By Madison Springer
Let’s talk about ladies and jobs. There was a time in this country when being a lady and having a job was weird, especially if you also had kids. Now you can be a lady with kids and have a job! Sweet! But there’s still some stigma associated with what job you have, and that certainly goes for men too. Why do we assign genders to occupations? Why can’t people just do what they are good at? Why are there so few women in politics and so few men in my graduate program? Read on for some solutions to these and other issues.
I believe one of the toughest places for women is in positions of leadership. I remember a couple of years ago Hilary Clinton showed up to a meeting without makeup, and with her hair pulled back and a bunch of news outlets reported on it. Reported on that. As news. Hilary Clinton showed up to work without makeup, because maybe public policy took precedence over her morning routine that day and it made national news. Meanwhile dudes in politics can wear the same suit every day for a billion years and no one will ever notice. Even my BFF Condoleezza Rice made headlines simply because she wore boots. Y’all Condoleezza Rice is a total badass and I would rather read about her incredible experiences as a black woman in politics and sweet classical piano skills than her footwear choices.
These women are at the top of their game. They are sitting in board rooms changing the world but because it is so weird to be a successful female politician, the media is constantly fixating on how they look and what they wear. According to a recent documentary on the portrayal of women in the media, at age five equal numbers of boys and girls say they want to be president, and at age 13 that number drops significantly for girls. Why is that? Why aren’t educated, female leaders the norm yet in America? Plenty of countries have elected female presidents, and not just Western European countries. India, Israel, Indonesia, and China have all elected women to high offices. Meanwhile some of our 13 year old girls can’t even see it as a possibility. It’s a general principle that people have difficulty aspiring to be things that they can’t see. And when what you see regarding women in politics is headlines about boots, hair, and lipstick choices, politics doesn’t always seem like an exciting avenue to a young girl.
There are certainly other occupations where being a girl is abnormal. A lot has changed in terms of education for women, but there are still low numbers of women in hard sciences including engineering or physics. A lot of schools offer scholarships to women pursuing those tracts, but I don’t think that’s necessarily the right incentive to get women into traditionally male-centric jobs. I think the way you show young girls that they are capable of being politicians and engineers is by introducing them to awesome women who are currently politicians and engineers. Additionally, I think another solution is to stop stigmatizing males who go after traditionally female jobs. Why are male nurses and male teachers relatively rare? How about everyone just do jobs they are good at? I would love to see more men in my graduate program, because I think kids who see males in “helping” professions such as therapy or teaching will understand that males are just as capable of performing ‘female’ tasks (healthcare, childcare) as women are of performing “male” tasks (math, building stuff.) Hopefully one day we won’t even have to associate tasks with genders. For now, it’s our job as educated people to talk to middle school and high schoolers (specifically in low income areas) about how empowering it is to learn. We need to be aware of what the media we consume is saying about women. (Don’t get me started on Barbies, where is SCIENCE BARBIE?) And also we need to give my girl Condoleezza Rice more cred.
Madison is an almost-done graduate student studying speech-language pathology. When she isn’t helping people find their voices, she’s probably watching old ER episodes or re-reading Harry Potter. What she lacks in cooking abilities, she makes up for in killer Bop-It skills. She cares a little too much about grammar and is definitely going to start exercising…tomorrow. Although she’s currently living in Austin, TX, she hails from the Dallas suburbs and harbors a secret wish to drop everything and move to New Orleans. Madison likes to write about girl power, science, medicine, faith, and her current efforts to pass as a grown-up.