The Persistence of Gender Politics

Posted on March 29, 2010


From NPR’s Cokie Roberts, Morning Edition, Monday May 29th, 2010:

“One of the things about the Tea Party movement that’s gotten the attention of a lot of politicians, though, is how many women are involved in it.  And that is unusual for something that is basically a conservative cause.  And I thought it was interesting that Palin said to this big crowd, “We’re not going to sit down and shut up!” which is kind of a rallying cry for women who have often felt like they’ve been asked to do that.”

… What?  Asked by whom?  She’s speaking to conservatives — is this what I think it is?

It’s a minor comment, something that’s barely noticeable when you first hear it, but it seems that Roberts is saying it’s unusual that so many women are involved in a political party.  Further, she thinks it’s unusual because this party is mostly conservative.  And it’s unusual that Sarah Palin would stand up before a crowd of conservatives and use language that is easily recognized as encouraging women to stand against those who seek to keep them in a position of subservience.

All of this is unusual, has gotten the attention of politicians, and is interesting… why?  Oh, because conservatives are the ones who are normally telling their women to “sit down and shut up,” so to have Palin represent conservatives when she’s says we’re not going to take this anymore is somewhat ironic… I mean, interesting.

I know, I’m reading too much into this.  I’m seeing bias where there is none.  No one would actually come out and say that conservatives advocate for the oppression of women.

But why does Roberts find Palin’s actions and words interesting?  What’s so special about a political leader making a speech to a crowd of supporters?  Why should her gender have any bearing on her politics?  Why should politicians be taking note of how many women are involved in the Tea Party movement?

This is a minor example, to be sure, but it still represents the basic attitude of our nation — especially our media, which has the power to significantly influence people’s views — toward the issue of identity politics.  In other words, our media, in many ways, actively reinforces political separations based on identity qualifiers that have no place in politics.

Another example of the social attitude I’m talking about can be found in the workplace.  Currently women earn about 77 cents to the dollar compared to men.  Yet the law prevents this sort of discrepancy: it’s not possible to pay a woman less because she’s a woman.  Assuming that women are achieving the same level of education and work experience as men are — and they are — it follows that every company that pays their female employees less should be taken to court.

That would make sense, if it were true.  Instead companies do pay female employees at the same rate.  The problem, and statistical data will confirm this, is that females employees routinely accept the first offer handed to them by a prospective employer.  Men are more likely than women to reject the first offer and to fight for higher salaries or pay raises.

Aside from basic biology — which does have an effect on how men and women think — an individual’s skills and abilities are not determined by gender.  Yet individuals continue to act as though a societal pressure exists for women to work harder in order to achieve less than what men can get.  It’s a bunch of crap and the only way we’re going to eliminate an attitude like this is through the actions and beliefs of individuals.

Posted in: Philosophy, Politics