gender norms, women grow up underestimating their abilities. Studies have shown that girls often predict they will not do as well at things as they are actually capable of and perceive themselves to be bad at things–like math, for example–even if they are at the same skill level as a boy who feels he is good at it (Levinson et al 2002). Without confidence in themselves, women are unlikely to believe that they have what it takes to be a politician. Though most modern American women would not extend their own doubts to the rest of women, they will still likely feel that only an extremely qualified woman could be considered a viable candidate (Lawless and Fox 2010). Their underestimation of themselves keeps them from considering their own merits, and their overestimation of the needed skill to run for office also limits what other women they believe to be qualified. Men and women, in this way, are socialized into opposing roles, as men tend to overstate their qualifications and perceived ability to run for office (Lawless and Fox 2010). The imbalance of confidence between men and women causes the much larger numbers of men as aspirants and candidates. The way to get women into office is to begin shifting our ideas about gender roles and opening up the full range of opportunities to young people. Americans need to reevaluate how they raise their children and begin socializing girls into leadership, just as they do boys.
The root of the lack of women in office has been traced back to women’s unwillingness to run (Lawless and Fox 2010). Even if a gender quota in America did cause an increase in the number of women in office, it would not fix the underlying gender inequalities currently causing the representational disparity. The gender gap would not close with the adoption of a gender quota because of the lack of women who are running compared to men. The women with the political ambition to run for office will benefit from a quota, but those women are exceptions and are not representative of the greater population of women, as research has shown that most lack that ambition. As seen in many cases– like in France, as previously discussed–representation of women increases, but not enough to create parity (Krook 2009). The question of how to increase women’s representation in political office is one that cannot truly be answered with a top-down approach like a quota. What is at the heart of this disparity is a flaw in American culture. The lasting gender inequalities at a personal and social level need to be examined in order for women to be raised into a society that believes in their abilities and in which they can value themselves as capable leaders. Even if quota legislation were to improve the inclusion of women in American politics, the oppression and social inequality that are causing the disparity would not end, thus not truly bettering the situation. One cannot solve a problem by treating the symptoms but not the cause.
The Issue of the Rise of Economic Inequality in America
Increasing economic inequality is a significant issue in America in recent years there has been a marked slowing of growth across the world’s wealthiest economies, with none returning to the growth trends experienced before the crisis. The wealthy economies are fundamentally unable to create enough demand to keep growing. The mainstream political consensus has for decades now suggested that inequality is a price worth paying for economic growth. It states in the article “A rich country with millions of poor people. A country that prides itself on being the land of opportunity, but in which a child’s prospects are more dependent on the income and education of his or her parents than in other advanced countries.” (Stiglitz, 2014, p.89) In a country that believes in fair play, but in which the richest often pay a smaller percentage of their income in taxes than those less well off. A country in which children every day pledge allegiance to the flag, asserting that there is “justice for all,” but in which, increasingly, there is only justice for those who can afford it.
The articles further states “Too much of the wealth at the top of the ladder arises from exploitation—whether from the exercise of monopoly power, from taking advantage of deficiencies in corporate governance laws to divert substantial amounts of corporate revenues to pay CEOs’ outsized bonuses unrelated to true performance, or from a financial sector devoted to market manipulation, predatory and discriminatory lending, and abusive credit card practices.” (Stiglitz, 2014, p. 89) Meaning that inequality undermines meritocracy, so the most talented don’t rise to the top. Instead, the children of the elite stay in positions of power, and the economy grows less innovative and productive as a result. Inequality may also discourage people from putting in effort to climbing the ladder, undermining work, and effort. If inequality is a problem, how to address it? Many argue for more redistribution from rich to poor.
