March is Women’s History Month, a time to recognize the contributions of women to historical and contemporary events. It’s also a time to reflect on the place of women in our society and how — even with laws and protections in place — insidious double standards persist.
Think of two especially prominent women: Hillary Clinton and Elizabeth Warren. Both are incredibly accomplished, with impressive academic careers and records of public service. Both were elected to the United States Senate. And both ran for president.
But once they began their runs, they faced scrutiny and judgment unlike that applied to their male peers. “Likeability” became the watchword, and “schoolmarm” was used over and over. Could it be that the largely male press corps hasn’t experienced powerful women in contexts other than school?
Think about this session at the Kansas Legislature. Whatever your opinion about abortion, restrictions on the process apply to one gender alone: women. There’s not a debate about whether the state should sell condoms to men, or restrict their ability to receive prescriptions for erectile dysfunction drugs.
Think about the Harvey Weinstein trial. A powerful Hollywood producer was able to repeatedly abuse women, to the point that his predation became an open secret. Yet he wasn’t prosecuted for decades. Women who talked about what he did to them weren’t believed or dismissed as starlets looking to sleep their way to the top.
Think about your own home life, or the home life of those you know. In a couple where one partner is a man, and one is a woman, it’s likely that the woman does a disproportionate share of cleaning, meal preparation and child care. Even in couples where the man might believe he contributes equally, research has shown that women still shoulder more of the burden. Why might that be?
Think about hair color. Men go gray at many ages and are seen as silver foxes or distinguished. Women who go gray often begin coloring their hair when young and continue to do so for decades, exposing themselves to harsh chemicals and lengthy salon visits.
The examples can stretch on and on. And yes, some of them might seem petty. But the point is that women face a continual, omnipresent double standard involving their looks, their place in the home and their leadership ability. Those who don’t see or understand that might be advised to chat with a trusted woman in their lives.
This month, we need to recognize the contributions of women to our country. And we need to recognize how far we have to go.