Did you see the news that Utah women experience the nation’s most egregious sexism according to WalletHub’s “2019 Best and Worst States for Women’s Equality”?
It’s funny to feel both shocked and totally affirmed in the same breath. Inhale and clutch pearls. Dead last?! Exhale and nod in confirmation. Of course we are.
When considering wage gaps, political representation, unemployment, attainment gaps in higher education and other factors, Utah’s cumulative score puts us in a very distant last place. Like, if this were a foot race, we would have been lapped by almost every other state (some maybe twice). *Squints* Is that Idaho I see in the distance? I can’t tell, but I think so.
The systems fueling oppression here are strong and deeply embedded, and the consequences are broad and far-reaching.
But the unyielding optimist in me can’t help but flip this around. If opportunity is the gap between one’s current situation (in our case, not great) and what’s possible (greatness), Utah women are actually first in the nation in potential — there’s SO MUCH room for improvement, my friends!
So, being the helpful feminist I am, I’ve put together a list of three ways Utah can — and should — remedy the disparities that disempower half its population to the detriment of the majority of it.
Fellas, I’ll wait for you to get your pens and paper to take some notes, because it will take all of us to deal with this. (And hi, gender non-conforming friends; this study didn’t acknowledge you specifically, but I want to.)
I’m going to start with education, because so many of our systemic inequities blossom from this disparity.
American educator Horace Mann is famous for saying, “Education, then, beyond all other divides of human origin, is a great equalizer of conditions of men — the balance wheel of the social machinery.”
I’ll let his less-than-inclusive language remind us of the history of sexism in our vernacular, while also lighting the proverbial fire under our buns in Utah to encourage our girls to pursue higher education just as fervently as we do our boys.
Regardless of whether or not women want to run a business, a household or for political office, having an education gives her the freedom to choose and the tools to do any of those things with a greater depth of understanding.
Our goal should be percentages of women with advanced degrees equal to that of their male counterparts. Full stop. And although we’re making strides (women actually outnumber men on college campuses), we’re still bringing up the caboose at 50th in this category because men are outpacing women at completing degrees.
And about that run-a-business thing, we’ve got some grim workplace realities to address, so next up are the disparities in the workplace. From unemployment numbers (we’re 50th) to the gender pay gap (49th) to the share of executive positions (hey, we’re only 46th!), we are ripe for change, Utah.
I asked WalletHub analyst Jill Gonzalez where employers can find resources to address these issues, and she said the most important thing is the will from within to make change.
Now, I can acknowledge that it might not be easy or inexpensive to pay women fairly for their work, provide adequate accommodations for parents (including schedule flexibility, paid parental leave, subsidized child care, etc.) or to allow women to rightfully elevate to leadership roles, but executives don’t become executives without knowing how to untangle complex problems — all they really need is to want to do it.
No. More. Excuses. We put a man on the moon 50 years ago; I just have this feeling we can acknowledge women’s contributions in the workplace (and, like, figure where they can nurse and pump that isn’t a custodial closet or within 50 feet of a toilet).
Finally, political representation. This one will take all of us. First, one thing each of us needs to ask ourselves is: In what ways do we, probably accidentally, consider candidates differently if they’re men or women? Then we should catch ourselves the next time we do it. And gently smack ourselves across the face as a cute little reminder of our collective desire to not think that private parts dictate a person’s ability to serve.
I kid, but seriously, when we find ourselves evaluating her temperament, her clothes, her smile, her family, her lack of family, her emotions, her — really anything other than her capability, experience and values — we have the opportunity to be better. To refocus, redirect and reprioritize.
Let’s take it.
In fact, let’s take all these opportunities. And not just for the sake of women, but because strong individuals make for a stronger whole. We have the furthest to go as a state, so I’m thinking that makes us uniquely positioned for success.
Do we want it?
Marina Gomberg is a communications professional and lives in Salt Lake City with her wife, Elenor Gomberg, and their son, Harvey. You can reach Marina at firstname.lastname@example.org.