Can You Gift Gender Equality?

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As a feminist, I believe in equality for all.  My ideal world would see everyone get the same opportunities to flourish, thrive, and contribute to the world.

This of course is a flawed and simplistic statement that does nothing to account for the nuisances of the world – culture, society, race, level of education, gender, family support and connections, socio-economic status.

I realize, in our global society, the “same opportunity” argument is truly impossible.

But what if it wasn’t?

To what lengths should one go to create equality?

Imagine two parents, thrilled at the prospect of parenthood.  As good progressives, they vow to do whatever possible to teach their children equality, centered on gender.  They are having twins, one girl and one boy, so this will be exceptionally important to clarify to each child.  Both children are meant to be equals.

Their twin babies are born healthy and begin to grow up, as children do.  The parents tell both their son and daughter that they can do and be anything, but their words start to feel hollow as they realize, despite their best efforts on the home front, American culture still retains a deep  gender divide.

This is made obvious to them by their inability to both work and afford childcare, as the mother, formally the main breadwinner of the family, is unable to return to her industry after taking time off to care for her newborns.

This is made obvious to them as they realize more and more of the work valued in our culture (programming and engineering) continue to be male-dominated fields.

This is made obvious to them as they continually read about the wage gap (white women make less than 79 cents to every man’s dollar, black women 63 cents, Latina women a shocking 54% of what white men made per dollar in 2014); particularly haunting is the World Economic Forum report titled “2095: The Year of Gender Equality in the Workplace.”  Their daughter will be around 80 years old then, past childbearing and retirement years; it will be too late for her to experience the world equally to her brother.

They don’t want their daughter to experience a world so drastically differently than their son. They don’t want to feel like they are misleading their daughter that she has every opportunity her brother has. They want to ensure that she has the same freedom their son will to have a balance between professional and personal life, and not have to choose between a career and a family, like her mother had been forced to do.

They decide the only thing they can do is “buy” their daughter’s equality.

They will create a fund specifically for their daughter to supplement, at least financially, the harsh realities of the gender wage gap, exacerbated by societal expectations of traditional gender roles: women are the main caregivers for children and aging family members, cutting into their time for gainful employment; around 25% of American women leave their jobs for family reasons (only 10% of men do).

After reviewing studies showing a woman, on average, will make $434,000 less than a man over her career, the father’s calculations find that his daughter will need $3 million to account for potential lost wages in her career.

He and his wife don’t know how they will ever get to that amount, but they promise to try.

They will save for their daughter.  Their son, having inherited the privilege of the American male, will get the same amount of love, support, and affection – but not a cent of the daughter’s fund, unless she chooses to share it with her brother upon entering adulthood.

Perhaps your ethics alarm bells are ringing.  How could parents possibly imagine favoring one child so much more than the other? Won’t this cause a plethora of problems?

Good thing this is all hypothetical.

Except it isn’t.

Paul Ford and his wife, Maureen, are doing just that.  In his article in Elle magazine describing what I just summarized, he justifies their decision to give their daughter “jump-start money” that their son will not receive by saying:

“[My wife] is my equal, but the world keeps telling her that she isn’t.  I don’t want that for [my daughter]”.

I am not here to tell you whether their parenting strategy is right or wrong.  What I do want to point out, however, is the eternal question:

Can you create equality simply by treating everyone else the same?

The disturbing truth, as evidenced in this article, is no.

In our society, money is often power.  Money provides you freedom to do the things you need and want to do, and allows you to take the time to do them.

This time of year finds me reflecting more than usual on wealth and well-being, two things that, at least in our American consumerist society, are often warped together.

I can’t help but imagine the mirage of wealth/wellness as an exorbitantly wrapped gift of an empty box.

Is this what we’re promising our young girls as they grow up?  A shiny, bright box of gender equality that when young women open, they find an only an empty promise – nothing actually inside?

My feminist core shudders at the thought.

Despite the good work feminists do to forward the fight for equal footing, women still need more opportunities to have a voice, more opportunities for financial success, more support in the workplace – both in professional mentorships and in paid family leave.

This is not because women are less capable.  This is because history has been repeatedly stacked against women.

And we are doing our damnedest to hurry history.

I can’t fault Mr. Ford for trying.

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Lauryn Gutierrez serves as Associate Editor at Feminism 2.0. 

 

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