Sexism 101

In the New York Times, reporter Lisa Belkin writes about sexism at Duke University:

AT Duke University last fall, members of the Sigma Nu fraternity e-mailed 300 of their female classmates about an off-campus Halloween party. “Hey Ladies,” the invitation leered, complete with a misspelling,  “Whether your dressing up as a slutty nurse, a slutty doctor, a slutty schoolgirl or just a total slut, we invite you…”

Yes, there was outrage: in the form of fliers plastered around the Duke campus reprinting the offending e-mail and asking, “Is this why you came to Duke?” And there was official indignation: The recently formed Greek Women’s Initiative will be tackling the subject of gender relations.

But a less-noted fact remains: hundreds of Duke women went to that Halloween party and many dressed as they had been asked.

As parents around the country send their children to campuses for the start of another academic year, what are we to make of the fact that lessons of equality, respect and self-worth have been heard when it comes to the classroom, but lost somewhere on the way to the clubs? Why has the pendulum swung back to a feeling that sexualization of women is fun and funny rather than insulting and uncomfortable? Why are so many women O.K. with that? Odds are that the women dancing at that Duke party had mothers who attended more than one Take Back the Night march in their college days. What has changed?

I would argue nothing has changed. It doesn’t matter how many Take Back the Night Marches there were or how many women’s studies courses got added to the curriclum. At “the top”– whether at America’s “best” schools,  largest companies, or highest levels of government– it’s one massive frat party.

There’s been so much hand-wringing in the media lately about how boys are lagging in education. More females are now graduating from law and medical school and scoring higher on tests than males. Pundits worry the pendulum is swinging in the other direction and boys are suffering. But what happens when these high achieving girls graduate? How many of them go on from their Ivy League educations to become partners in their law firms, heads of surgery, and earn equitable salaries to their male counterparts? Across the board in America, whether its law, medicine, business, politics, or the arts, males dominate by staggering statistics.

Here are some facts on American women, who make up 52% of our citizens and 46.5% of our labor force:

Women hold only 15.2% of seats on the boards of Fortune 500 companies.

Women are just 19% of partners in law firms.

Women represent 17% of the United States Congress.

Throughout our history only four women have held the office of Supreme Court Justice.

There are currently only six female governors.

Women make up 14% of all guest appearances on the influential Sunday television talk shows; among repeat guests, only 7% are women.

Only 15% of the authors on the The New York Times best seller list for nonfiction are women.

Only about 20% of op-eds in America’s newspapers are by women.

Women make up 8% of all writers of major motion pictures.

Women are 17% of all executive producers

Women are 2% of all cinematographers

Clearly, men are the ones making the rules. If women want an invite to this party, they need to know how to please the guys in charge. Thank goodness they’re learning those skills at Duke.

See my later post on this story.