Maria Gutzeit: Women’s Day: a work in progress

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As I uttered the words, I knew what I had done wrong. My daughter had just finished an hour of swimming laps with her team. She relayed how two boys were laughing and blocking the lane as she, the faster swimmer, tried to go around them, as is protocol.

I said, “well, you just have to be way better than them. If you get stronger you can always be in front of them.”

Why, indeed, after unfairness, do some women think the remedy is to work even harder to show that we do really deserve it? That’s what I was transmitting to my daughter.

My husband, a former national medalist swimmer, showed my daughter some tricks on passing “uncooperative” fellow swimmers. Given that her nickname is “sassypants,” I know she won’t be deterred.

However, another girl in the same group had been scratched by the boys and was ready to quit. Luckily they both were fast enough to move into another lane and, for now, the issue was resolved.

Is the answer that the girl who didn’t like being scratched needs to “toughen up?” Or that just by working extra hard they can get away from people who pester them?

This experience reminds me of why we need the recent International Women’s Day, celebrated on March 8, during Women’s History Month.

Social media had some great quotes and celebratory messages on International Women’s Day. Sadly, there was also a sprinkling of the usual slights.

Women activists were paradoxically either called “privileged” or told to “get a job.” We were reminded we really had nothing to complain about because women in other countries have it far worse.

Sophie Trudeau, wife of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, thanked men who supported gender equality, but that oddly morphed into discussions about women being grateful to men who keep them comfortable. Even in the privileged U.S., there is a long way to go.

Slights serve but one purpose, and that is to keep women where they are “supposed to be” – not in men’s way.

True, in foreign countries women risk their lives to attend school, own property, or resist mandatory marriage. But much like racism, sexism still is pervasive even in developed countries, and it continues to do harm.

The American Association of University Women study “Barriers and Bias (2016)” details what is called implicit bias: pervasive and often unintentionally different treatment of women.

For example, women with identical or better qualifications continually lose out to men in hiring, but when resumes are scrubbed of male and female names, the females do better, as commensurate with their qualifications.

Women also face what is called the “double bind” of discomfort with females in power because of a conflict between the idea that women “should” be nurturing and kind and the idea that you have to be strong and tough to be a leader.

One of my heroes, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, advises that women pretend we didn’t hear the snide comment du jour, at least when coming from colleagues.

I agree. However, women’s equality follows an imperfect path, like other social gains. Segregation was replaced by racism, but that clearly doesn’t mean all is OK.

Immigrants were treated poorly when our parents arrived here, and injustice toward “others” continues today. Gay and transgender rights are won, and lost, each year.

No matter how innocently ignorant a slight against women is, it feeds a continuing cultural bias. Not all slights are small.

Abused women are victim shamed for going out with the wrong guy. They “should have known better!”

Women athletes are paid far less than men of lower caliber, all the while raking in far more gold medals.

There’s always a “good reason” why women are not on corporate boards or elected office or speaking at tech conferences.

In America, our philosophy is always to improve, to make things a little better. We need to chip away at limiting biases.

It was bias that prevented our grandmothers from voting and our mothers from having a bank account. It is bias that makes it common for working women to be asked “what about your kids” when the men with kids are not asked the same.

And it’s bias that makes little boys think it’s hilarious to keep faster girls behind them. With due respect to the groundbreaking Justice Ginsburg, may our generation be the one that stops turning a blind eye when women are treated as “other” than what they rightfully deserve.

Maria Gutzeit is a chemical engineer, business owner, elected water official, and mom living in Santa Clarita.

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