Social change, by definition, refers to any significant changes over time in how people behave and the norms and cultural values that are predominant in the culture. Some significant social changes through history include the industrial revolution, the abolition of slavery, and the feminist movement. The social changes that we are facing now comprise of issues such as interracial marriage, same-sex marriage, and legalization of marijuana. Interracial marriage, for example has had a major shift forward with 86% of Americans approving of it in 2011 compared with 48% in 1991, according to a USA TODAY/Gallup poll.
The issue that I am focusing on, gender equality, has improved through the years, for instance women are outpacing men in postgraduate education, “14% of women ages 25 to 64 had an advanced degree, compared to 12% of men. In 1992, a higher share of men (9%) than women (6%) in this age group had an advanced degree,” according to Pew Research Center. But, even though women are surpassing men in postgraduate education, we are not seeing the results for that good education like higher pay and positions of power. Women are still lagging behind men in holding positions of power, making the same sum, and holding certain fields, when we achieve these goals we will have achieved true gender equality.
But, to understand this whole discussion you first have to understand rights. Rights can be seen as having two main components, the first one is labeled formal. This is what the law says a person is allowed to do, these may include the right to petition the government, to have free speech, and so on. The other component is sometimes called, actual or substantive: are people, in practice, able to effectively express the rights granted to them? Are their right respected or are they little more than ink on paper?
Skeptics of feminism might say that feminism isn’t needed in the west, since they believe that women have now gained all their rights now, but that statement is false. They suggest that since women have the right to vote and can fight for their country, the struggle for feminism is a thing of the past. They believe that since women have already had been granted all their rights the battle is already won. But, they fail to understand what rights really mean. As stated above rights have two components, and while women have fulfilled their formal rights, they still need their substantive rights.
Feminist realize that it is not really a legal movement anymore, but rather about defending women’s substantive rights and correcting social conduct. It is not about fighting to grant women their rights anymore, but about telling women that they can achieve the same things that men can and that they shouldn’t settle for typical gender roles, if they don’t want to. Feminism is also working to combats rape culture, toxic masculinity, and internalized misogyny. It’s about getting rid of the imbalance between men and women, to help in this, the feminist movement helped to create paternal leave to get rid of this imbalance.
Feminism works for women and men to solve the problems that they face. It is still needed, because women are getting killed for simply rejecting men, attitudes are still around saying things like, “women can’t handle leadership”. Men can’t be emotional because “it’s not manly”, the same gender roles that women face also make it harder for men to cope with being the victim of crimes that are considered “women’s issues”. It is the activism that sheds light on problems and forges solutions which bring change.
But, before achieving these goals there are some obstacles holding us back. For instance, there is a large under representation of women in male-dominated fields, such as STEAM where 35.2% of Chemists are women and only 7.9% of mechanical engineers are women, according to NSF Science & Engineering Indicators, 2016. Another place where women are underrepresented is in holding positions of power. “Of the CEOs who lead the companies that make up the 2018 Fortune 500 list, just 24 are women.” While on the job, women face some problems holding them back, one of those problems is the wage gap. Common sense says that you should get equal pay, if you are doing the same work with the same credentials, but that is not the case.
A clear example of this would be the story of one women working as a section editor at a magazine who was getting paid $20,000 less than her male counterpart who actual had fewer responsibilities than her. They both had similar titles, the difference was that she ran a team, was responsible for producing daily and long-form content for the website, and was also curating and editing a print section. Meanwhile, her colleague didn’t have to do a print section and didn’t run a team. After, she found out about their wage gap, she brought it up a couple months later telling them that she wanted a raise and earned one and that she knew what her male colleague was making. Her manager understood that it was unfair and sympathised with her, but unfortunately, she was told that they were on a budget freeze and that she will have to wait until at least the end of the year for a raise. She waited a few months, when other issues emerged, and the money never actualized, she quit.
An issue dominating the headlines recently is the gender pay gap which relates back to a problem facing women today, inequality in the workplace. Some might suggest that since women are allowed to hold any occupation they desire, women don’t face inequality at work in the present day. But, even though women have the right to hold any occupation they wish, there are still some factors holding women back from excelling in the workplace. While employed in the workforce, women are not paid the same as men who hold the same credentials and hours as them, this is what is called the gender pay gap.
Some might deny its existence by saying that it doesn’t take in the different jobs that people occupy, the number of hours that people worked, and their credentials. But, there are studies that take all of those factors into account, and still, women are behind men. A comprehensive review by Cornell University found that, “50 percent of the wage gap could be explained by a variety of factors largely in a women’s control, such as choice of occupation and industry. The level of experience helped explain another 14 percent of the wage gap. But, Blau and Kahn said that 38 percent is ‘unexplained’ and could be the result of discrimination.”
While it may be true that often women “choose” lower-paying professions, their choices are often influenced by social pressures, gender stereotypes, and how well different businesses accommodate family responsibilities. On the surface, it may seem that, if we put women in better occupations, then that would solve the gender pay gap, but those higher-paying professions are often the ones with the highest wage gap. For example, according to data from Claudia Goldin, a Harvard University labor economist, “Female financial specialists make 66 percent of what their male counterparts make, female doctors earn 71 percent, and female lawyers and judges make 82 percent. That’s all controlling for age, race, hours and education.”
The level of experience contributes to only a small portion to the wage gap and it is actually closing up in recent years due to attainment of higher education. Now the “unexplained” 38 percent could be the result of discrimination, which is also more common in fields that are typically dominated by men like STEM fields, leadership positions, and law enforcement. After, analyzing the situation, the underlying problem seems to be that white-collar jobs are less forgiving of workers who request more flexible hours, such as a woman with family responsibilities. If, those white-collar jobs better accommodate to family responsibilities, then maybe more women would enter male-dominated fields which would result in less discrimination, if by then, women aren’t seen as outsiders in the workplace anymore.
In the previous paragraphs we have touched up on many points regarding gender equality, but in conclusion, gender equality will be achieved when men and women are equal in their earnings, holding positions of power, and occupying certain fields. In order to achieve these high ambitions, we first have to achieve short and long term goals along the way. According to Yell Business, in the short-term, there will be more female representation, in the media, politics, and company Boards. Secondly, working on short-term gigs will be more common than having a permanent job.
Instead of having stay-at-home Moms or stay-at-home Dads, people will have a more even split by being a part-time caregivers and part-time breadwinners. This is because, with the rise of businesses like Uber, who allow you to have a more flexible schedule, that will allow people to make their work and their personal life compatible. While looking at the long-term, Yell Business predicts there will be a male-led movement to support gender equality. Presently, a lot of men see the feminist movement as being only beneficial for females. In the future there will be a male-led movement that will show those men who feel threatened by feminism, why equality is good for everyone. While right now we are more focused on formal rights at the moment, in the future of gender equality will be focused on substantive rights, substantive rights are the future.