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It is a Gender Thing

I look forward each Friday to reading Judith Warner’s analysis of current events in her blog on the New York Times website. Her insights tend to align with and reinforce what I’m learning from my work at IWPR, and it’s reassuring to see a major media source provide an outlet for feminist views. This week, however, I was disappointed in her take on the appointment of Drew Gilpin Faust as Harvard University’s new president. She argues:

The selection of Faust seems to be about much more than the replacement of a man by a woman . . . In today’s world, it isn’t a gender thing. It’s a human thing. To insist otherwise is to cut Faust off at the knees just as she’s poised to spring into history.

This highlights exactly what’s wrong with the women’s movement today: it’s undermined by its very successes. As individual women succeed, they tend to distance themselves from the movement out of a fear of being pigeonholed or reduced to their gender. They prefer that their accomplishments be attributed to their individual characteristics, qualifications, and capabilities. But in disregarding the role of gender in their lives, they give credence to the view that we no longer live in a patriarchal society, and this is far from the truth.
We tend to forget the institutional barriers that still exist for women. We forget that women still only make 77 cents to men’s dollar. We forget that the majority of people living in poverty in this country as well as around the world are female. We forget that while the November 2006 elections brought to federal office record numbers of women policy makers, women still only make up about 16% of the United States House of Representatives and Senate. As Dr. Heidi Hartmann pointed out on this blog earlier this week, “it’s when we think about the years going forward instead of backward, and we try to imagine the Harvard presidency without a male incumbent for 371 years, that we get some glimpse of what that exclusion has meant for women.”
So while Dr. Faust’s appointment is attributable to more than her gender, as Warner argues, it is also, very importantly, a gender thing. It is a major breakthrough for women, and should be celebrated as such.
– Anna Danziger

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