Women’s History Month: We are not buying the shameless pandering

Women’s History Month: We are not buying the shameless pandering
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As Women’s History Month rolls to a close, so too will the gauzy commercials about empowering women from brands as diverse as women themselves such as: TwitterProcter & GambleGEJohnnie Walker, and Microsoft.

Soon the embarrassing public relations gimmicks will be forgotten too, epitomized this year by McDonald’s turning their Golden Arches upside down to form a “W.” The ads from Twitter and the stunt by McDonald’s rightly garnered swift and scathing backlash on social media, with demands for both brands to deal with the very real concerns women have raised prominently against both companies.

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Twitter got taken to the mat for celebrating women’s voices in its campaign, yet doing nothing to address the harassment, intimidation and doxxing women on Twitter regularly experience for voicing their opinions. McDonald’s faced backlash for its consistently bad treatment of its workers, from low wages to paltry benefits and erratic schedules — something the predominantly female activists behind the “Fight for $15” movement have brought to mainstream public attention.

 

Women in the public sphere — whether in the work place or halls of Congress aren’t a passing fad or a special interest. Perhaps even a year ago, corporate odes to women’s empowerment would have filled us with pride. 

But that was before. Before Trump, before Harvey Weinstein, before Jemele Hill. 

From Me Too, to the Dreamers, to the Fight for $15 to Black Lives Matter — women, especially women of color, are leading new movements for equality, dignity and justice. On the electoral side, black women — long the progressive movements most stalwart and committed voters — are raising money, organizing and proving that the path to victory is paved by earning the votes of black women. Working-class black and brown women are leading worker justice campaigns that are winning higher minimum wages, stable scheduling practices and better benefits for all wage-earners. 

Women are running for elected office in greater numbers in 2017 and 2018 after the stunning defeat of an overly- qualified woman running for president by a massively under-qualified man. Migrant farmworkers and Hollywood actors are fighting sexual predation and harassment together — a new feminist wave that might finally demand justice for all women — black, brown, rich, poor, wage-earner or salaried professional.

Today, nearly one out of five members of Congress are women. It’s a far cry from parity, but significantly greater than the 3 percent in 1971. Women make up one out of four state legislators today, a quintupling since 1971. Women running and becoming mayors, governors, attorneys general, secretary of state or any number of state-wide elected office is no longer greeted as an oddity, though we are still subject to much greater scrutiny and higher standards for everything from our wardrobes to the depth of our policy positions.

Unlike our male counterparts, women’s earnings have risen since the 1970s across the board, for all races and education levels. But that doesn’t mean we’ve achieved parity — either with men, or amongst ourselves across racial differences.

There is still very much a white and male wage premium, with jobs overwhelmingly done by women routinely underpaid compared to jobs predominantly done by men. Teachers earn less than computer software engineers, home health aides less than janitors, secretaries less than construction workers. Even women working in the same job as men are paid less than the men.

Work that involves caring or serving remains severely under-valued, and women of color suffer a disproportionate share of that legacy. The paychecks of women of color are undercut by both the gender and the racial wage gap, resulting in many of the lowest-paid jobs such as childcare and home health work being disproportionately performed by women of color.

Whether native-born or immigrant, women of color are bound together at the bottom of America’s wage hierarchy, despite the fact that many of these jobs carry an enormous responsibility — the development of and caring for people.

So, enough with the platitudes of a 30-second ad buy — if companies support gender equality, here’s how they can show it:

Commit to opening up your books and pledge to weed out gender and racial bias in compensation, pledge to create boards that reflect the diversity of your customers and your workforce, stop spending millions of dollars to stymie the passage of much-needed policies like paid sick days, sane schedules, paid family leave and an end to the sub-minimum wage for tipped workers.

Dedicate your funding largesse to advancing national needs like universal, high-quality child care. Say yes to the union drive. And if you insist on spending millions in brain power and ad dollars for social branding, how about developing campaigns that will stigmatize and stymie the toxic masculine behavior that results in harassment and violence against women. 

There is so much real work to be done to achieve gender equality and finally millions of women with just enough power — and more than enough frustration — to demand more. You can’t brand your way to gender equality. We just don’t buy it anymore.

Tamara Draut is the vice president of Policy and Research at liberal think tank Demos, and author of “Sleeping Giant: The Untapped Economic and Political Potential of America’s New Working Class.”