This weekend, Amazon released a new television series called Good Girls Revolt, and I subsequently watched all 10 episodes (almost) in a row. The show focuses on the story lines of three leading ladies working for the fictitious News of the Week Magazine as they attempt to sue their employer for gender discrimination in 1969. Not only does the show tell a fascinating story, the story is based on the real experiences of writers like Nora Ephron and Lynn Povich at Newsweek Magazine.
As a period piece, the series does its best to dedicate itself to the issues of the time. Though it primarily aims to address the blatant sexism that these women faced in the workplace, it also addresses the many more injustices that plagued women during the period. Some of these include a woman’s birth control and access to abortion, sexual harassment, and being considered a second-class citizen behind her father or husband.
We’ve made a lot of progress since then, women can wear pants and sign the paperwork for our own homes and apartments. But, the question of women’s equality (maybe better, inequality) keeps being raised. One of the most searched terms on Google in this election cycle has been abortion, and in many places, women still don’t have adequate access to reproductive healthcare. While women have certainly become a vital part of the job market today, pay inequality is still a prominent issue.
As I watched the first season of Good Girls Revolt, I started to think about the similarities between the struggles that these women faced and the struggles that women continue to face close to two decades into the 21st century.
In case anybody needed proof that the fight isn’t over, here are three unrelated examples of the lasting disparity between men and women in America:
1. The Words ‘Girl’ and ‘Girls’ in Book Titles
Writing about books with the word ‘girl’ or ‘girls’ in the title has been done many times in past years (here are just a few examples: 1, 2, 3) and each article takes up a different perspective on the issue, but I want to focus on Emily St. John Mandel’s recent article which looks at this phenomenon by the numbers.
Mandel notes early on that books with these particular titles make up a very small portion of all books that are published each year. That being said, the percentage of fiction books published with these titles has been on an upward trend since around 2000 and is approaching 1%. In the last few years, the numbers spiked after many of these books made it onto bestsellers lists (e.g. Gone Girl, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl on the Train).
“Who are these ‘girls’?” may not be the most natural follow-up question but it was one of the first questions that Mandel asked in her article and it certainly crossed my mind as well. When she and her team looked through descriptions for the 810 most popular books on Goodreads with relevant titles (that weren’t cookbooks or meant for children or young adults) they found that only 28% of the ‘girls’ being referenced in the titles were, in fact, girls. The remaining 72% were actually women (65%) or indeterminant (7%).
And what happened to these ‘girls’? Looking at this same data set, Mandel found that overall the ‘girl’ is most likely (85%) alive-and-well throughout the book. When they separated the books by the gender of their authors, though, they found that 90% of the ‘girls’ are alive in those books penned by female authors compared with just 68% in those written by male authors. Though Mandel admits that she isn’t sure what’s causing such a disparity between these two numbers, she notes optimistically that trends do pass and soon we will likely be seeing less ‘girl’ titles and more of something else.
2. Male Birth Control Study
This story originally caught my eye because of a specific statistic listed in a tweet with a link to an article from CNN about a study for male birth control that was cut short due to the side effects. The tweet from their official twitter account read, “’20-30% of women on birth control pills experience depression. This study was terminated after 3% depression in men'”.
The article goes into much more depth about the study, explaining how the shot worked and how its effects were being studied. It’s also explained that 20 men left the study early because of side effects such as mood swings, depression, acne, and a change in libido, the study was then stopped prematurely. Once the men stopped receiving the shots, the average time for fertility to return was 26 weeks, though eight men (out of 320) reportedly didn’t regain fertility after one year and only five eventually regained fertility after a longer period of time.
This birth control method is far from perfect, but so are the methods that women have been using for decades. Article after article has been appearing on my Facebook timeline, being shared by fellow women who are shocked that a study for a potentially revolutionary drug was canceled because of side effects that are considered ‘minor’ for women taking birth control. Now, the risk of a loss of fertility is not something that can be ignored or discounted, but women on some forms of hormonal birth control face potentially fatal risks such as an increased risk of stroke and blood clots.
At this time, the responsibility of contraception is placed largely on women because men simply don’t have many options. Still, some of the best options for women have much more serious consequences than those seen in this study. So, why is it that it’s more than acceptable for women to take on these risks than it is for men? As was pointed out in this article from Vox, this is largely not a case of “wimpy men” that simply can’t deal with the same side effects as women. In fact, despite the high rates of adverse side effects, 75% of the men wanted to
3. The Wage Gap
— Max Galka (@galka_max) October 31, 2016
This tweet includes a graphic that Galka produced for his own blog, Metrocosm, in which he mapped the progression of gendered differences in the workplace. The infographic displays various professions horizontally by the percentage of women in the profession and vertically by women’s earnings as a percentage of men’s.
At the start, in 1960 (that’s 9 years prior to the setting of Good Girls Revolt) women’s earnings compared to men were low across the board and the listed professions are clearly divided into ‘women’s jobs’ and ‘men’s jobs’. By 1970, women’s salaries started to increase but then moving towards the 80s, salaries for women began to drop again as more women entered formerly ‘male’ professions.
Galka notes in his own analysis that in comparing the distribution in 1978 with that in 1950, we see that while women were beginning to work in more varied jobs, their pay compared with their male peers had barely moved. Then, after that time the labor force remained fairly stable, and wages began to increase through the 90s with the rate slowing over time. Finally, we see that women’s salaries essentially peaked in 2011.
As Galka points out in his post, trying to simplify this issue down to one number, namely that women earn 78% compared with their male counterparts isn’t helpful. Seeing this data as it progresses from year to year, though, is extremely helpful in understanding a problem that doesn’t have a straightforward answer and that still persists today.