Many forms of discrimination exist in today’s society. People are differentiated by color, sexual orientation, athleticism, appearance, age, intellect, social standing and gender, to name a few. One of the most common forms that appear in nearly every facet of our daily lives, and an embarrassment to a developed nation such as ours, is the latter of this repugnant grouping.
Being the youngest and only male among five strong-willed cousins, who lived next door to one another, growing up in the 1950s, I recognized, that although different in gender and personality, we quickly adapted and accepted one another as equals. I believe we bonded well because we were the offspring of five equally strong-willed aunts, first generation Americans whom most of us perceived as being discriminated against by their father solely because of their gender, not uncommon at the time in a family whose parents had migrated to America from Greece. My mother, Stefanie, whom most of her sisters believed to be the most independent of the lot and a staunch advocate for women’s rights, married my father, an equally steadfast proponent of equivalence in life. Each considered the other an even partner, thus reinforcing the belief during my developmental stages that all people should be treated equally regardless of gender, the color of one’s skin, or other traits that differentiate us from one another. I can unequivocally write that I was raised to respect my fellow “man” and the rights of either gender to have parity in all aspects of life including the home, family, and workforce. Between my having attended a graduate school that was previously an all-women’s college, and my continual witness to gender discrimination during my 70-year journey through life, I can unequivocally say I have a decent idea of how one feels when treated differently because of gender.
Gender inequality is defined as: the disparity in status, power, and prestige between men and women.
Sadly, inequality exists in all three above-mentioned domains within our society, unacceptable behavior in any nation, especially one considered to be highly developed. Since wealth (defined as the value of all assets minus debt) is either earned or inherited, and is a major determinant in achieving disparity in these three defined areas, women in America and worldwide are at a distinct disadvantage.
Discrimination is prevalent in the workplace where most income is earned. Women make up 46.8% of the workforce in America (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2015). As in the case globally, women have a higher degree of attendance and graduation rates in colleges and universities than their male counterparts, yet are paid approximately 20.4% less than men, even though they are invaluable and productive members of the work force (Institute for Women’s Policy Research, 2015).
Some employers feel men should be paid more than women because they are the true bread earners. Statistics no longer support this assumption, for there is an ever-growing increase in the number of highly skilled women entering the labor force and, for a multitude of reasons, an incremental increase in the number of stay-at-home dads. Others falsely believe men, in general, are more productive, when in actuality, women are equally skilled and often the most organized and multi-tasked. As antiquated as it may seem, some employers still believe a woman’s place is in the home. Sadly, others pay their women less simply because, under current law, they can.
“Right-to-work” states, such as Florida, in general, offer little or no protection or economic benefits to the worker. In actuality, such an environment drives down wages and benefits and lowers the standard of living for all. The real winner in right-to-work states like Florida are the employers who reap the benefits not fairly distributed to their workers who have diligently and productively contributed to the success of their company and its bottom line. Originally passed to help workers who did not want to join unions and pay fees to support union causes and expenditures, right-to-work laws have proven to be a facade and smokescreen, because the net result is an estimated $1,500 less per year per worker excluding employer savings from non-distributed benefits. Hardest hit are the women for many reasons including those listed above.
In the March 26, 2012 issue of Time magazine, reference was made to the significant progress in closing the gap between male and female pay compensation. However, also noted was the gap between genders for the number of female managers in the workforce, which at the time, had only risen from 35 to 38%. Although progress has been made in both the private and public sectors of our economy, as noted by the additional women elected to the 2014 Congress and the increase in women being elevated to higher positions in management including the positions of CEO and CFO, the progress is slow coming. The ‘glass ceiling’ may no longer be impregnable, although it has been to date when electing a president, it is far from being penetrable to many of the most talented within the corporate lower and mid-level hierarchy and will, therefore, take many more decades, if not centuries, to eliminate. And, this will only occur if women and men remain diligent to this worthy cause.
Gender discrimination can be prevalent in the home as well. In our continuously evolving society, although not readily admitted, there are still families dominated by the presence of an overabundance of testosterone and ego that allows some men to believe it is their inherent right to be the sole head of the household and not a shared responsibility. Although much fewer in number than during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, they rule their domains with unparalleled disparity. Such men believe the wife should never enter the workforce of her own free will, for it is her duty to remain home to attend to his every need. And, if the wife, due to unforeseen hardship, was asked to seek work, but found a job which either paid a salary higher than his or had more workers under her supervision than he, it may be considered an unimaginable blow to his ego and pride. Fortunately, this type of behavior has been minimized throughout the decades, as illustrated by our current workforce, which is nearly equally divided between genders.
