Women are not alone in having to fight for their right to jobs. “The only jobs I ever got, there were other men sitting on the [interview] panel,” said Marcus Pond, a first grade teacher in Central Texas. Just as there were negative gender biases and sexism that prevented women from gaining employment, men have quietly suffered from the same discrimination. The difference: nobody is fighting for, or even acknowledging, the male struggle.
Historically in the United States, women have been restrained in the work force by traditional gender roles that have limited their opportunities. It is not easy to reverse centuries of societal norms, but the process is well under way. However, as women advance in both the workplace and the legal system, striking a “fair” balance of equality is becoming more complex. Similar to the socioeconomic disadvantages that affirmative action has sought to correct, the push for female equality attempts to remedy a long-standing disparity by deconstructing female gender norms and changing the views of the social order. However, this deconstruction of gender norms is not being applied evenly to men and women. The enterprise for equality is actually making women more than equal.
This selective equality most clearly manifests itself in the Selective Service system. Since 1940, “male persons” are required by law to register with Selective Service for the draft when they turn 18. Although we have not seen a draft since 1973, forced registration is no insignificant matter. In fact, it is a matter of life and death. Not registering with Selective Service has many immediate consequences for men, even in a time of peace. If a man fails to register within 30 days of his 18th birthday, the government has the right to fine him up to $250,000 and he could serve up to five years in prison. Additionally, he cannot receive educational financial aid, a federal or state job, a driver’s license, or even vote. Women have never, and still do not, register with Selective Service and cannot be drafted.
These laws and policies may neatly align with what traditional gender roles dictate, but it is also rooted in Department of Defense policy. In 1994, under President Clinton, the Department of Defense reviewed women’s exclusion from Selective Service. The Department of Defense findings reflected that “prior drafts were used to supply adequate numbers of Army ground combat troops. Because women are excluded by policy from frontline combat positions, excluding them from the draft remain[ed] justifiable.” However, that policy has now changed.
In January 2013, Secretary of Defense Leon E. Panetta lifted the ban that prevented women from serving in combat roles. Both the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the presidential staff announced their full support of this change in policy. In the words of Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, “The time has come to rescind the direct combat exclusion rule for women and to eliminate all unnecessary gender-based barriers to service.”
With this amendment to the rules, the justification for excluding women from the draft no longer holds water. Society has advanced equality and career opportunities allowing females into combat, but has not advanced their responsibility to register with Selective Service. Equality is a two-way street; it is not a pick-and-choose moral attitude. As Cassaundra St. John, the CEO and founder of the company F7, which provides mentoring services to female veterans said, “If you are going to say ‘total equality’ in the military, that has to include Selective Service registration.” In order to deconstruct the gender biases in a fair manner, America cannot offer a female the opportunity to fight in combat when she wants to, but exclude her from the obligation of her male counterparts who fight when they have to. If a woman can be in frontline combat positions, then she ought to have to register for the draft too.
Organizations such as the Service Women’s Action Network, an organization that strives to represent all active duty and veteran women of the armed forces, advocates for “the inclusion of women in the Selective Service.” However, society as a whole has not stepped up to the plate. Representative Charles Rangel (D-Harlem) introduced a bill on February 15, 2013 that would require women to register with Selective Service. However, when he introduced similar bills in 2003, 2006, and 2007, they did not receive a hearing and another bill he proposed in 2010 died in committee. The 2013 bill is still in the House Armed Forces Military Personnel subcommittee, where it is expected to suffer a similar fate.
Why does America not reverse its gender-biased ways, even when female veterans and current active duty personnel wish to have an equal share of responsibility in the draft? For one, the military as a whole accounts for less than one percent of the total US population; if military women want to register for Selective Service and civilian women do not, there is not going to be much support for the movement. Simply put, the American public wants to protect its young women from war. Protecting our citizens from war is not a bad concept at all; however, why do we protect women when we do not protect men? These ideas of valuing women more than men are based on an outdated gender bias that women are the weaker and fragile sex. As former Senior Airman Courtney Witt, said, “It is a little difficult, for some, to see our daughters, sisters, and wives go off to war.” As it stands, we are only risking our sons, brothers, and husbands.
