Apr 272011
Authors: Courtney Stuard

White, middle-aged men sit at the top of the power pyramid in the U.S. Historically, Western society has been organized in a patriarchal structure in which males are the dominate figures in society. That structure remains in the U.S. today. If America truly personifies freedom, equality and opportunity, then why are women consistently under-represented in politics and business?

A primary reason is that women cannot move up in the hierarchical structures of business and politics. Although women have moved beyond their traditional role as housewife and have entered realms traditionally reserved for men, they still cannot reach the same status as men.

“Glass ceiling” describes the pervasive confinement of women in a lower status in which they see the top but cannot reach it due to a barrier. The glass ceiling created by a male-dominated system impedes the advancement of women, making it almost impossible for them to reach the same status as men in America. The wage gap between men and women is a form of glass ceiling that has yet to be broken in 21st-century America. Although the Equal Pay Act –– enacted in 1963 –– prohibited employers from paying men and women unequally, women still earn 77 cents to each dollar earned by men. When the EPA was enacted, women were earning just 58 cents to every dollar earned by men.

Even though successful women increasingly earn top positions at corporations, they are still not receiving the same pay as their male counterparts. Women in positions of influence are still a rarity. Although Oprah Winfrey is a billionaire media-mogul, she is the exception to the norm of women being under paid, under represented and oppressed.

Furthermore, it does not require rigorous research to realize that women are practically absent from prominent government positions. A March 31 study conducted by the Inter-Parliamentary Union reported the U.S. ranks 67th on a list of 186 countries classified by percentage of women representatives in the lower House or single House of government.

A combination of Northern European and Middle Eastern countries, including United Arab Emirates, fill the gap between No. 2, Rwanda, and No. 66, Venezuela.

Tragically, women who hold positions of influence in government, such as the infamous Sarah Palin do not press for equality of rights or opportunity for women. Palin actually declined comment when asked if she supported equal pay for women. A lack of support by women for women endorses male dominance. Palin poses a serious threat to women because she furthers the division and subjugation of women to male dominance.

A key reason why American society maintains that women do not belong in positions of power is because media reinforce the status quo ideology that women are valuable for their bodies, not their minds.

When sexualized images of women are transposed onto the pages of magazines and into the minds of consumers, a dangerous conception of femininity is produced. Those messages tell women they need to be thin and wear nice clothing and makeup in order to be valued by men.

Thus the idea that women do not belong in positions of influence is once again reiterated.

A successful career woman in the U.S. is often thought of as “the mean bitch” for focusing on her career, instead of a family. A woman who challenges the traditional role of women in society is often scorned and labeled a “radical feminist,” as if feminism is evil.

In countries where women are prominent figures in politics, they are respected as strong, innovative problem-solvers, which are characteristics that American society does not readily associate with women. Given the current view of women in the U.S., it is more likely that a woman president would be elected in an Islamic country than in the U.S. In fact, Bangladesh, Egypt, Indonesia, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan and Turkey have all had a female head of state.

Ultimately, until women receive equal respect, authority and value, as do men in America, it is highly unlikely that they will be given proper representation, equal rights and true freedom in the U.S.

Courtney Stuard is a senior journalism major. Her column appears on Thursdays in the Collegian. Letters and feedback can be sent to letters@collegian.com.

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