Is total equality in the cards for the next 20 to 30 years?

Grace Jennings

In twenty years, I will be 39 years old. If all goes well, I will have a college degree, maybe a master's degree, who knows?! I’d love to be running my own environmentally responsible business and making enough money to travel and do cool things. I’ve been fortunate all my life to be treated with the same opportunities as my male peers, and thus far, I can’t remember a time when I’ve been told that I can’t do something because I’m a girl. But that’s the million dollar question: will my gender have any influence on my ability to achieve these things in the future? More importantly, will gender inequality keep affecting the opportunity for all American women to achieve their dreams in the coming decades? I would really like to say no, but unfortunately, I don’t think that’s the truth. With subconscious gender biases and America’s stubborn tendency to appease “mommy-dominated” parenting, the next 20 to 30 years don’t look like they’re going to be completely equal for women, but equality may not be out of this century. 

I’m especially lucky to be growing up in a time where I see women on the forefront of important issues as leaders and innovators in all fields. While the little voice in my head still says “You go, girl!” every time women become elected officials or are credited for scientific breakthroughs, it’s becoming more and more common that these amazing feats are being recognized as human accomplishments, not just female accomplishments. That said, I am one of the first generations who sees this kind of equality, or pseudo-equality, as “normal”. For all of history, social norms have assigned men the role of “everything outside the house”, so for years, women have had to fight criticism of being out of place every time they step outside their front door (unless they’re going to the grocery store of course).

From politics and public speaking, to cubicles and laboratories, women are faced with double standards that are often based on completely subconscious bias. When running for office in 2016, Hillary Clinton was constantly ridiculed for shouting too much or being too aggressive or assertive. How is anyone supposed to get their point across if they aren’t allowed to raise their voice past a whisper? Applying for a job: nobody in their right mind would say out loud that having a female name would lessen your chances of getting a job, but it does. Studies have shown that completely identical resumes labeled with “Jennifer” versus “John” evoke lower competence ratings and even lower starting salary propositions, simply because of the female name. However progressive we think we may be, it’s hard to shake the archaic biases we have ingrained in our view of the world. If we are only now realizing that this issue is a sociological issue, not just a legislative one, it’s going to take more than 30 years to completely even out the playing fields. 

While subconscious gender biases play a huge, but quieter, role in gender inequality, a much more obvious issue is America’s inability, or reluctance, to shake traditional gender roles at home. While other countries around the world are passing legislation that encourages working mothers and more involved fathers, we are still making it hard for our women to rejoin the workforce after having children or even be in it at all as a mother. Having grown up with a stay-at-home mom and working dad, I was really lucky. The luxuries of having someone make my lunch in the morning or pick me up after school and who isn’t taking work calls all the time have made my life and childhood very comfortable. The fact that my dad has always been able to support us financially and allow my mom to stay at home is a huge luxury itself. That said, I sometimes wonder why it played out like that.

I’ve never been interested planning my future family with the number of kids I’m going to have and what all their names are going to be, but from the day we’re born, the idea of motherhood is shoved down girls’ throats in a way that makes us feel like we have to want these things. When you think about it, it’s really messed up that only months after being born, girls are handed dolls that they’re expected to treat like their own children. In reality, a toddler is much closer to being peers with their dolls than being their mothers, but that’s not always how they’re encouraged to play with them. Just looking at the numbers, being a mother is a huge setback to a woman’s professional career, much more than being a father. This isn’t just because women are the one’s having children, although that is a considerable burden, but it’s because once women birth the children, they’re then expected to do everything to support and raise them. Without even mandatory paid maternity leave, mothers often have to juggle their professional careers and their families in a way that men have never been expected to do. I love that women are more frequently being seen as equal in the workforce, but I think it’s time for the world to see men as equal at home. With women rising to fill almost half of the American workforce, it’s no longer expected that women won’t work, but it is still somehow expected that they are also at home… that just doesn’t add up. 

Women have and will continue to gain more power than we have ever had before in history, but I think one of the major blockers in achieving true gender equality is the lack of high-level female leadership. When every single President and almost every Fortune 500 CEO is not female (or not BIPOC for that matter), women are not getting the kind of representation and reputation that we need to keep making this push. How crazy is it that even in this day in age where women can be almost anything we want to be, we are still being criticized about how we dress or how loud we raise our voices? I want to believe that once women reach the highest satus’s of professionalism, female leaders will be the ones setting the bar and hopefully eliminating the double-standards by which most professional women need to abide.  

While 20 to 30 years seems like a long way away, I think true gender equality will be reached when the world outgrows the people who are so adamantly tipping the scale against women. What I’ve been told in school, at home, and in most other aspects of my life is so different than what my mother or her mother grew up hearing. This is also true for boys. Soon enough, young people now who have been taught these messages of equality will be developing new social norms and setting the stage for future generations. This will make the difference. This will bring true equality. It’s not out of reach, but it might take a little bit more than 30 years to achieve.