Advancement for women is not limited to the military and the legal system. It is also about changing society’s perception of gender norms in the workplace: shattering the glass ceiling. While women are still underrepresented in many occupations, over the past few decades, significant strides have been made towards gender equality. According to the US Census Bureau, while women only represented 19.2 percent of physicians and 20.7 percent of lawyers in 1990, women now represent 32.3 percent and 31.5 percent respectively. That is a 160 percent increase in female employment in two prestigious, highly competitive, and largely male-dominated professional fields. Likewise, females represented only 11.9 percent of industrial engineers in 1990, but now account for 20 percent of the occupation. Women have even seen a 54 percent increase in the field of construction since 1990. Though society still has work to do, substantial progress has been made in eliminating negative female gender biases in the workplace.
The elimination of gender norms and biases should work on both ends of the spectrum. For instance, if we are changing our opinion that women cannot make good doctors, we should also be changing our opinion that men should not be nurses. If our perceptions have changed and we are no longer limiting females to being secretaries, receptionists, kindergarten teachers, and child care workers, then men should not be excluded from those occupations either. Essentially, both sides of the playing field, from engineering to child-care, should have a more equal gender distribution. So what progress have men made in largely female-dominated occupations? The answer is not much. For early education teachers, dieticians, dental hygienists, licensed nurses, secretaries, receptionists, and child care workers, women still occupy over 90 percent of the jobs.
Women make up more of the workforce now than ever before and they are constantly expanding (and rightfully so) into traditionally male-dominated sectors. However, society has failed to deconstruct the negative gender biases surrounding men and have prevented them from expanding into historically female dominated sectors. You cannot rid the world of the notion that men make better engineers than women, while keeping the idea that women are better with children than men.
While the primary argument to explain why women are advancing in previously male-dominated fields, but the same is not occurring vice versa, is that the occupations females were restricted to are undesirable. Though it is true that being a doctor or a lawyer (and the accompanying salary) is usually more attractive to the majority of people than being a secretary or child-care worker, it is hard to argue that being a dietician, dental hygienist, or school teacher is generally less appealing than being a janitor, garbage man, or physical day laborer. Every individual’s interests and priorities are different; however, for the same reasons females would prefer to be doctors rather than secretaries (money and prestige), men would prefer to be dieticians rather than garbage men. Additionally, as women enter the workforce, become more competitive, and earn other positions over men, the displaced men would have to filter down to the less desirable jobs for employment. The same logic that women used to describe how they were forced into lower paying jobs would apply in reverse to men as women enter the workforce (the difference being that the former was based on gender biases and the latter based on increased competitiveness).
Nowhere are the effects of an uneven gender balance in the workforce and negative biases towards males more apparent than in the educational system. How even are the results of the education system President Obama celebrated as “equal education” this June? According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2009 (the most recent published data) 685,000 men graduated from college. In stark contrast, 916,000 women graduated college the same year, and about 60 percent of all college students are female. Men are even less likely to graduate high school; only 65 percent of men graduate, while 73 percent of women will do so.
Christina Hoff Sommers wrote in her 2000 bestseller The War Against Boys that the education system has been turned upside-down to make schools more girl-friendly to the detriment of boys. According to Sommers, the rationalistic and aggressive nature of boys has been renamed as a set of behavioral disorders, simply because they do not want to be girls. The Institute for Education Sciences reports that boys are twice as likely as girls to be suspended from school and almost three times as likely to be expelled. “Gender, Debt, and Dropping Out of College,” a study conducted at The Ohio State University found that “boys’ underperformance in school has more to do with society’s norms about masculinity … Boys involved in extracurricular cultural activities such as music, art, drama, and foreign languages report higher levels of school engagement and get better grades than other boys. But these activities are often denigrated as un-masculine.” In order to fix this disparity, society has to eliminate negative gender norms towards men. We need more positive male role models. We need more than two percent of early education teachers to be men.
Men fail to enter early education not because they do not want to, but because it is difficult for them to do so. First, gaining employment as an early education teacher is difficult to do for men. According to ManTeach, an organization which actively campaigns to increase the number of male teachers in the classroom, this is “due to a societal misconception that men are not as nurturing as women towards young children.” Secondly, men often fear false accusations of sexual abuse or harassment if they work closely with children – a concern that is far less acute for their female counterparts.
