Anything You Can Do, I Can Do Better

In high school, I performed a song from the Broadway musical Annie Get Your Gun. The show tells the life of Annie Oakley, one of the best sharpshooters ever. The song pitted Annie against her soon-to-be boyfriend and, later, husband, Frank Butler. Oakley and Butler claimed they could one-up the other from shooting a partridge with a single cartridge to jumping a hurdle in a girdle. But men and women had argued about their abilities long before Irving Berlin wrote the song and long since after.

In law school in the 1970s, family and friends often asked me what I thought of the proposed Equal Rights Amendment (the “ERA”), which would have put women on equal footing with men. I lived in Utah at the time, and it being an ultra-conservative state and the headquarters of the conservative, dominant religion, most were against it. I told them I thought the ERA was a good idea but largely symbolic because new laws and the U.S. Supreme Court would level things regardless of the ERA. And in any event, women would make sure equality between the sexes would happen. Or, as Helen Reddy sang back in the day, “I am woman; hear me roar in numbers too big to ignore.”

Fifty years later, I am both right and wrong. Thanks to laws such as Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Title IX of the Higher Education Act, and court cases enforcing those laws, discrimination in employment and sports is illegal, and sexual harassment is unlawful. But despite these advancements, women still lag behind their male counterparts.

But let me be clear. I do not believe men and women are the same. For example, although women have beaten me occasionally in arm wrestling, generally speaking, from a purely physical standpoint, men are stronger and can jump higher than women. And thus, I doubt I will ever see a woman star in the NFL (except perhaps as a placekicker) or the NBA. But I tip my cap to Olivia Pichardo who became the first woman in history to play Division 1 college baseball.

But treating women equally is not the same as treating them the same. I agree with Virginia Woolf, who said, “Men and women are different. What needs to be made equal is the value placed on those differences.” I also agree with author Carol Lynn Pearson when she said, “Being treated with politeness, consideration, even respect is different from being treated as an equal.” And finally, I agree with what Jo March (played by Saoirse Ronan) says at the end of this scene from Little Women:[i]

I know from experience that women have ambition and talent. And, like Dr. Claudia L. Bushman, I am one “who believes that all of the talents and abilities of women should be developed for the benefit of themselves, their families, and their communities.” That, according to Dr. Bushman, makes me a feminist. So be it.

This month is Women’s History Month, and I have tried to honor trailblazing women and discuss women’s issues in this blog in the past.[ii] But let’s look closer at where women might still fall short of men.

In the film, The Glorias,[iii] Gloria Steinem wants her editors to consider her a serious journalist like her male counterparts. Instead, her editors give her puff pieces about things her male editors think women might find appealing (but not men). Even after she creates a stir by posing as a Playboy bunny to report on their dreadful working conditions, her editors still don’t take her seriously. So, she does what many strong women would do—she starts her own women’s magazine. And thus, she created Ms. magazine. Here is the trailer for the film:

If you lived during the 70s, you’d find the movie a fun trip down memory lane.

Sadly, sexual harassment still exists in a big way, despite the advances of the #MeToo movement. Here is a clip from the movie, Bombshell[iv] that chronicles the sexual harassment that took place not too long ago at Fox News:

Perhaps surprisingly, one of the worst industries for the discrimination of women is the entertainment industry. Repeatedly, from the 70s to today, as women made strides in their fight for equal rights, people said, “This changes everything.” But in the film industry, nothing changed much. The film This Changes Everything[v] chronicles the battle for women’s equal rights in the film industry. Here is the trailer for the film:

Here are nine facts from This Changes Everything:

