Victorian-era newspapers reported (and perhaps sensationalized) female cyclists dying because of massive skirts that blew up and obscured their view, or dresses that wrapped around their pedals. A letter published in the Daily Press in 1896, for instance, commented of a cyclist’s death, “I think she failed because she could not see the pedals, as the flapping skirt hid them from her view, and she had to fumble for them. Could she have taken but a momentary glance at their position, she would have had a good chance to save her life.” Critics seized upon such tragedies to argue that women were unsuited to ride bikes. For some, it was more convenient to blame women’s audacity in mounting a bicycle than the restrictive clothing that made doing so perilous.
There’s nothing wrong with providing a service, of course, especially when it’s one that people need and one that a service provider conducts effectively. But women are particularly stereotyped into such roles. In Western culture, women’s traditional role was seen as that of caregiver and homemaker. And even when women entered the workplace, they did so in roles that reinforced that stereotype. Service-oriented jobs like nurses, social workers, cashiers, secretaries, teachers, servers, librarians, customer-service representatives, and housekeepers are disproportionately held by women. Today, manufacturing jobs are on the decline and service jobs are on the rise, but even so, men have been avoiding the new opportunities in the service sector—partly because they are seen as women’s work.
At a time when there is an acute shortage of welders and other tradespeople, hardly any women are being trained for these and other well-paying jobs. This more than 40 years after Congress banned sex discrimination in American education. Experts offer several reasons for this split, including gender stereotypes and the threat of workplace harassment in male-dominated jobs. But employers and advocates agree it’s hurting both women and the economy, leaving families stuck in poverty and businesses scrambling for workers in fields, such as IT and advanced manufacturing, where they’re growing troublingly scarce.
In warning about a new “puritanism,” the Deneuve letter also revealed a classic cartoonish vision of America, land of puritans and prudes—even though the conversation on harassment would never have begun in France, or maybe anywhere, if it weren’t for the investigative journalists at The New York Times and The New Yorker who broke the Weinstein stories. The grotesqueries of the Trump administration may be the backdrop to the Weinstein scandal, but here in France, the fallout comes in a strange moment of generational shift, in which President Emmanuel Macron, who just turned 40, has been shaking things up. The letter in Le Monde was written by women of a certain age who seem eager to preserve the same establishment that let the shenanigans of one-time presidential hopeful Dominique Strauss Kahn be an open secret for years.
According to a new survey from Pew Research, 42 percent of women say that they have experienced some sort of gender-based discrimination at work. And while more than one-third of the men and women polled said that sexual harassment was a problem at their workplace, women were three times more likely than men to say that they had personally experienced harassment.
Across socioeconomic classes, women are increasingly enrolling and completing postsecondary education, while, even as opportunities for people without a college education shrink, men’s rates of graduation remain relatively stagnant. In 2015, the most recent year for which data is available, 72.5 percent of females who had recently graduated high school were enrolled in a two-year or four-year college, compared to 65.8 percent of men. That’s a big difference from 1967, when 57 percent of recent male high-school grads were in college, compared to 47.2 percent of women.
Many linguists I spoke to stressed that changing a language doesn’t guarantee a change in perception; this leads some of them to say that inclusive writing just isn’t worth the trouble. But at least one major school of linguistic thought concludes that language and perception are intimately related.
The military doesn’t just urge women, it requires them—especially if they want to succeed—to view themselves on the same playing field as their male counterparts. They are also expected to behave and perform in traditionally masculine ways—demonstrating strength, displaying confidence in their abilities, expecting to be judged on their merits and performance, and taking on levels of authority and responsibility that few women get to experience. The uniform and grooming standards work to downplay their physical female characteristics. Additionally, the expectation—explicit or implicit—is that they also downplay other attributes that are traditionally considered feminine, such as open displays of emotion.
The situation, unsurprisingly, has many Republicans stressed out—even depressed. This is especially true among the women strategists, activists, and other leaders who’ve been laboring to address their party’s gender gap. In recent years, the GOP has struggled to combat its image as a pack of grumpy old white guys. Trump, to put it gently, has not been helpful in that regard. Worse still, the overheated, culture-warring nature of Trumpism has disrupted some of the most common avenues Republicans had been using to reach women. And worst of all: Not even the party players who focus on this issue seem to have any sense of where to go from here.
While he is not the first to say that—Mitt Romney, for example, tweeted, “I believe Leigh Corfman. Her account is too serious to ignore”—many Republicans have taken a cautious approach to the accusations against Moore, saying that on the one hand they think he should step aside if the claims are true, but at the same time withholding judgment on that question.