The top woman in the Defense Department walked away from the job, at least for now. Despite the success of “Bridesmaids” and the fact that Kathryn Bigelow won an Oscar for best director two years ago, the early awards show indications aren’t looking good for women who aren’t actresses. (What, once wasn’t enough for you?) Only one of the 11 new inductees to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame — and less than 14 percent of all of them, ever — are women. The only female runner-up to be Time magazine’s Person of the Year is Kate Middleton, who, to be fair, did look very pretty in her wedding dress.
Of course, as sick as I am of reading “where are the women” stories (or writing them, again and again), the stories aren’t so much the problem as the grindingly repetitive circumstances that keep generating them. On the micro level, it’s easier to dismiss each individual example (maybe it just wasn’t the right job for Christiane Amanpour, who will be just fine in her dual roles at ABC and CNN!) and to lament that each woman has to stand for so much more than herself. In the aggregate, it feels like an incessant game of one step forward, two steps back for women — whether your preferred explanations are discrimination and systemic barriers to women’s progress in the workplace like family leave policies, an “ambition gap,” or some sort of natural order of things.
Maybe it’s this same exhaustion at reading about how little women have progressed that leads to the recent subgenre focusing on an ascendancy of women at the expense of men. In other words, what if women aren’t losing … but winning? To be clear, this is not a go-us-girls celebration, but an apparently profitable provocation that focuses on a handful of gains for American women with some worry about what it means for the men. We can expect at least two books in the near future in this vein, and for now, a newspaper entry to whet your appetite, in the New York Times/International Herald Tribune’s habitually clunky, reductive “Female Factor” column.
It’s worth quoting the first two paragraphs in full to get a sense of both the banality and imprecision:
As the year ends, much of the talk around women — at least in the United States — has moved from empowerment and global gender gaps to the trend of young single women out-earning men and the rise of female breadwinners.
There are so many views and theories out there, some of them driven by independent research and others by personal experience and still others by a chatty blend of both, that we are getting a sometimes confounding, always provocative and occasionally contradictory picture.
There are so many views! And theories! And some of them are chatty, and some of them are based in science. How will we ever know which one is true?
Well, you can start with that oft-cited stat about the young single women who are out-earning men. (Extra red flag in the piece: “Although that study of 2,000 communities was done only in the United States, it points to a global trend.” Just take her word for it!) As Autostraddle blogger Carolyn points out in response to the Times piece, this is true if you happen to be single, childless, under 30 and living in a big city. Not coincidentally, many of these are big cities where men are earning less because of an eroded manufacturing base and/or come from groups where men are less likely to graduate from college. Maybe those relatively high-earning women under 30 will grow up and become CEOs — let’s hope, at least — but women who plan to grow older, have kids or maybe live elsewhere have no reason to expect, in the aggregate, anything different from the 23 percent wage gap among female full-time workers, which remained unchanged in 2010.