I have been irritated for quite some time by constant questions from friends and colleagues about when I am going to retire. Some of them even imply that I am wrong not to be retired already. I love my work and get energy, joy, and satisfaction from it. Why would I want to stop doing what is so life-giving for me?
I am now in my late sixties, and a few years ago I asked my mentor, Edith Whitfield Seashore, for advice about how to deal with these annoying questions. At the time she was still working and in her mid-eighties, and she replied: “When people ask me when I am going to retire, I ask, ‘Isn’t retirement doing what you love?’ When they say yes, I reply, ‘Then I guess I’m retired.’”
What a delight to read about Caroline Kennedy’s successful tenure as the United States Ambassador to Japan! As reported by Moroko Rich in the New York Times, Caroline Kennedy, who was appointed to the position by President Barack Obama, was the first woman to hold the post in Japan, a traditionally male-dominated society. While mocked unfairly by Donald Trump during the presidential campaign, she was, in fact, a trusted and respected diplomat who managed relations well with one of our most important allies. In addition, she built strong relationships in government and business communities as well as with the broader public.
There was a lot of focus on a dearth of middle-class jobs for men in the United States during the recent presidential election. This discussion centered on the loss of good-paying manufacturing and mining jobs for men, which have been in decline since the 1960s due to automation and globalization. Not much attention has been paid, however, to the declining number of women in the US workforce. This trend is the opposite of trends in women’s employment in other industrialized countries. What explains this difference for women in the United States?
I became an active feminist in the 1960s and 1970s as part of the second-wave feminist movement. In some ways, what being a feminist means to me has never changed: being committed to making life better for women—all women. At the same time, my understanding of what feminism means has morphed and evolved over the years and is not the same as in the 1960’s and 1970’s. At that time, we white middle-class second wave feminists thought we were fighting to improve the lives of all women, but we were clueless about the issues of women who were not white, straight, and middle class. This cluelessness inflicted serious damage on the credibility of feminism, for good reason. Some of us, myself included, were slow learners.
“I can’t believe I had to learn about these amazing and brilliant women from a movie! Why didn’t we learn about them in school?” lamented an African American friend and colleague. I felt the same way when I saw the movie Hidden Figures, a true story about the African American female mathematicians, scientists, and engineers who worked at NASA in the early days of the space program in the mid-twentieth century. They pushed against humiliations inside and outside their workplace, including racial segregation in their schools, dining rooms, bathrooms, and work spaces. They worked with lesser titles and large pay inequities to perform calculations of orbital trajectories and to solve engineering problems, making space travel possible.
Women have enrolled in law school in equal numbers with men in the United States for the last twenty years, and minority enrollment has also steadily increased during this period. Recent studies, compiled into a series of articles by New York Times reporter Elizabeth Olson show both good news and bad news about the current status of women and minorities in law firms.
Olson reports good news based on a study by the National Association for Law Placement (NALP). This study shows that women and minorities made small gains in 2016:
- Women made up 22.13 percent of partners, up from 21.46 percent in 2015.
I am the dominant earner in my household. My wonderful life partner/spouse of 25 years is a talented artist. I am a successful consultant, and consultants generally make more than artists in our society. My life partner and I have always been fine with our financial relationship, but I remember when his father was still alive and would yell into the phone from the background, “Tell that bum to get a job!” He could not stand it that I made more money than his son. This lack of moral support was very painful for us both, especially for my partner. We were trying to stay grounded in the choices that made sense for us in the face of societal attitudes about acceptable gender roles—and this was sometimes difficult.
I admit that I got nervous when the Trump transition team demanded that the State Department submit details of programs and jobs dedicated to promoting gender equity. Given Donald J. Trump’s history of demeaning and assaulting women and his sexist behavior during the presidential campaign, it seems quite possible that his administration will pursue the elimination of all funding for women’s empowerment programs in the same way they have planned to defund Planned Parenthood, which will deprive poor women of basic healthcare services.
Misogyny is a difficult and important concept to understand if we are to grasp many of the challenges that women face in politics and in the workplace. One source of confusion is that misogyny is actually an umbrella term that encompasses multiple concepts such as sexism, patriarchy, gender-based oppression, and internalized oppression. Both women and men participate in perpetuating the misogynistic attitudes, behaviors, and practices motivated by hatred or distrust of women. Such concepts are largely unconscious in individuals and often institutionalized in the policies and practices of organizations and societal institutions. I wrote about some post-election examples of misogynistic behaviors in a recent article.
Decades of research show that women make a difference in elected office. Women do govern differently, yet we are losing representation in the United States. Claire Cain Miller, writing for the New York Times, reports these results of the November 2016 election:
- The number of female governors dropped from six to five.
- The number of women in Congress stayed the same at 104, or 19 percent of the seats in the House and Senate. One seat was gained in the Senate and one lost in the House.
- Thirteen states will send no women to the new 115th Congress.