A little over a week ago a very important, but often ignored holiday, was celebrated: “International Woman’s Day,” not to be confused with Mother’s Day or St. Valentine’s Day. To many people, particularly the average American college student, this holiday may seem rather trivial. Coincidentally the holiday came this year the day after the Best Director award at the Academy Awards was awarded to a woman, Kathryn Bigelow, for the first time.
Women have pushed their way into the workforce, pursued higher degrees, and achieved many great things. They wanted equality and now they got it, right? The suffragette movement is usually only found in our history books, and the movement in the 1970s was before we were born, so maybe it’s time we ask ourselves as Americans in the 21st Century: Have women come far enough?
Many intellectuals have repeated that education is the key to leveling the field for women, especially in third world countries. Women with more education tend not to become pregnant prematurely and the more likely she will become self-sufficient and an integral part of the workforce.
But how does applying the ideal of educating women play out in more prosperous countries such as the U.S.? Recent studies have found consistently over the past 10 years that the higher the degree you obtain the less likely you will be unemployed, even during these past few years of economic struggle. For those college students anxious about the job market following graduation, this is great news. Unfortunately, the higher the degree obtained, the higher the wage gap occurs between men and women.
In fact, though the gap has decreased significantly since World War II, that glass ceiling is still very much a reality as women are only making 80 cents to each dollar made by men in the United States.
Some suggest that women should attempt to break into male-dominated fields, but studies show the gap still exists in any occupation. Additionally, when an occupation becomes associated as female-dominated, the salary decreases exponentially.
Also, for some odd reason, when child-bearing comes into the picture, men experience on average a two percent wage increase, whereas women continuously experience a wage decrease. If women are experiencing larger wage gaps with higher education, then perhaps the problem is not rooted in the formal education of women (though it is invaluable in the struggle for gender equality) but instead the new problem lies within the social experiences of both men and women that conditions them to confine women to their traditional gender roles.
Maybe the role models and trendsetters for women should be more heavily scrutinized. Women are beginning to enter and flourish in fields once dominated by men, including pop culture and the media. Listen to a pop station on the radio sometime, and chances are you will hear a female artist, but listen closely to the actual content of her song. In the most popular songs, such as those of Lady Gaga and Ke$ha, themes of a sexual nature and getting drunk are a primary feature.
Is this “new woman” constructed by popular culture really supposed to be a manifestation of the modern woman’s ideals? These pop artists with their catchy but depthless and often debauched songs are targeted specifically at young women, the ones the future of gender equality relies on.
There are many opportunities that come with freedom for women, but if pop culture tells us that the only way of expressing it is to go out clubbing, then that’s all women will be reduced to.
The United States is progressive when compared to women’s rights in many other nations, but that doesn’t mean we should give up the struggle for gender equality.
The international influence of American popular culture makes the artists and media role models for much of the rest of the world and accompanying this is a burden of accountability for the way they portray women.
Equal education and wages for women are only the beginning; now it’s time for a broader social transformation. A catchy beat is fine from time to time, but the only way women can escape cheap gender stereotypes is to become conscious of the messages from popular culture, and by holding their role models to higher standards.