But how this money is delivered and spent is crucial. Some share of the discontent is not purely economic. In addition, “If we actually made corporations pay what they are supposed to pay and eliminated loopholes we would raise hundreds of billions of dollars. With the right redesign, we could even get more employment and investment in the United States.” (Stiglitz, 2014, p.91) But because, of large companies like Apple and Google who have created products making America the envy of the world they use this to their advantages to avoid paying federal corporate taxes.
Issues of Equality in America in the “Invention of Wings”
In America, according to the Declaration of Independence, “all men are created equal”. Unfortunately, this previous statement was not completely accurate in many ways concerning American citizens. The term “equality” is reserved to a specific social class, this remains the truth even today. But despite this inconvenience, the lower social classes had aspirations for a better living standard. Sue Monk Kidd, the author of The Invention of Wings, properly depicted the longing of freedom among pre- civil war slaves.
In The Invention of Wings the term wings symbolizes the feeling of freedom and liberty. According to the book, wings were invented by captive black slaves in order to create a sense of purpose and hope. During the time period before the civil war, slavery among Africans was nearing a climactic point. Slaves were constantly looking for an escape from their captive life styles. This escape could be both mental and physical depending on the individual slaves and the slave’s state of being. In The Invention of Wings, the wings represented the freedom that slaves longed so much for. Handful’s mother told Handful about the physical “wings” that the slaves possessed back in Africa. Handful’s mother stated that “When we came here, we left that magic behind” (Kidd 3). This is a representation of how much freedom the Africans lost when they became captive slaves. Handful’s mother seriously wants handful to believe these old fables to give handful a sense of freedom, despite not being free at the moment. “hose skinny bones stuck out from my back like nubs. She patted them and said, “This all what left of your wings. They nothing but these flat bones now, but one day you gon get’em back” (Kidd 3). Handful’s mother, along with several other slaves felt that freedom could one day be obtained. The complicated lives of slaves was for a moment liberated in the form of “wings”.
As this reading of Kidd’s narrative indicates, wings were a symbol of freedom. But this freedom was not isolated to one social class individually such as the slaves; after all, freedom is a property that all human beings want to possess. In fact, in the book Sarah Grimke was under a similar force of oppression. This oppression was not anything physically binding such as a chain or a whip. Sarah’s oppression was inflicted upon her by her mother and other family members as well as a majority of the southern population. The status quo of the time period before the civil war made Sarah feel like a victim of social ridicule. When Sarah rejected the ownership of Handful the backlash upon Sarah was extreme. As a result Sarah stated “I was sent to solitary confinement in my new room and ordered to write a letter of apology to each guest. Mother settled me at the desk with paper, inkwell, and a letter she’d composed herself, which I was to copy” (Kidd 16). Sarah’s father himself was a victim of oppression as well as Sarah. As a judge, Sarah’s father was socially required to uphold a code of conduct suitable for the southern upper class. As an example, when Sarah tried to release Handful from her captivity, Sarah wrote a manumissions document and put it on father Grimke’s backgammon set. Sarah later got a response on her actions, “The manumissions document I’d written lay on the floor. It was torn in two” (Kidd 21). Oppression is a feeling that knows no boundaries, whether it be race or social status.
Historically, the original inventor of wings was a man that existed in Greek mythology. But according to the book The Invention of Wings, “wings were invented by captive black slaves. By doing this, the slaves would be reminded of their previous freedom and their lives back in Africa. But from a philosophical standpoint, wings can be developed by anyone that feels they need to be free. Freedom can always be obtained as long as there are individuals who strive to reinvent themselves, or create wings to carry them away. No matter what social class there is, someone is always being oppressed. If they utilize their wings, nothing can contain them, unless they “fly too close to the sun”. Possibly the most liberated creatures on earth are birds. Unless they are caged, they are free to fly as far as they wish. Slaves understood this and wanted to be free more than anything else. The “American Dream” is a concept that American individuals have developed to exercise their freedom. Unfortunately, without wings no dreams can be achieved. Slavery is not only a physical concept, but a mental restraint as well. The true inventor of wings is anyone who wants to gain freedom from whatever is keeping them captive. To gain freedom would be the ultimate “American Dream.”
