The Pernicious Privileges, And Perseverance, Of Patriarchy

A few weeks ago, I was able to briefly break away from my start-up and binge watch Good Girls Revolt on Amazon. It is based on the true story of 46 female employees, who sued their employer, Newsweek, for equal consideration of things like pay, promotion, and ownership of work. Set during one of feminism’s most pronounced surges in the cultural pandemonium of the early 70s, its portrayal of the state of equality­­ –– a.k.a. freedom –– at that point in time is something I hope we all remember or, in the case of millennials, fully digest.

Imagine being unable to get a credit card, to secure a home loan without a male signature, to have a safe and legal abortion, and being bluntly subject to male desires to keep you home and bearing children. Predictably, I thoroughly loved it and was very happy to learn the lead character went to my alma mater, Vassar.

The story underscores an obvious and painful truth as, 47 years later, we are still fighting for equal pay and promotion, which is the mere tip of what seems to be a minutely melting iceberg. A recent NPR article revealed that in Boston, women are still only earning 77 cents for every dollar a male brings in. That is being 23 percent less able to pay off student debt, save, buy property, pay for kids, and retire without the assistance of someone else.

This discrepancy ignores the facts that women are generally more engaged, are better at engaging their reports (Gallup), can significantly add to top-line growth (Credit Suisse), and reduce a variety of risks (Morgan Stanley). If anything, given the relative supply of mid- to upper-level female managers, per the laws of supply and demand, women at these levels should be paid more, not less, than their male equivalents.

It can take a LOT of time, generations it seems, for societal change to be realized and reinforced by all necessary stakeholders. In this case, like most cases, the ultimate stakeholders are men, who by their very chromosomes, are privileged.

They are privileged by a set of social, governmental, legal, religious, economic, and business rules and norms created by their predecessors, for their benefit and control. This system will merrily enforce and defend practices of blatantly questionable morality, sometimes with conscious vehemence. Who wants to see their God-given and comfortable dominance threatened, especially by someone who is “weaker” than you?

Of course, this privilege is also available to any woman who wants to play along, which many Caucasian women, per the recent elections, seem to have agreed to do. It could be argued the privileges of being an attractive white woman, particularly prized in the eyes of the global patriarchy, can boost this allegiance. They have been able to benefit from the system enough so that they are fine voting for a misogynistic, narcissistic sociopath who will say/do whatever it takes to maintain the patriarchal underpinnings that quell his stakeholder’s media-inflamed fear of change. “Yes, I firmly believe in reproductive rights and will do whatever I can to make sure they are available for my kids… and I am voting for Trump because Hillary is an untrustworthy menace.” Unfortunately, it seems privilege can provide adequate (and irrational) justifications that overpower principles.

All this said, I believe there is a lot of hope on the demographic horizon. More women are self-identifying as “feminists” today versus 2012 and Hillary won the aggregate female count, of which the white vote will continue to decline. I should note the tactical interpretations of “feminism” continue to (and I argue need to) keep evolving and should not be viewed as necessarily tied to only one side of the political spectrum. Women’s rights ARE human rights.

Feminism’s underlying aim–equal rights and opportunities–are inexorably coming to pass. Millennials are much less averse to women being in control in general terms, and men from that demographic, while certainly not emasculated, have realized the gender tables are turning, and are relatively cool with it. In the next five years, for every 100 men who graduate from college or grad school, 148 women will receive similar degrees. If that isn’t cursive on stationary, I don’t know what is.

There is immense strength in numbers. Numbers of people. Numbers of employees. Numbers of decision-makers. Numbers tracking performance. And numbers in terms of dollars: how many are made, how and where they are spent, how and where they are invested, and how and where they are donated. And reading my organic, free-trade tea leaves (which wouldn’t have come to market without these influences), the time for a significantly progressed Membership Rewards club is nigh.

It will be open to all, no application review of first and last names for gender or minority screenings, no medical tests for pre-existing conditions, no credit checks to determine worthiness, and no annual fees. Yet its privileges–treating humanity not as stereotyped objects in a patriarchal pecking order, but as individual people with equal dreams, rights, and opportunities–are priceless.

It was at the first NARAL march on DC in 1989, when I realized the immense strength of numbers. Political strength, economic strength and, perhaps most importantly, psychological strength. Being back in DC for the Women’s March, and experiencing the peaceful, positive, and indomitable energy of my card-carrying marchers-in-arms, was extraordinarily invigorating.

On reflection, it isn’t the stupid economy that significantly drives election results.

It’s the pernicious patriarchy.

P.S. While boasting great reviews and superior numbers, Good Girls Revolt was cancelled after its first season by an all-male team, the leader apparently not liking the show and not even viewing it.