“You’ve come a long way, baby!” Really?

December 22, 2009

A slight deviation from my normal blog posts…

I’ve read some disturbing articles and blog posts recently, and as a result, I’m wondering just how far women have come in gaining parity with men in many aspects of the working world — at least in the so-called developed, democratic countries like the US, Canada, Australia, the UK and the like.

Each of these articles has made me question how much of this ‘equality’ is just lip service. There seem to be some deeper, underlying prejudices (even hatreds), beliefs and values at play here that thwart women from being equal members of society — even without us (women AND men) realizing it or being aware that it’s occurring.

I had thought that many of the barriers to women in the workplace had disappeared over the past three or four decades, but now I’m starting to question whether that’s case. I’m not sure we’ve come very far at all.

The articles and events that have led to this post are:

  • http://www.copyblogger.com/james-chartrand-underpants/: James Chartrand has gained an enviable reputation as an excellent copy writer and is one of the people behind ‘Men With Pens’ (http://www.menwithpens.ca), a Canadian web design and copywriting company with an international reputation. Recently, James revealed that he is really a ‘she’. She had to take on a male name in order to be taken seriously and to earn a decent wage to support her family. The comments on this blog post are also worth reading, but there are hundreds of them, so grab a cup of coffee before you start!
  • http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/us_female_veterans_finding_a_place: This article opens with: ‘Even near military bases, female veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan aren’t often offered a drink on the house as a welcome home.’ and goes on to describe what life is like for women returning from the frontline to a society that doesn’t acknowledge what they’ve done and gone through.
  • http://www.zephoria.org/thoughts/archives/2009/11/24/spectacle_at_we.html: What happened to Danah Boyd when she spoke at a Web conference. This Twitter ‘backchannel’ issue is not just relevant to female presenters; however, female speakers may be subject to more sexual innuendo and outright sexual harassment in the remarks than men might be. After reading about Danah’s experiences, I wrote about this disturbing ‘backchannel’ phenomena here: https://cybertext.wordpress.com/2009/12/01/conferences-and-twitter-backchannels/
  • Death threats against Kathy Sierra in 2007, which resulted in her canceling all speaking engagements for a few years, and meant that she stopped sharing her brilliance by ceasing to write any more articles on her ‘Creating Passionate Users’ blog (http://headrush.typepad.com/creating_passionate_users/). These threats put fear into her and her family that no-one should have to experience. You can read a little about this in the ‘Controversy’ and ‘References’ sections of this Wikipedia article: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kathy_Sierra
  • http://www.theonion.com/content/news/woman_domesticated: Finally, this article came out in the same week as the first two, and I read it a day or so after those others. It  appears to be a ‘tongue in cheek’ article — but perhaps not. Normally, I would have found it funny. But after the events described in the earlier articles, I found this article quite sad, and just a little disturbing. I suspect it was written in good humor, and, under normal circumstances, I’d have taken it that way. But not after reading the earlier articles and remembering the Danah Boyd and Kathy Sierra incidents.

See also:

[Links last checked December 2009]


  1. Another example of a woman hiding her gender to give her a better chance of success is Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling, who opted to use her initials rather than her full name. This proves that the prejudice exists in the UK and that women are aware of it. However, it has been pushed “underground” here and because of this, takes a craftier and more sinister form.

    Compared to the UK, I found that people in Australia were refreshingly honest about their ignorance:
    On my travels, I worked in a fruit packing shed in Shepparton, Victoria with my partner. I was given an hourly rate whilst she was on piece work. When the fruit was of poor quality and she had to reject 90%, she only got paid for the 10% that she could pack. Sometimes this meant that she received as little as 20 cents per hour (10 cents per box packed). Thankfully we managed to negotiate an hourly rate with the (ironically female) boss for when this happened and acted on behalf of the non-English speaking female backpackers who were also being exploited but did not know how to address the situation. When the fruit was good, the piece work policy resumed but it was still very hard for the females on piece work to match my hourly rate. Their job was no less physical than mine yet the company had an unwritten rule about which jobs women and men did. That’s just how it worked and had always worked and was just one example of many in rural and outback Australia where we experienced a similarly obvious sexist attitude.

    On the flip side, a woman did say to me once, “Since women have been allowed to work they’ve effectively doubled the workforce and in real terms, halved wages. Who can afford to raise a family on a single income these days? I would rather look after the house and kids but we just couldn’t manage the bills if I didn’t work.”

  2. That first blog post you linked to really struck a chord for me.

    One time I’d applied for a contract position as a tech writer. The company was keen to hire me, I knew the others on the team, I knew the products, I knew the tools, and then just as we were sorting out the details with HR, the hiring manager went on maternity leave. Her boss took over the negotiations, and we had a phone interview. It was all going well until we got to the question of contract rate. I quoted my standard rate, which was average for someone with my skills and years of experience. He laughed and hung up, and that was the end of that.

    After reading James’ story, I’m seriously tempted to try contracting under a male pen name.

  3. OK, so I’m not crazy. I’ve noticed this trend over the last couple of years, and it only seems to be escalating. I didn’t know it had expanded beyond the U.S., either. There’s alot of pent-up anger which really comes to the surface when economic times are tough.

    BTW, The Onion is a satire all the time — usually poking at the nonsense that is spewed by some.

  4. Good post, as usual. Recently, I’ve been trying to determine the range of a good salary in general, either full-time or contracting rates. I find people are reluctant to share information. One woman I met was very open – it was her new policy – and it did not affect her adversely. She already had an established career and a good portfolio of clients when she became more open in her pricing.

    A few years ago, by some odd circumstances, I learned what a male colleague earned. It was much more than I earned. I was very upset. We were not in the same company, but there was a connection with our two companies, so I felt our jobs were somewhat equivalent – yet our salaries were grossly different. I could not determine whether it was gender or something else that caused the difference. Since then, I have aimed for a fair salary that I hoped had no gender overtones. A recent bid on a job was quickly rejected, despite male and female friends telling me the price was very sound; the would-be employer said it was 25% over the maximum he was willing to pay. I tried to evaluate the situation in a neutral fashion. I couldn’t help but think that he expected to get a lower price – from a female.

    I won’t go into details about 2 incidents where there was bullying toward women. Nothing untoward, just an behavior/attitude that women were weaker.

    We’ve still got a way to go, baby.

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