Marcus Pond, a first grade teacher at Oveta Culp Hobby Elementary School in Ft. Hood, Texas (and part of the two percent of early education teachers in America who are male), exemplifies the difficulties of a male in a female-dominated field. The oldest of seven children, Pond always wanted to teach. His third grade teacher was a man who he described as “awesome” and a “great role model” that even attended Pond’s wedding. However, he faced difficulty gaining employment in early education. “I have a teaching degree and speak fluent Spanish; [gaining employment] should’ve been easy. I just got the vibe that [the schools] weren’t super interested. In fact, the only jobs I ever got there were other men sitting on the [interview] panel.” Once being hired, he was told to “teach with the door open to avoid accusations.” The negative male biases even affect his interaction with parents: “[The parents] think you won’t be as understanding or nurturing as a female would, but the kids don’t care. Eventually they see how nurturing you are through their kids.”
James Cabana, the physical education teacher at Oveta Culp Hobby Elementary School, loves teaching. However, he said the male stereotypes do effect how he is treated in the workplace. “They [the other teachers] lean on the males they do have. They tend to use you as a disciplinarian.” Moreover, Cabana also felt that the fear of and precautions against sexual accusations are a large part of being a male teacher. “Grown men around little kids in today’s society, you have to be mindful you don’t get allegations. Once you’re accused, whether it’s true or not, you can’t take it back. You can never get your name back. I can remember my principal saying on my first day ‘Watch how you hug them. Watch how you touch them. Don’t set yourself up to get accused.’”
These gender biases in favor of women negatively affect men. Not only do these norms prevent men from entering the early education profession, but the lack of men in schools has a direct effect on the performance of boys for years to come. Instead of focusing on men teaching with the door open, maybe we should focus on opening the door for men to enter early education.
These gender norms and biases extend beyond the workplace and into other parts of life. While Selective Service is an example of gender bias in federal law and employment trends display gender bias in society, child custody is an interesting mix where the gender biases of the culture and the law get intermingled. First, it is necessary to examine the systemic legal bias that favors women in custody battles.
The legal default for child custody with separated parents is not joint custody. Fathers are not even awarded partial custody in most cases. The default for any child of separated parents is sole custody awarded to the mother until contested by the father. This systemic gender bias not only conceptually epitomizes a positive gender bias towards women and a negative gender bias towards men, but also has extreme consequences for fathers. This is in and of itself unfair. If women by default had no rights to their children, it would be completely unacceptable. It should therefore be recognized as equally unacceptable for men to not have rights to their children. After all, 50 percent of a child’s DNA comes from his father.
So what happens when men contest custody? According to the US Census Bureau, 83 percent of mothers receive custody of their child. This sort of custody division and child support arrangement made slightly more sense when the workforce was dominated by men, and women were traditionally caregivers and stay-at-home mothers. Women have been able to advance in the workplace and now account for more of the workforce than men. Yet, they still are overwhelmingly awarded custody of their children. This is a classic case of having your cake and eating it too. Clearly not all gender biases have been abolished, and this one works in favor of women.
Restricting a father’s access to his child has significant impact on the child. Children raised in homes with an absent father are five times more likely to commit suicide, nine times more likely to drop out of school, 10 times more likely to abuse drugs, and 20 times more likely to end up in prison. Additionally, 71 percent of teenage pregnancies take place with women from fatherless homes. The evidence is staggering – fathers matter to their children. When you can buy baby formula from the grocery store, the anatomical existence of mammary glands no longer justifies mothers as the inherently better parent. A single mother can work miracles, but one parent is not two. The social constructions which lead to women being favored as the primary caregiver have since been dissolved: Just as women deserve an equal right to employment, men deserve an equal right to their children.
Gender equality is a serious issue that demands society’s continued attention. The battle to eliminate negative gender norms towards women is far from over, but we are is travelling in the right direction. It is not an “affirmative action” initiative to allow men employment in early education, any more than it was to allow women to become engineers. Both involve the elimination of stigmas and negative biases. We cannot continue to push female equality in the workplace and ignore male equality in the home. Moreover, equal opportunity demands equal responsibility. If women can fight on the front lines of combat, they can register for the draft. If women can be doctors and lawyers, men can be secretaries and school teachers. And if a woman has an equal right to employment, a father has the equal right to raise his child. Gender equality is not a one-sided issue; men also have a clear stake in eliminating the problem of gender bias, at all levels of society.