Rejecting Victimhood for Individuality

I was torn. The cookies at the Gender Gap Bake Sale looked delicious, and I could buy one for only 75 cents. That’s because I am a woman. Men had to pay $1 each. Trouble is, it would have violated my sense of justice; getting a cheaper cookie struck me as a handout or maybe a sly trick to get my consent to policies to raise women’s wages. I considered paying full price but I didn’t want to cause a scene. So I walked by.

The bake sale sponsored by the Women’s Center at UNC-Chapel Hill was designed to raise awareness about the discrepancy between women’s and men’s wages. In 2005, women in the United States earned about 77 percent of what men earned, on average.

I wasn’t the only one troubled by the sale. Writing in the Daily Tar Heel, several men complained about having to pay more, calling it reverse discrimination. One also challenged the 77 percent figure. Junior Emily Kiser responded that the complainers don’t “understand the lifelong frustration that women experience performing the same jobs as their male co-workers yet earning substantially less money. “

If the point of the bake sale was to create “awareness” that will later become a push for policy change, I couldn’t have supported it in good conscience. There are already too many laws that force businesses, schools, and other organizations to prefer women over men simply because of their gender. Affirmative action in the United States occurs in school admissions, job hiring, and government and corporate contracts.

Colleges are shutting down men’s wrestling and track and field programs because Title IX of the Educational Amendments of 1972 has led to a quota system in athletics. The law has been administered using a proportionality requirement; that is, the ratio of male and female athletes at a school must be similar to the ratio of male to female students at the school. If not enough women sign up for sports, some men’s sports have to go.

Ever since 1965, federal agencies have had to give special advantages to women. This means that, within some “underserved” industries, a portion of government contracts are reserved for businesses owned by women.

Similar policies exist in North Carolina. For example, the city of Raleigh has adopted a goal of 15% participation by minority and women-owned businesses in construction contracts over $100,000 and in general purchases of goods and services. Through the program, businesses owned by women will be targeted by the city, allowed to attend special workshops, and entitled to assistance with submitting bids.

Why do schools and governments assume that women can’t compete on their own merits? And why do so-called “feminists” applaud that kind of attitude? It assumes that women are weak or unworthy without special help.

I don’t want to be hired, admitted, or accepted just because I’m a woman. I’d rather people look at me as an individual, with strengths and weaknesses unique to me, not to all of womankind.

In fact, I don’t even believe that there are strengths or weaknesses that can be attributed to an entire gender. True, studies have shown not only are women shorter than men, on average, and also better organized and less aggressive. But averages aren’t people. I never want to be considered for a position because I fulfill a diversity standard. I’m more valuable than that. I can qualify for a good job or admission to a good school on my own merits.

March is National Women’s History Month, with “Women’s Week” being observed at the Carolina Women’s Center from March 24-28. Too often, women’s events devolve into whining about lower earnings, which might actually be caused by women’s choices, such as leaving the workforce for long periods of time to raise children, and not by men’s prejudice. Instead, let’s celebrate the extraordinary accomplishments women have achieved when they really were under the thumb of prejudice, without even the right to vote.

Women like Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Mary Church Terrell, who furthered the 19th-century women’s rights movement, should be the type of women we emulate. It’s the qualities they embodied as individuals – determination, intelligence and courage – that make them great.

One group that isn’t whining is the National Women’s History Project, an educational nonprofit organization. It has chosen “Women’s Art: Women’s Vision” as the 2008 theme for National Women’s History Month to “honor the originality, beauty, imagination, and multiple dimensions of women’s lives.”

This is a good choice because art is reflective of individuality; no two pieces of artwork are the same. Art, by definition cannot be understood objectively, or made to fit into only one mold. Works of art defy attempts at classification, because they can be appreciated in more than one way, and are often susceptible to many different interpretations.

Women should think of themselves the same way. Individual women cannot be fit into a mold, or defined simply as part of a group, as the Gender Gap Bake Sale and many government policies relating to women seem to imply. Women’s History Month should remind us all that in the past, individual women have achieved great things and for the future, each woman has unique strengths and ideas to offer.