The transition from Winter to Spring is one of my favorite times of year because Black History Month and Women’s History Month invite us to focus on excellence that has transformed the world in spite of intersectional oppression and disadvantage.
Imagine the possibilities if those figures could have fully devoted their bandwidth to their crafts rather than navigating racism and sexism to be taken seriously. Imagine how much farther we would be as a society if all of our members could contribute their talents and abilities to support our common thriving.
In recent decades, we have seen numerous initiatives to support gender equity in the workplace, education, entertainment, sports and health care.
There are more women in leadership, shaping narratives, agendas, budget allocations and policies. There is wider representation of women in mainstream media than ever before, and this broad spectrum has shattered stereotypes of women imitating masculinity or submitting to its expectations of women’s behavior and appearances.
But this emphasis on equity is needed because our society still operates according to patriarchal dominance. We are addressing the symptoms like the management of a chronic illness, but we are still sick.
I have more life experience than my appearance suggests. In some seasons of my life, I’ve been keenly aware of my gender, because it has limited almost every aspect of my life.
I’ve missed opportunities, carried heavier workloads, not received credit and equal compensation for my work, been taken less seriously by employers and health care providers, and even been limited in where I can sit in a church service based on my gender.
To navigate this, I employed strategies varying between performing hyper-femininity and imitating masculinity, but gender permeated my experience. I was reprimanded for exercising authority, and I was reprimanded for knitting during a church service.
Men are not solely to blame. Women were complicit – and in some cases actively engaged – with men in enforcing this caste.
Parenting is no exception. It is easy to let children’s genders impact the kinds of toys, books or activities they enjoy.
People often make comments on children’s play, such as “he’s just being a little boy,” “that’s what little boys do,” “she’s being a tease” or “she’s sassy,” and all for the same behaviors.
Think of the compounded impact of these kinds of comments over their lifetimes. Sons will be encouraged for taking initiative, taking risks and being confident, while daughters doing the same face disapproval.
People will be pleasantly surprised when they learn a boy is musical or has a poetic side. When girls are ambitious, they are suspected.
And what of transgender or non-binary children who face this pressure on top of their own dysphoria and unique experiences?
In addition to the insecurity we all face personally and professionally at various times, these cultural trappings of gender norms have taught our children to doubt themselves and to doubt each other.
In other seasons of my life, I haven’t thought about my gender as much because I didn’t have to. Apart from the realities of living in a body, gender wasn’t a determining factor in my life. I could be myself.
I wasn’t Courtney, The Woman; I was simply Courtney. My identity stemmed from my performance, my ideas and the way I showed up for my family and friends. My opportunities and compensation were based on work ethic and quality, not gender.
Most significantly, my home life was based on partnership and multi-generational support. Not all seasons of my life have been this way. And I have noticed the most important professional gains were possible when my home life offered a solid foundation of help.
When domestic and parenting tasks fell exclusively, or even in majority, to me, the demands on my time and energy limited what I had left to offer professionally. I made the choice to drive full throttle in every area of my life regardless, but it has come at great long-term cost.
We need initiatives to emphasize equity because we are still sick with patriarchy.
Companies are trying to level the playing field for their employees. Families are exploring ways to share household responsibilities. The best result will be when every sphere prioritizes equity, allowing individuals the flexibility to create avenues for success.
A family will perform its best when every member contributes meaningfully to the household. A company will yield the best results when its employees have the intellectual and emotional bandwidth to be innovative and collaborative.
How can you promote equity in the places where you have influence?
Celebrate work-life balance and honor necessary boundaries for health and well-being. Respond to people’s ideas and performance, not their appearances or demeanors.
Reward excellence, but also notice who is missing at the table and be curious about why. Expose yourself and your children to books, movies and museums beyond your own identities to help them appreciate the spectrum of human existence.
Be honest with your family and your team about what you need and have honest conversations about how to support each other.
Inequity is a complex problem that will require careful reflection by all involved. There’s not one solution, and the answers likely depend on the specific context.
Yet, we must start by recognizing that the playing field is not level. And until the systems that perpetuate uneven expectations and uneven rewards for women are redeemed, we will have tokenism at best.
Editor’s note: This article is part of a series this week for International Women’s Day (March 8). The previous articles in the series are:
Minimal Progress on U.S. Gender Pay Gap Since 2002 | Zach Dawes Jr
What We Can Do in Remembrance of Her | Chris Smith
Imagine a Gender Equal Baptist World | Meredith Stone
Building a World, a Church Where We Show up for Everyone | Leah Grundset Davis
Prathia Hall Scholar in Residence of Social Justice History for Equity for Women in the Church and a visiting faculty at Rhodes College. Pace is an ordained minister, researching social justice movements in American religion, particularly race and gender. She is the author of Freedom Faith: The Womanist Vision of Prathia Hall (2019), Beyond Eden: The Collected Sermons and Essays of Prathia Hall (2022).