“The law forbids discrimination when it comes to any aspect of employment, including hiring, firing, pay, job assignments, promotions, layoff, training, fringe benefits, and any other term or condition of employment.”
It is wonderful to think that somewhere out there, there is a piece of paper that prevents my boss from seeing me as inferior because of my lady parts. How comforting that this statute ensures total equality…and just in case the sarcasm is lost on you, I own an island on the moon that I’d like to sell you.
Gender discrimination is more pervasive than most people realize. Women continue to make only a fraction of what men make (77 cents for every dollar). More women tend to be in poverty and it doesn’t seem as though change is on the horizon. What is even more shocking is that women tend to be the first ones to get laid off! These are not happenstance statistics. These facts exist by design. Despite the fact that women (especially mothers) play matriarch and home and problem solvers in the workplace, our contributions continue to be overlooked, underappreciated, and mostly ignored. Sadly enough, the women who do get recognized are often being objectified in the process.
In a 2007 gender discrimination case, a woman named Yaire Lopez sued her employer. She notified her supervisor that she was pregnant and as a result, she was involuntarily placed on medical leave for her so-called condition. Eventually she was awarded “compensatory damages of $340,700 and punitive damages of $2 million on her complaint for wrongful termination, gender and pregnancy discrimination, and violation of related state statutes.”
This year, ThinkProgress.org reported that “Bank of America will pay $39 million to settle claims it discriminated against women in its investment advice division”. There are countless examples of gender discrimination cases across the country. Sincere congrats to any and all women who win their cases in court or win settlements. That is better than nothing, for sure. But what can we learn from these events? How can we move forward in a way that lessens the probability of gender discrimination in the future? The answers to these questions are complex, but the answers start with self-determination.
In the words of Audre Lorde, “It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences.” Unfortunately, there is no law that can force employers to be better people. The point of the legislation is to hold folks accountable when they do terrible things. Gender discrimination seems to be in it for the long haul, so as feminists, abolitionists, allies, and good humans we have to be willing to stand up with conviction.
Regardless of how we identify ourselves, we have to start realizing the impact we can have if we step out of these self-imposed dogmatic boxes. The women discriminated against in the Bank of America case would have probably been unsuccessful had they allowed themselves to fall victim to petty arguments about what kind of feminism they subscribed to. There is so much we can do to deconstruct the prevalence of gender inequality, but as the beloved scholar Audre Lorde pointed out, we have to be willing to unite around our common goals.