The 16 Percenters: Female Leadership is Stalled and Going Backwards
I've been alluding to this frequently over the past couple of months as it's once again being demonstrated that women's rights are a still a major battleground in the culture wars. I don't bring it up to suggest that women haven't made progress. Of course they have. But something's wrong. I've felt that it's stalled out for some time. And lately I've been feeling it sliding backwards, particularly when I see vicious misogyny publicly celebrated in certain quarters, something which I don't recall being acceptable even in the bad old days. (That was perhaps because of the "protective" aspect of patriarchy that pervaded the culture. But still...) And we wonder why women only hold 16% of the positions of power in our country.
Anyway, here's a piece by Leslie Bennetts in TDB discussing this issue. It's sobering:
“Women remain hugely underrepresented at positions of power in every single sector across this country,” said Barnard College president Debora Spar at a White House conference on urban economic development last month.
“We have fallen into what I call the 16 percent ghetto, which is that if you look at any sector, be it aerospace engineering, Hollywood films, higher education, or Fortune 500 leading positions, women max out at roughly 16 percent,” Spar said. “That is a crime, and it is a waste of incredible talent.”
Seventeen percent of United States Senators are women, and only 16.8 percent of the House of Representatives. The Supreme Court has three women justices out of nine, and six women governors out of 50, or 12 percent. In state legislatures, 23.6 percent of elected representatives are female, and only nine percent of mayors are women in the 100 largest cities.
Such figures belie America’s self-image as a world leader with enlightened values; the nation actually ranks 71st in female legislative representation, behind Bangladesh, Sudan and United Arab Emirates.
From politics and business to academia, law and religion, the allocation of power remains stunningly lopsided. “Over half of college graduates but less than a quarter of full professors and a fifth of college presidents are female,” reported Deborah Rhode and Barbara Kellerman in their book Women and Leadership. “In management, women account for about a third of M.B.A. classes, but only 2 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs, 6 percent of top earners, 8 percent of top leadership positions, and 16 percent of board directors and corporate officers. In law, women constitute about half of new entrants to the profession, but less than a fifth of law firm partners, federal judges, law school deans, and Fortune 500 general counsels. Half the students in divinity school are women, but they account for only 3 percent of the pastors of large congregations in protestant churches that have been ordaining women for decades.”
Nor are such imbalances improving; in most areas, women’s advancement has flatlined in recent years. “I think we are stuck in the muck,” says Kathryn Kolbert, director of the Athena Center for Leadership Studies at Barnard. “We made great progress on the rights front in the 1970’s, and life has changed significantly, but progress for women has plateaued in rights, in leadership, and in the ability to contribute equally in social and cultural affairs.”
Women’s ongoing failure to attain leadership positions can no longer be blamed on a lack of qualified candidates in the professional pipeline that ultimately limits the executive talent pool; even when women are abundantly represented in a given field, they rarely manage to reach the top levels of management. “In the financial services industry, 57 percent of the workers are women—but only 1.5 percent of the CEO’s are female,” says Mary Quist-Newins, an assistant professor at The American College, the nation’s largest non-profit educational institution for financial services.
Whatever the arena, analysts cite various reasons why women’s progress has stalled in recent years, starting with a backlash to the previous period of rapid social evolution. “Classically speaking, resistance to change comes at two points,” Gloria Steinem explains. “The first is right in the beginning, when you break the rules and people say, ‘No, women can’t do that!’ And the second comes when you reach a critical mass, because then the dominant group thinks, ‘Wait a minute!’ Up until then, it hasn’t seemed as if the other group might have great influence or, in the case of women, might actually outnumber them. We’re now at the second stage of resistance.”
I feel that. Having come of age with the women's movement, I'll admit that I felt for many years that change was coming fast and was inevitable. For a long time I bought into the idea that once women had to come to a certain age and level of experience parity would naturally be reached. That time is now. And we're at 16%.
With the rise of social conservatism as a political and cultural force I felt the backlash, but I still thought that we were in the midst of inexorable change. (Ironically, I believed it was the advent of birth control that made the difference -- being able to control reproduction was the big change.) Now I'm seeing backsliding on reproductive freedom --- and a whole lot of other things, including a sort of misogynistic cruelty I first dealt with when women were trying to break into male dominated jobs in the 1970s. Then I saw this movie, which was based on a true story and saw that it was still going on in the late 80s, virtually unchanged. In recent years, it's bubbled up to the surface online in a big way. This thing never goes away.
A lot of men hate women in a serious, fundamental way. (And they aren't all old guys.) Rush Limbaugh is clearly one of them. He's demonstrated it over and over again for more than two decades, and has been feted as a hugely powerful media and political celebrity that entire time. I think the problem is that this is still such an accepted part of male culture that even decent enlightened men (and women) often don't recognize the milder version when they see it for what it actually is.
This worries me. When you look at what's happening around the globe, it's very easy to see just how possible it is for women's rights to backslide. It's true that it's been most obvious in the middle eastern countries in the grip of Islamic fundamentalism. But our "exceptional" Western democracy is hardly a world leader in feminist achievement:
Update: Now I really do feel sick:
Since We Can’t Call Sandra Fluke a ‘Slut,’ Would ‘Lying Liberal Bitch’ Be OK?
UPDATE: At one point in this “controversy,” Ace tried to find the proper comic tone for riffing on Sandra Fluke:She’s not a hero. She’s just a Chubster looking for some camera time.
Not good. I thought about going there. The line where I have Fluke “lying through her teeth”? That was going to be “lying her chubby ass off,” but I wasn’t sure that readers would understand that I actually like chubby asses, and I didn’t want to risk offending women who’ve got that kind of more-cushion-for-the-pushin’ biscuits-and-gravy action that me and Sir Mix-a-Lot dig, IYKWIMAITYD.
So I decided against that joke, with a bit of a guilty conscience for even having considered it.
I also felt a slight twinge of guilt when I remembered having made fun of Maureen Dowd’s musty old vajayjay a few years ago. But then I thought about all the vicious things MoDo wrote about Sarah Palin, and my conscience felt a whole lot better all of a sudden.
UPDATE II: Linked by Bob Agard, Monoblog and Rio Norte Line — thanks! — and I want to take this opportunity to apologize to readers for some of our commenters who have made derogatory remarks about Sandra Fluke’s appearance. This is terribly unfortunate, and probably sexist, too.
Besides, it is inaccurate to imply that Sandra Fluke is unattractive.
A recent survey I’ve conducted indicates that 27% of men are attracted to women with the “varsity softball scholarship” look. In fact, seven out of 10 Eritrean immigrant cab drivers in the D.C. metropolitan area say that they would be attracted to Sandra Fluke, especially if her family were willing to provide a dowry that included a small herd of goats, or if they could score a Permanent Residency Visa out of the deal.
Also, if given a choice between Maureen Dowd and Sandra Fluke, the Eritrean cab drivers would unanimously choose Fluke.
Don't even look at the comments.