Daniella Levine, MPP ’21

At a very young age, we learn to identify distinguishable characteristics both through innate and formal education. Differences in skin-tone, size, hair color and texture; there exists a long list of traits that individualize each person. However, gender is believed to be clear-cut and stagnant, at least according to mass opinion: “God made man, and from man’s rib came woman”. Seems simple enough – yet this archaic archetype is just that, old and outdated.

So it’s no surprise that gender-specific policy has followed this binary and misaligned trajectory. Gendernormativity dictated socially acceptable gender identification until the mid-20th century. Even in the 60s and 70s during the social awakening of the US, when gender expression started to be publicly challenged, people were confined to their assigned gender and expected to continue to behave accordingly.

Society and policy alike have a lot to say about what constitutes a woman and what is her expected role in the home and the workplace. Women are expected to be model mothers and devoted contributors to the market, but denied the tools to do both effectively. When she abides by the system, a woman is reprimanded – through fiscal and cultural punishments, which are detrimental to her survival. When she tries to navigate outside of the system, she is chastised – through fiscal and cultural punishments, which are, again, detrimental to her survival. Welfare and FMLA, two government-sanctioned programs created with the intent to benefit women, only further constrict them, especially BIPOC women.

As such, many of the core threats to our civil structure stem from gender-based inequity. One in four girls skip school when they are menstruating because they do not have access to feminine hygiene products; they then fall behind in school and are unable to break the cyclical trends of poverty. A white woman’s work is valued at seventy-two cents to the white man’s dollar, which still out-performs the Hispanic woman’s 52 cents. Paid parental leave is not federally mandated and for many women, especially in blue collar professions, pregnancy is grounds for extermination.

Women are not given the same tools as men to succeed. The XX Factor identifies five dimensions of women’s lives that, if achieved, can positively impact her: economic empowerment, education, health, personal safety and legal services. If just one of these five dimensions is enhanced, a woman’s well-being and livelihood are dramatically shifted. But health, education, personal safety: are these not basic necessities allotted to citizens? Why are women still struggling? Our system is broken, and its effect is women’s demise. We must restructure our foundation to eliminate the imbalance prevalent in our Western culture to dismantle the extortion of women’s freedom.