I am a woman.
I am labeled as such because of the reproductive organs with which I was born, the hormones they produce, and the two X chromosomes identified in my DNA. I had no control over these outcomes, just like my brother had no say in whether "male" or "female" was written on his birth certificate. These biological differences are simple, but they have dramatically affected the choices and treatment of men and women throughout history and even today.
Because of a simple difference in anatomical structure, women are inherently disadvantaged in assigned gender norms, workforce expectations, and leadership roles.
For this paper, I must issue a disclaimer: I will be referring to "gender" in terms of gender roles and biases, along with "sex" as interchangeable terms to define gender dichotomy of male and female. I understand and acknowledge that these terms have deeper, more complex differences, but will refrain from delving further into these due to the nature of my paper and the allotted space to make my points.
From an early age, society imposes gender roles on children that institutionalize sex differences and gender inequality. Expecting "masculine" behaviors from boys and "feminine" behaviors from girls, insinuating that there is something wrong with being a "tomboy" as a girl or "girly" as a boy, socializes men and women into believing these differences are natural. By teaching attitudes that affirm the inferiority of women from a young age, gender differences that perpetuate gender inequality become more difficult to dismantle.
Even if gender roles are abolished in the United States, other social hierarchies will continue to oppress select groups of women across the globe. A prime example of this is the sex-trade industry in which millions of men, women, and children are involved every year. It is important to note, however, that women and girls make up 96% of those victimized by sex trafficking. Although human trafficking is an expansive industry – generating the second most profit of all forms of transnational crime – it remains relatively hidden; fraud, fear, and force prevent participants from revealing the true extent of its impact to law enforcement, researchers, doctors, and peers.
This stigmatization often leaves women expelled from their families, marginalized by society, and reliant on sex for survival, thus perpetuating the cycle of vulnerability. Those who enter the sex trade in developing countries are often unable to provide for themselves and thus rely on older partners. Many then endure a loss of sexual freedom for access to basic needs in exchange such as food or other relief supplies to pass borders or to gain certain types of protection. Power dynamics are often seen in age-disparate sexual relationships between young women and older men, as cultural factors often include social norms that emphasize sexuality of women and masculinity of their partner(s). Unequal gender power dynamics, due to socially perpetuated norms, not only influence gender-based violence, but also male control over sexual decision-making, which leads to difficulty in negotiating condom use and leaves women more vulnerable to sexually transmitted infections and diseases when stigma prevents them from seeking treatment.
Female sex workers are often not only treated negatively by their partners, but also by the societies in which they live. Even though sex work is legal in some countries, the law rarely protects sex workers. Often, when a sex worker seeks help from a hospital, police station, or from another legal service, they face the stigma of their profession. Payal, an 18-year-old sex trader in Nepal, said of her experience at a hospital, "Health personnel were not polite and immediately asked me if I was a sex worker. A doctor asked me outright, 'Are you HIV positive?'" The stigma and social obstacles that sex workers face can make it hard for them to access healthcare, legal, and social services, creating a toxic environment for women around the world.
Socializing gender roles normalizes socially constructed gender differences as exemplified above. As men are raised to pursue traditional notions of masculinity – sexuality, aggressiveness, and competitiveness – they are wired to perceive and respond more effectively to more individuals exhibiting similar characteristics: other males. Data collected from a study performed by Harvard's Schools of Government and Business suggests that hiring managers develops and uses his or her own biases when evaluating job applicants. One such opinion is that "Females are believed to be worse at math tasks and better at verbal tasks than males." To test this claim, 600 candidates were each given math and verbal aptitude tests. When presented with the results of these tests, the employer was more likely to choose men over women for math-related tasks, and vice versa for verbally-demanding duties, even if the candidate had a weak performance on the initial test. These behaviors certainly imply that gender biases exist when determining which roles men and women were most qualified to perform.
Gender bias remains a very real and impacting element in today's business world. When searching for jobs, men and women were asked what factors deter them from applying for an opportunity. The top three barriers for women, together accounting for 78% of reasons for not applying, are as follows: "I didn't think they would hire me since I didn't meet the qualifications, and I didn't want to waste my time and energy," "I didn't think they would hire me since I didn't meet the qualifications and I didn't want to put myself out there if I was likely to fail," and "I was following the guidelines about who should apply". Why did men still apply to jobs when women felt unqualified on paper?
Of all the forces that hold women back, none are as powerful as the social biases that emerge in gender-based scenarios. While companies have worked hard to eliminate overt discrimination, women are face difficulty from mindsets that limit opportunity. Managers—male and female—continue to take viable female candidates out of the running, often on the assumption that women cannot handle certain jobs and also discharge family obligations. In fact, in this study, men were TWICE as likely to be hired over their female counterparts, even if the female was a more qualified candidate. This same research found that men are often hired or promoted based on their potential, while women for their concrete experience. These "rules" were established by society early on in an individual's development and are further exemplified and perpetuated throughout daily life.
News coverage of men in politics, especially Donald Trump in the 2016 election, typically centers around the individual's power when raising his voice, or how vulnerability and emotion is a positive trait. However, with the comparatively smaller population of women involved in United States politics, there is a clear imbalance in news coverage. For example, in the same election, Hillary Clinton was publicly broadcasted as "shrill" when she raised her voice out of passion and as "emotionally unstable" when showing emotion. In fact, an analysis performed by the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce (CEW) suggests that roughly one-in-ten Americans believe men are better "emotionally suited" for politics than are women.
To succeed in positions of leadership, it seems, women often have to be strong and decisive. But in doing so, they risk being penalized for violating social norms.Their very success in roles associated with men can have negative consequences, including making them seem less "likable," when research has shown that being likable is more important than any other factor to a woman's success in a political race. The imbalance continues. If rigid, polarizing expectations for men and women were dismantled, individuals would be able to embrace unique passions and pursue leadership of any form without fear of backlash.
As such, the inequal treatment of women in the social scheme must first be addressed in order to grant women the opportunity to represent themselves in the economy and workplace or earn a political platform using their qualifications rather than biases brought on by differences in organs, hormones, and chromosomes. However, some brave women that came before me have fought hard, a successful fire that continues to burn bright in the passion of female leaders like those deemed responsible for ending the government shutdown. According to Claudia Golden, "The converging roles of men and women are among the grandest advances in society and the economy in the last century". I am optimistic it will continue to grow.