What One Australian Professor Says About Idealogy and Women’s Issues in America

We just finished watching the Fortnite item shop video on YouTube. It’s a nightly review of everything new available for purchase on Fortnite.

That Fortnite is a free game is a moot point. Because for all the “skins” (avatars) and “emotes” (dances) to buy, Fortnite is the most expensive game we could be into right now.

This afternoon I listened to an interview on Coursera about women’s health and human rights. The lady talking on the video was Helen Stacy, a Stanford professor.

There is a treaty called (brace for it) the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women. Or CEDAW.

A bunch of nations are signatories to the treaty. The United States is not one of them. One reason is sovereignty, which means that the United States is VERY particular about who gets to tell us what to do. Which we would say, is nobody.

Then Ms. Helen Stacy (who is Australian) goes on to say the following.

I’m not making a political comment. Nor do I disagree. All I’m saying is it’s fascinating to hear what an Australian academic has to say about American culture when it comes to family norms, women’s issues, and our politics.

Remote School Means Another Setback for Women

When the Wall Street Journal published an article with the headline, How the Coronavirus Threatens to Set Back Women’s Careers, I thought about the journalism fellowship I had applied to back in May and how mainstream online learning could be my chance to finally go back to school, only to defer my spot thanks to Coronavirus’ impact on K-12 school.

If you multiply this scenario and that of other far more accomplished women across the country whose domestic support network fell out from under them, you’ve got thousands of women facing a rush of domestic duties, many of whom are struggling to stay afloat. True, coronavirus has impacted men too, but statistically, women still bear the majority of the burden when it comes to childcare. In a 2014 study, researchers found it to be true that among the Physician-Researchers studied, women spent more time on domestic duties than their spouses, and were more likely to take time off when childcare disruptions occurred.

In the article, the Wall Street Journal reports, “If em­ploy­ers don’t take more ac­tion to shore up moth­ers in their jobs, McK­in­sey and Lean In warn, they could see the per­cent­age gains women have made over the past sev­eral years up and down the man­age­ment lad­der dis­si­pate.”

Employers can do a lot, and many have yet to do very much. The same goes for the state. But what is to be done of the disproportionate share of childcare in the home that consistently leads to disruptions in women’s careers and aspirations more than men?

To blame is the idea that the domestic domain belongs to women. While this idea seems harmonious and harmless on its face, it draws a line based on gender that imposes additional disruption and demands on women that men do not face. Hence the rhetoric about “hard choices” for women when it comes to career or family as women drop out, fall behind, or choose alternative career paths or staying home. Hence the homogeneous makeup in the positions of influence.

Equality between the sexes is the state of being equal in terms of opportunity and status. It’s a qualitative definition, not quantitative. For example, if an alien landed on Earth and observed the likes of Kim Kardashian and Justin Bieber, it would find that things between them look quite the same in terms of wealth and status, though they are not identical. Equality is not about interchangeability. It’s about outcomes and potential.

When the director of the fellowship program expressed sympathy and a willingness to adjust the schedule for parents, it still wasn’t enough to sway me. We’re in a global pandemic, after all, and my kids’ education is at stake. It was one of those “hard choices” that always seem to land at my feet. If I were born a guy, there’s a good chance I would have pushed ahead with the program. Because like I told a friend via text message, if I were born a guy, I probably would not be remote schooling my kids right now anyway.

Feminism, Relationships, and The Rule of Reciprocity

Below are my three guiding principles for greater equality in a relationship.

There’s a lot of media going on around me right now. Nick has gotten in the habit of playing Fortnite while watching YouTube and TikTok videos. Outside in the back patio, it’s an instant relief as far as noise, only light rain, and the air conditioner. In Coatepeque, Guatemala, every afternoon, around 5:00 pm, lightning would crack nearby, and buckets of rain would crash onto the roof of the patio restaurant, a barrage of white noise such that you couldn’t hear the person sitting across from you. But it’s not that loud here. Not yet anyway.

I recently read Dear Ijeawelle, or A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Of the different books and articles I’ve read about feminism, Adichie offers advice which has become something of a guiding principle as I navigate what equality means to me. Adichie offers two Feminist Tools:

1. The basic feminist premise: I matter, equally

2. Can you reverse X situation, and get the same results?

These guiding principles need not only apply to women, of course. Both men and women can find themselves in relationships with an unfair premise based on a twisted interpretation of gender roles, and both genders can find themselves suppressed by these roles. It’s typically the woman who is down and out either because she’s a woman or because she’s taken a back seat, expecting the man to do all the heavy lifting. Neither situation is fair, and applying Adichie’s rules can be helpful for bothe men and women.

As Adichie wisely points out, equality is not about keeping score of who does the dishes or who drops the kids off at school. Or who earns the money. It’s about respect for one another’s effort, time, and attention. It’s about playing by the same rules.

To Adichie’s Feminist Tools, I will add one more thing:

3. Decide on a basic premise for your partner.

If the basic premise is, ‘I think my partner is responsible and acts in good faith,’ then it’s fair to expect the same vote of confidence, reciprocated. Of course, this implies that a negative premise for your partner requires some investigation. If you think your partner is truly irresponsible, for example, that’s a problem. A negative basic premise means there’s a lot more work to do before anything like fairness can exist. Where there is no fairness, there is no peace.