  1. As of 2018, in almost a century, only one woman won the Academy Award for best director (Kathryn Bigelow for The Hurt Locker in 2009).
  2. In 2018, almost 78 percent of reviewers on Rotten Tomatoes were male.
  3. Out of the top 101 top-grossing G-Rated films from 1990 to 2005, 72 percent of all speaking parts were male. In addition, four out of five narrators were male.
  4. In G-Rated films, female characters are three times more likely to be shown in sexually revealing clothing than male characters.
  5. In the top 100 grossing films in 2017, male characters received twice as much screen time as female leads.
  6. Between 1949 and 1979, only one-half of one percent of director assignments went to women.
  7. In 2018, half of all movies failed the “Bechtel Test”: Does a movie have at least two women conversing about something other than men? Half of the 2018 movies failed, even though the conversation between the two women could be as ordinary as discussing the color of their nail polish.
  8. In films in general, since 1946, the ratio of male to female characters has remained at three to one.
  9. Of the top 100 grossing films in 2018, 85 percent of the screenwriters were male.

This Changes Everything came out in 2018, and women in the film industry have made little progress since then. For example, since 2009, when Kathryn Bigelow became the first female director to win the Best Director Oscar, there have been 65 nominations for Best Director, but only four were women. But two of them won the Oscar, so maybe that’s progress.

Billie Jean King helped equalize the pay between women and male pro tennis players in the 1970s. And recently, the U.S. Women’s National Soccer team got equal pay compared to their male counterparts. But those are the exceptions, not the rule. Recently I read an article in the Dallas Morning News about the pay disparity between men and women. A study analyzing Census data found that in my home city of McKinney, Texas, women make $25,000 less than men among full-time workers with four-year college degrees. My neighboring town of Frisco, Texas, was even worse. According to the Dallas Morning News, the median income of men living in Frisco who are college-educated and older than 25 is nearly $124,000; Frisco women of the same criteria bring in only $57,389. Nationally, women make 18 percent less than their male counterparts, Census data show, with men that work full time making $60,428 and women earning $49,263.

I am a big believer in merit. We should pay workers based on how they perform, not their gender. If the Census data are correct, though, something besides merit appears to be driving workers’ pay.

Let’s give women their due, whether in the sports world, the business world, the entertainment industry, or to those women probably least appreciated—the stay-at-home wife and mother. Or, as Billie Jean King (played by Emma Stone) said in Battle of the Sexes: “I’m not saying women are better. I’ve never said that. I’m saying we deserve some respect.”

I, for one, agree.

[i] Little Women:

  • Production Companies: Columbia Pictures, New Regency Productions, and Pascal Pictures
  • Director: Greta Gerwig
  • Screenwriter: Greta Gerwig (based on the novel by Louisa May Alcott)
  • Starring: Saoirse Ronan, Emma Watson, and Florence Pugh
  • Release date: December 25, 2019

[ii] Here are links to my blog honoring women and the films about them:  (Erin Brockovich in Erin Brockovich) (Disney princesses) (Billy Jean King in Battle of the Sexes) (North Country, a fictional account of the first successful major sexual harassment case dramatizing the hostile work environment of female mineworkers in Minnesota) (the women of Suffragette, Hidden Figures, and Made in Dagenham) (Sexual abuse of the US Women’s Gymnastics team) (Ruth Bader Ginsburg in On the Basis of Sex) (Sex trafficking) (Till and She Said)

[iii] The Glorias:

  • Production Companies: Artemis Rising Foundation, Saks Pictures, and The Glorias
  • Director: Julie Taymor
  • Screenwriters: Julie Taymor and Sarah Ruhl (based on the book My Life on the Road by Gloria Steinem)
  • Starring: Julianne Moore, Alicia Vikander, and Janelle Monáe
  • Release date: September 30, 2020

[iv] Bombshell

  • Production Companies: Creative Wealth Media Finance, Annapurna Pictures, and BRON Studios
  • Director: Jay Roach
  • Screenwriter: Charles Randolph
  • Starring: Charlize Theron, Nicole Kidman, and Margot Robbie
  • Release date: December 20, 2019

[v] This Changes Everything:

  • Production Companies: CCV Studios, CreativeChaos vmg
  • Director: Tom Donahue
  • Screenwriter: Documentary
  • Starring: Reese Witherspoon, Mira Nair, and Shonda Rhimes
  • Release date: October 31, 2019

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