Over the past several months, American women have increasingly taken center stage in activism and political engagement, while the current presidential administration contains the fewest women of any since the 1980s. And yet, there are always people out there who'll try to diminish the urgency of the moment, who'll insist that women's causes are ultimately moot and not that pressing in the grand scheme of things. It can be irritating at best, and maddening at worst. As such, here are seven ways to respond to someone who says we've reached gender equality already.
Suffice it to say that there are still plenty of examples of sexist double-standards, thriving misogyny, and blatant gender-based inequalities in modern American society, however far the country may have come over the past decades and centuries.
And while it might be politically convenient for some people to deny it, or to argue that there's no more essential progress that needs to be made, actually still a lot of work left to do, some of which would be totally achievable given enough cultural enlightenment and political will. Here are seven such examples you can keep in mind the next time someone's getting ready to argue with you.
1. Sexual Assault Was Used As A Political Football In The 2016 Election
Throughout last year's presidential race, allegations of sexual assault and predatory behavior took center stage. This was in large part thanks to a recording of then-candidate Trump bragging about groping women without their consent in audio leaked to the press in the final months of the campaign. It was truly disturbing audio, and for a time it seemed like it might torpedo Trump's candidacy.
Of course, that didn't happen. And what it caused was a cynical response on the part of Trump's campaign, aggressively highlighting multiple allegations of sexual misconduct against former president Bill Clinton, all while strenuously denying the allegations against its candidate.
This isn't a strictly partisan issue, even though the Trump campaign's deflection was cynical and dismissive in the extreme. The multiple allegations against Clinton date back decades, and they're just as deserving of discussion and consideration as those leveled against Trump, although it obviously wasn't his name on the ballot. But in a political landscape in which alleged sexual assault victims were treated like little more than pawns on a chessboard, nobody got the respect or dignity they deserved.
2. Trump Defeated A Far More Qualified Woman
Whatever you think of former Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton ― and she certainly proved to be an extremely polarizing figure within the Democratic Party and the progressive grassroots ― there's one thing that can't credibly be denied, and that's how much more qualified she was than Trump.
Having served as a senator and a secretary of state, and having devoted virtually her entire adult life to advancing the ideals of the Democratic Party (albeit a far more centrist, incrementalist vision than that of her primary opponent, Bernie Sanders), she had clearly put in far more work, preparation, and thought into her political career than Trump ever did. And that was borne out in their trio of presidential debates, all of which Clinton won handily, and often made Trump look very bad by comparison.
And yet, despite (or perhaps due to) running against the most openly sexist presidential candidate in modern memory, she lost the White House despite winning the popular vote by nearly three million. Given the continuing influence of sexism in modern life, and the relatively narrow margin by which she lost ― less than 80,000 votes scattered across three states ― it seems very possible that a male candidate with an identical profile might be president right now.
3. We Still Don't Have An Equal Rights Amendment
You wouldn't think that "women should be guaranteed rights equal to those of men" would be a controversial statement in this day and age, but you'd be wrong. At least, it's controversial enough that the Equal Rights Amendment has still not been added to the U.S. Constitution, despite having first been proposed in 1923, and having nearly been ratified in the 1970s.
Passing a constitutional amendment is a tall order, to be sure. While there are two potential ways to do so, the only one that's ever been successful requires a two-thirds vote from both houses of Congress, and then ratification by three-fourths of the states:
But considering how relatively uncontroversial the above text of the amendment would seem to be ― if America truly had outgrown so much of its sexism and misogyny, that is ― it's shocking and sobering that it hasn't yet happened.
4. Women's Reproductive Freedoms Are Under Attack
Whether you're looking at the state or federal level, many lawmakers are working overtime to try to curtail women's access to abortion, despite it being a constitutionally protected right according to the Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade ruling.
Whether through bans based on the gestational age of the fetus, or end-around methods like so-called TRAP laws (targeted regulation of abortion providers), or through hampering availability by cutting funding to health care providers like Planned Parenthood, reproductive rights are under attack on nearly all fronts.
This is in stark contrast to how some conservative groups and thinkers have treated Supreme Court rulings on things they regard as absolute rights, like the right to gun ownership, for example. And when it comes right down to it, the practical implications of hard-line anti-abortion policies can't be escaped: they assert that women do not have full agency over their bodies, and should be forced to bear children by the government.
5. Contraception Coverage Is Controversial, While Erectile Dysfunction Treatment Is Assumed
One of the controversies in the aftermath of the Affordable Care Act's passage regarded mandating insurance coverage for contraception, with some insisting on both religious and secular grounds that employers and insurers shouldn't be forced to provide it.
And yet, covering medication to alter the natural (or "God-given," if you prefer) state of male sexual function is not the least bit controversial. If a woman wants to take birth control to protect herself from unwanted pregnancy, well, she's altering the state of her reproductive cycle as it would normally proceed.
And if a man wants to take a pill to enable him to get an erection, well, he's basically doing the same thing: using modern medicine to make his body do something that it otherwise wouldn't or couldn't, quite possibly for no other reason than to enable his own sexual pleasure. This pervasive double-standard, in other words, has little to do with "not wanting to pay for someone else's sex life," and far more to do with policing women's sexual urges.
6. The Gender Pay Gaps Still Exists
While critics often dispute the extent of the gender pay gap, the best and most comprehensive studies leave no doubt that it exists, albeit at a lower level than the popular "77 cents on the dollar" claim you might have seen. Simply put, women make less money than men on average for performing the same work, and that's a problem.
And an even bigger problem arises when you examine the intersectional pay gaps. When women's races are factored into the equation, the complex nature of the economic injustice is laid bare.
Research has shown that Asian women actually earn the most, although still short of what men earn, while white women come in second, with black women, Native women, and Latina women earning far less respectively. As always, its important to recognize the ways in which gender inequality and racial inequality intersect, because even if white women were hauling in 100 percent of what men make, countless women of color would still be living under an unequal system.
7. Our Political Representatives Are Overwhelmingly Male
Last, but certainly not least, is the matter of America's political representation. Right now, at the federal level at least, the U.S. has dismally few women in major positions of power.
There are just 21 women serving in the U.S. Senate at present, making it 79 percent male despite women accounting for slightly more than 50 percent of the American public. And in the House, the breakdown is just about the same, with a mere 88 women serving out of 535 total representatives, or about 19 percent.
Make no mistake: sexist double-standards still persist in American in many different ways, both statistically observable and more nuanced and subtle ones. They manifest in terms of elected representation, the political preferences of the majority male members of Congress, which types of sex and reproduction-related medications are viewed as controversial versus which aren't, how willing the country was to vote for an unambiguously qualified woman over, by any relative measure, a profoundly unqualified man. As such, with so many areas in which to improve, don't let anyone tell you the work is already done.