What Prevents the USA From Having an Equal Society
America: The Long and Winding Road to Equality
America, whether you love it or hate it, there’s no denying that it has a significant influence on the world we live in today. The American Dream has always been about equal opportunity, no matter who you are or where you’re from, if you work hard, immense success can be achieved. In 2017, equality and fair treatment is at the forefront of American interest, and it’s only getting better. Although, it hasn’t always been this way. In the beginning stages of America’s birth, there were many bumps in the road with regards to the pursuit of equality. From the 1670s to the 1850s, America took steps towards and away from inequality, but often failed to fairly execute the same principles in which they held so highly. The founding fathers wanted America to be a place of equality, but early efforts were blinded by prejudice.
The American construct of fairly treating and addressing its peoples stemmed from the colonist’s severe distaste for the tyrannical ruler of Great Britain, King George III. The colonists believed the king’s laws were disgustingly unjust due to the fact that the colonists had no representation whatsoever in the British Parliament. This is where the famous American phrase “no taxation without representation” was born. This quote illustrates a monumental step towards equality because it asserts that citizens need an elected representative that has the people’s best interest to vote on proposed laws. Without a representative, equality can never be achieved. The cries of the unrepresented will be ignored, and in turn they will be neglected. This neglect inflicted upon the colonists by the king instilled in them an insatiable hunger for freedom and equality. This need for equality was the driving force behind the revolution and for the founding of the United States of America.
With an institution like slavery still alive and well, the United States was certainly far away from the equality that is experienced in modern times. Equality, at its essence, is fairness to all with regards to opportunity and treatment. Slavery is in direct opposition of these ideas. The Fugitive Slave Act of 1793 created a legal mechanism which guaranteed the recovery of slaves that fled their masters. The act also classified slave’s children to be enslaved as well, and were considered the master’s rightful property. Over fifty years later, this act was further fortified through the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, which stated that even citizens and officials living in free states were required to cooperate by ensuring the recovery of runaway slaves. Law enforcement throughout the United States were ordered to arrest and return these slaves. If citizens or law-enforcement were to be caught turning a blind eye, they could be liable to pay up to twenty-nine thousand dollars (modern-day value). By enforcing these laws, the United States was further dividing its people and hindering its development into a place of greater equality.
A civilization cannot be a place of greater equality if it is intolerant of other cultures. The United States is especially guilty of this when it comes to its relationship with the American Indians. The indians were not treated as equals, but as if they were lesser. This prejudice of indians is extremely apparent based upon the passing of the Indian Removal Act. This authorized the president to force Indians out of state borders and to relocate them west of the Mississippi river. Most tribes peacefully agreed as to not cause any unwanted conflict which most certainly would not end in their favor. Although, the Cherokee tribe actively resisted the relocation efforts. The United States responded by conducting a forced march West, which resulted in the death of four-thousand indians. This tragic and inhumane march was later named “The Trail of Tears”. This forced removal of the Cherokee Indians was easily one of the darkest moments in American history. America’s failure to create a fair and equally benefitting compromise with the indians was an astronomical mistake. When it comes to pursuing equality, “The Trail of Tears” was an enormous leap backwards for the United States.
The time period between 1670 and 1850 was an interesting time in American history to say the least. Through the tyrannical abuse of its upbringing, the United States showed great promise when it came to upholding equality. They were fed up with their king failing to do so, and in turn they were dedicated to create a land of equality. Evidently, it’s much easier said than done, because the United States experienced immense trouble pushing these ideas into action, especially through their relationship to African Americans and the Indians. On the long and winding road to equality, America took a couple of wrong turns. But given the current state of equality in America today, it must have done something right. From 1670 and 1850, equality was often neglected by America and even though they had the right mindset going in, their prejudice ultimately blinded them from making morally just decisions.