Gender discrimination is prevalent in the family. Economist Thomas Piketty was concerned that inherited wealth overwhelmingly favors the boys even though girls globally represent one half of all firstborns and total offspring, but globally less than 30% of inherited billionaires are female. In his book, “Capital in the Twenty First Century” Piketty wrote, “Whenever the rate of return on capital (money accumulated in the past) is significantly and durably higher than the growth rate of the economy (savings accumulated in the present), it is inevitable that inheritance predominates over savings. As in other downturns, this is very much the case during the current sluggish, nearly decade long recovery where the rate of return on investments, such as stocks and property, has far outgrown the pace of the growth of our GNP over the same time period. Thus, the rich get richer during disruptions in business cycles. Unfortunately, again, women do not substantially benefit from this anomaly, for they are not subject to parity in inheritance.
Inherited wealth gives a distinct advantage over those who do not inherit wealth in several ways. In 2010, the Sociologists for Women in Society distributed a worksheet pertaining to women and wealth in the United States. It read, “Wealth has several important benefits that income does not. It can be passed down from generation to generation, it can be used as collateral for loans that increase assets directly or indirectly such as in enhancing educational opportunities, and it provides economic resources when income is cut or disrupted.” If inheritance wealth is distributed unfairly, the recipient receives an overwhelming advantage over the non-recipient. Since women inherit less than their male counterparts, the inequality gap further widens between the genders due to the accumulation of bequeathed wealth and, as mentioned above, in the distribution of earned income, thus hitting women hardest in both sources of generated income.
Although not as prevalent as in the past, there is often disposition shown to one sibling over another, especially if there is only one male in the family, and particularly, if he is the firstborn. Although anachronistic, this ‘old school’ way of thinking still dominates how some siblings are treated both in life and after the death of their loved ones. Signs of discrimination in a family can include a lack of mutual respect for and between siblings, open displays of parental favoritism and the unfair distribution of family wealth.
There are many reasons why inheritance income is unfairly distributed, nearly all of which have no place in contemporary culture or society. Some parents feel that the men in the family can manage investments more wisely or run a family business more prudently. Some parents feel their son should inherit the family fortune because it is he who carries forth the family name. In today’s modern society this seems to be an egocentric and medieval philosophy. Other parents may feel sorry for a son and perceived ‘breadwinner’ if he proves to be unwise, wasteful, or a poor provider.
Jealousy can play a part as well in the distribution of family wealth, especially if the women in the family are more successful, live more affluent lives, or marry and have a higher social status than their male siblings. And, some parents feel it is the responsibility of the man who marries their daughter to be the sole provider. I guess this group feels that we have come a long way from the times when the family provided a dowry preceding a daughter’s wedding. This was a primitive time when the dominant male head-of-house believed an endowment, whether a small fortune or two goats and a horse, was the signing-off of any expectation of a future inheritance that was preordained and directed for the family’s male name bearer. Sadly, there are families that resent a sibling’s spouse and discriminate against their own sibling for fear the disliked spouse may somehow benefit from the gifting. And, lastly, others may discriminate toward their sibling simply because they dislike the ethnic heritage of the spouse or the religion in which the grandchildren are being raised.
When one is a parent, one is a parent for life. Sons or daughters, all are gifts given in life and should be equally loved and equally treated for each carries forth our family’s heritage. The most frequent cause of family discontent and squabbling between siblings in life and in death is the unfair gifting of family resources. This is not a legacy any parent should want to leave behind. The average family in America has two children equally distributed between genders. Siblings should be provided equal footing for it is a tough world full of twists, obstacles and disappointments, and mutual respect, and equality, should be a vital part of one’s legacy, for after we are gone, our actions will be long remembered, not the plaques, walls, and structures that bear our names. It will be our behavior, contributions and generosity that will be measured and remembered by our loved ones, friends and acquaintances that we have met during our journey through life.
Yes, discrimination in the workplace, home, and family is slowly being eroded. However, singular or combined, these discriminatory practices place women at a distinct disadvantage, often reducing or eliminating their ability to accumulate wealth, enhance social standing, leave an oppressive work environment, or separate from an abusive relationship. Parity in status, power and prestige between genders levels the playing field in daily life and provides opportunity to choose one’s lifestyle, whether it be a stay-at-home parent, a member of the workforce, or some form or combination of both. As a society we need to ensure boys and girls, men and women are provided an equal opportunity to excel and reap the benefits of the life we were gifted to live.
The World Economic Gender Gap Report of 2016 ranked the United States 45th in the world in terms of gender equality. This is a rather ominous ranking for a country that promotes human rights and equality and condemns discrimination of any form.