By ANNE GAUTREAU
In its famous aphorism, The Declaration of Independence declares that “all men are created equal.” That simple sentence reflects European Enlightenment philosophy. Therefore, from its diction, one might naively conclude that “all men” means humanity.
Abigail Adams, a brilliant woman and spouse of the second president of the United States, famously exhorted her husband to “Remember the ladies.” However, many scholars continue to argue that the signers of the declaration meant to exclude women. That legal view prevails to this day. Women in this nation do not enjoy equal rights nor equal pay. Therefore, the American Association of University Women is determined to change that misperception along with its subsequent injustices.
Through the use of slavery and indentured servitude, early capitalists accrued enormous profits. In addition, stealing land from indigenous peoples was considered just. Quite simply, economic success in this nation was founded upon the suffering of other races. Such unbridled power begat privileged white males.
Other human beings were expected to perform obsequies to those capitalist bullies who had shoved others aside in their pursuit of the American Dream. For many Americans, the notion of success has always equated to the accumulation of money and properties. To this day, such starry-eyed views “reign.”
However, it is worth noting that Section 9, article 8, of the Constitution begins with these words: “No Title of Nobility shall be granted by the United States.” Specifically, it eschews “the group of people belonging to the nobility, especially those with a hereditary or honorary title.” So the “reigning” ideas that founded this nation created, from the get-go, an unequal nation, one based in large measure upon hereditary privilege.
WASP, an acronym created in the mid-20th century, stood for White Anglo-Saxon Protestants. It designated America’s social elites who were well-connected and of Northern European descent. WASPs were born into well-placed families that controlled America’s financial, business, legal and academic institutions. Intermarriage and nepotism allowed them almost total “reign” until the late-20 century.
One can only wonder how many individuals have been marginalized and denied equal footing under the law over the course of centuries? What was supposed to have been a level playing field was so stratified that the only ways to navigate such a society were to break into metaphorical elevators or to shape law. Luckily, little-by-little, over time and with hard work, the founding document of the country, the Constitution, has been amended to rectify shortcomings initially unseen by the Founding Fathers.
For instance, after harrowing struggles, the suffrage movement finally led to women being allowed to vote. But not before Susan B. Anthony was arrested for casting a ballot and both tried and convicted for voting illegally. She was fined but remained steadfast in her refusal to pay. The last mid-term election in 2018 witnessed the largest field of women candidates to ever run for office.
Ironically, today, women still lack equal rights and equal pay. The two are entwined and kept tied up in convoluted knots by the remaining power elites who believe the expression “less is more” is all about control rather than a design theory. Powerful, privileged men expect everyone to accept the generalization that “America is the home of the brave and the land of the free” at face value.
In addition, televised reality shows reinforce these flawed notions with its adoration of endless monetary accumulation. It is as though the power elites want a new declarative sentence to reinforce their need for additional wealth: “America is the home of the crave and the land of the expensive.”
One-hundred years ago, Americans witnessed the beginning of a massive political change. May 21, 1919, marked the anniversary of the House of Representatives passing the federal suffrage amendment. June 4, 1919, marks the anniversary of the Senate passing the 19th Amendment. Suffrage, which gave women the right to vote in political elections, was ratified at long last on Aug. 18, 1920.
Interestingly, more than four decades ago, women were almost declared equal citizens via the Equal Rights Amendment which would have ended legal distinctions between the genders in terms of divorce, property, employment and other issues. The proposed amendment was first introduced to Congress in 1923. Michigan U.S. Rep. Martha Griffiths reintroduced it in 1971. Subsequently, it was approved by both the House and the Senate. It had bipartisan support. Thirty-eight states needed to ratify the amendment, but it only achieved 35 ratifications through 1977.
Since that time a political fencing match has ensued with numerous parries and thrusts leading to a stalemate. The issue became mired in emotional, as opposed to logical, appeals. Sadly, it even led to disparate groups of women turning and savaging one another. As usual, the divide-and-conquer narrative led to the power brokers in America keeping the lion’s share of the power wherein the marginalization of women continued unabated.
Professor Myra Pollack Sadker states: “Each time a girl opens a book and reads a womanless history, she learns she is worth less.” As long as women are not equal citizens, their earning powers will remain impaired. The psychological implications are enormous and far reaching. Being marginalized diminishes one’s sense of self. By default, women are the lower gender and are accorded less status. They are legally seen in this country as inferior, inadequate, insignificant, deficient, less than, second- rate, subordinate, sub-par, subservient, humble, and quite literally beneath. Over time, always being “beneath” leads to a suffocating sensation. One can argue that women’s talents, intelligences, and creativity have often been deprived of the oxygen necessary to flourish.
With the election of more women, change is certain. This past January, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer declared, “It’s pretty simple. Women deserve equal pay for equal work. Women in Michigan earn 78 cents for every dollar men make for doing the same job, and it’s time for that to change.” She then issued an executive order that aims to create salary equity between the genders of those who work for the state of Michigan.
Compensation will be determined by the nature of the work to be performed, and agencies will be prohibited from asking about previous salaries because such information can lead to lower salary offers being made to women. Clearly, the intention behind the order is to cease the perpetuation of gender-wage gaps.
Of course, none of this affects private companies. The notion of transparency in that sector is still largely an anathema. But organizations such as AAUW believe tangible differences will happen when individuals address four areas with persistence:
First, confront your own bias. Both genders share an implicit bias against women leaders, women negotiators and women in power. Consider how often the B-word is used to cat call. Bias cannot be eliminated if it is not even recognized. Since researchers have created a series of tests that measure implicit bias, consider measuring yours. Project Implicit at Harvard is a good place to start.
Second, a well-known phenomenon entitled “speaking while female” allows women in meetings to be often ignored, while men can later make an identical point and receive praise for their thinking. Women need to amplify their voices by doing things as simple as repeating another woman’s point and then crediting her with the thought. Gradually, men become more open to recognizing the contributions of females. Giving credit where credit is due leads to validation and confidence. To learn more go to payscale.com and read “5 Ways to Make Sure Women Are Heard in Meetings.”
Third, realize that one individual in an organization can change everything. Grievance procedures allow anyone and everyone a voice and an opportunity to pursue justice. Lily Ledbetter is a great example. She brought a discrimination case against Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. Although she did not prevail in court due to time bars, Congress passed a fair pay act in her name. It was not an easy process, but ultimately justice prevailed. One woman’s brave action changed law.
Fourth, ask your employer to adopt pay transparency. Such metrics may reveal a gender-based pay gap and thus expose gender-parity issues. Discuss the company’s compensation strategies to determine whether fairness and equity are part of the equation. Assure the powers that be that diverse perspectives enhance corporate outcomes.
Seemingly immovable barriers can be eroded over time. The #MeToo movement, the record number of females elected recently, the mobilization of women-led marches, and the case studies in academic research all suggest change is happening.
AAUW research indicates that “when women are paid equitably, far fewer children live in poverty, and millions of families benefit.” Young girls today are being encouraged to recognize and unleash their extraordinary potentials. Gender parity and closing opportunity gaps can shape a truly great nation where everyone is allowed to participate, flourish, and benefit.
(Anne Gautreau is secretary, and past president, of the American Association of University Women—Dearborn Branch.)