Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Girls, Girls, Girls [updated]

Interesting debate amongst women about whether there is progress or back-sliding on the status of women in the US. The timing of this article was particularly apt for me as I had given one of my female students some friendly teasing yesterday for referring to an adult women as a girl. I informed her that I was educated at Oberlin long ago that women are women and girls are girls, that she would not use boy to describe a man. Her comeback is that adult males are guys and that the parallel term to guy is girl. Um. Okay.

Of course, I just complained that people focused on the gender composition of Obama's basketball games were over-reacting. So, does any of this symbolic stuff matter a great deal?

As prospect theorists would argue, it really depends on your basis of comparison. In a conversation with my daughter about Mad Men, she was surprised to hear that date rape was not really a crime back in the early 1960's (I am skeptical of the view of divorce laws presented in the latest episode, but the legal status of women was atrocious until fairly recently). Similarly, the roles of girls and boys in schools have been significantly reversed, where there is now a "crisis" since boys are falling farther and farther behind.

In terms of political science, there has also been a sea change. When I started out, nearly all of the young women at the conferences were the book reps, not advanced grad students or junior profs. Not anymore. Indeed, my speaker series this fall accidentally became quite female-dominated, as I was choosing speakers based on who was doing interesting work, especially in International Security. Of course, there is still a lag, as there are far fewer women at the higher ranks, and the rumor blogs tend to blame affirmative action when women get interviews and get hired, rather than the quality of their work. Indeed, as the Salon piece indicates, the internet allows the worst form of sexist rants to proliferate.

So, is the glass half-full or half-empty? Again, it depends on the basis of comparison, but, at least in my profession, women are better off now they they were when I started in the early 1990s.

[update]  See here for latest stats on women in the workplace.


Steve Greene said...

I see that you (wisely) refrained from the unedited version of your standard observation about women at political science conferences.

Mrs. Spew said...

Actually, the parallel term for guys is gals, not girls.

I take the sexist rants to be a sign that women are pushing, achieving and making progress, even if it's not as fast as we'd like. When that happens, there's always a backlash, things like that guy who's making a celebrity career for himself bragging about tricking and bagging women and getting fawned over as a novelty by female co-eds. But that means it's working. The only problem is when those doing the sexist ranting are the lawmakers and in the top positions elsewhere. Such as the religious movement that funds things like C House where the young women are the servants (and other stuff,) and supposed to be subserviant, and the young men are the aides. This movement has gotten Republicans and the occasional conservative Democrat into prominant political offices, and while some of those men have now imploded (Sanderson, etc.,) those men still have far too much power. As long as we have a Senator who goes "I don't need maternity leave," we have a problem. But now we have a female Senator there to say right back, "I think your mother probably did." That's going to happen more often.