How divorces led women to redefine discrimination and equality
Practically speaking, when more than 90 percent of women got married and divorce was rare, discrimination in favor of men at work meant discrimination in favor of their wives at home.
When workplace discrimination worked in favor of women at home, no one called it sexism. Why? It was working for women. Only when discrimination switched from working for women to working against women (because more women were working) did it get called sexism. For example.
During the years I was on the board of directors of the National Organization for Women in New York City, the most resistant audiences 1 ever faced in the process of doing corporate workshops on equality in the workplace were not male executives – they were the wives of male executives. As long as her income came from her husband, she was not feeling generous when affirmative action let another woman have a head start vying for her husband’s (her) income. To her, that seemed like sexism. To her, my seminars on Equal Opportunity for Women at Work read Unequal Opportunity for Wives at Home. And, to the executive’s wife, they still do.
Why still? Almost 70 percent of the wives of male executives (vice – presidents and above) do not hold paid jobs outside the home – not even part time.2 They still get their incomes completely from their husbands. An executive’s wife often opposes a woman at work having an advantage over her husband, not only because it hurts her income but also because it discounts her contribution: she usually works hard to support her husband to support the company – that’s her job. She feels her efforts – her job – have been discounted.
As soon as discrimination began to work against women, it led to measures to protea women. Immediately – in 1963 – the Federal Equal Pay Aa was passed.3 Interestingly, the Equal Riy Aa preceded the women’s movement. The U. S. Census Bureau found that as early as 1960, never – married women over 45 earned more in the workplace than never-married men over 45 4 Data like these – which implied a much different view from woman-as-viaim – never reached the public’s awareness because only women’s groups organized.
Taking what had worked for most women and seeing it as a plot against them led us to see men as ’owing’’ women. This created Stage II entitlement: women being entitled to compensation for past oppression. This prevented us from seeing the need to make a transition from Stage I to Stage II together, the need not for a women’s movement or a men’s movement, but for a gender transition movement.
In this book, I define power as having control over one’s own life. The male obligation to earn more money than a woman before she would love him was not control over his life; in Stage I, neither sex had control over her or his life. And, as we saw in the opening chapter, both sexes had what was the traditional definition of power (influence over others and access to scarce resources) via different means.
Sexism? Or bis*xlsm?
Am 1 suggesting that sexism was a two-way street? Yes. We think of sexism as having kept women less powerful than men for centuries. In fact, for centuries neither sex had power Each had roles. Her role: create a family. His role: protea a family. Her role: gather the food. His role: hunt the food.
If both sexes were restricted to roles, it is not accurate to call it sexism, but sex roles. We have lived not in a sexist world, but in a bisexist world.