Cyndie Wu | Class of ’17 | February 12, 2016
For centuries, men are more likely to participate in labor force and are more favored in better jobs than women. This phenomenon has been true not only in the United States but also around the world. Reasons lie behind the entrenched cultural values that women are traditionally considered to care for their children within the household. Fully aware and determined for change, girls and women have made major strides but have not yet gained gender equity. If we are to try to fully solve the inequality, we must first identify the underlying reasons for gender inequality in contemporary urban areas and how current efforts are not efficient enough.
In my home country China, traditional Confucian attitudes and norms supported the patriarchy ideas that women were subordinate to men. Men have been preferred since their births and in areas of education, health, political representation, etc. Recent developments, especially those efforts by the Communist party have been consistently challenging the hierarchy. The status of women was raised by increasing the participation of women in the paid work force, creating marriage laws that prohibit arranged marriage, polygyny and laws that give women equal rights to divorce. However, gender inequality still persists in urban China where women are still positioned in lower hierarchy, reflected by more responsibilities for child care and housework, lack of representation in political affairs, violence against women, and preference of equal-ability men in the work force.
In the United States, misconceptions on the effectiveness of current efforts also exist. In a recent article from the Washington Post, the authors argue that based on findings by economists at Harvard and Stanford universities, boys are much more likely to be left jobless than girls in poor families. The article then concerns “the plight of men…as they are increasingly left behind by the American economy.” But, is more participation in the labor force really means that gender equality is achieved?
Gilbert argues the opposite in his ‘Race,’ Space, and Power: The Survival Strategies of Working Poor Women. Poor urban women are currently facing a more serious problem of being cut off from the better-paying jobs in the suburbs due to distance and mobility. Poor working women in the contemporary ghetto are therefore trapped by the inner city and become powerless. There is a still a long way to go with gender inequality.
It is rather true that women have fought hard to address the problem. For generations, women have organized to speak for political demands in transforming people’s perceptions on women. Markusen argues women act actively in influencing the power dynamics by the woman’s movement in the household labor. In use of gentrification and movement from retired households to relatively nonurban settings, women strive to act together against the society’s perception on them.
However, collective work from the feminists might not be effective in changing the whole picture of gender inequality. As Crenshaw stated in Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics and Violence Against Women of Color, identity politics have failed to transcend differences and thus ignore those whose identites are complicated by other dimensions like race and class. Crenshaw specifically used an example of black women, who he believes to have undergone violence caused by the intersection of race and gender discrimination. It is really important for us to take into account the multiple grounds of identity when we are identifying underlying cause of gender inequality, especially in today’s world where urban inner cities are extremely mixed with different ethnic groups.
During my internship at EPSI Staffing through the Kinder Institute’s Community Bridges Fellowship program, I fill in job openings with resumes online and conduct career consultations. Women come to us surprisingly more often to seek help. They dress properly and act elegantly with proper business etiquette, striving hard to get themselves satisfying jobs. With such determination, I am certain that more and more women will be treated with respect not only in the labor force but also in the whole society. And I am waiting for that day to come in the near future.