Diversity and Speech #36: Gender and Generations, An Evolving Conversation – by Carlos E. Cortés, Angela Antenore

A Co-Authored Interview

Carlos: Angela, we’ve been friends and diversity colleagues for thirty-five years.  It will be interesting to reflect on how the conversation about gender has changed over those decades.

Angela: Yes, but today we’ll only be able to look at a tiny slice of that huge topic. Let’s begin with language.  When we first started working together, we used the term gender to distinguish women from men.  Now we recognize greater complexities and fluidity, with terms like gender identity and non-binary.  

Carlos: Yes. Over the generations, perspectives on gender have changed.  .

Angela:   You’re right.  I was born in the 1960’s and was still in elementary school in 1972 when Title IX of the Civil Rights Act came along to address women’s educational inequities.   

Carlos:  And I was already thirty-eight.

 Angela:  Remember gender expectations back in the day?  High school girls were required to take home economics: sewing, cooking, and managing a household budget.   But boys got to build.  They took shop to learn to use tools, things many girls, like me, would have preferred.

Carlos: I took shop and drafting, always taught by men.  In seventh grade, boys took two weeks of cooking.  You can imagine our gross remarks during class, taught by a woman, of course.

Angela: When I got to high school, the girls’ track team was only in its third year.   Male coaches were forced to work with us.  I can’t recall a single female coach.  One coach would stand in front of us and scratch his crotch while explaining how we should do stretches.  We didn’t complain, maybe because we were afraid of losing our program.  We just kept our mouths shut.  Imagine the headlines if we reported that behavior today.

Carlos: You know, Angela, you and I can share our stories.  But think of those who didn’t have that opportunity in their time.

Angela:  Like stories from the women’s suffrage movement, with women like Sojourner Truth, an African American.  The movement marginalized women of color.  Some saw racism as too difficult to address and a distraction from the women’s cause.  Talk about privilege!  Those women of color had to deal with both sexism and racism long before intersectionality became a diversity buzz word.  

Carlos: And the battle goes on.  In 1997 a suffragist sculpture of three white women was placed in the U.S. Capitol rotunda.  The National Political Congress of Black Women protested against the exclusion of Sojourner Truth.  Twenty years later there was considerable controversy over the way that she should be portrayed in the new suffragist monument in New York’s Central Park.

Angela: She may finally get overdue recognition when she appears on the back of the new $10 bill.  But this certainly illustrates the importance of including everyone’s stories.

Carlos:  It also illustrates the importance of intersectionality as a lens for looking at women’s experiences.  1980’s feminism emphasized the varying experiences of women of different racial and ethnic backgrounds contrasted with those of white women.  Then, in the 2010’s, increasing transgender awareness expanded our understanding of different ways one could identify as a woman.

Angela: And our understanding of the root causes of inequities, including economic disparities.  We’re still struggling to change systems that perpetuate inequities.  Despite some progress, white cisgender men continue to dominate decision-making, access to resources, and earning power.  We have to challenge the mentality that there isn’t enough to go around.  The fear that if women gain, men will lose.

Carlos: When Title IX came in, there was hysteria about what would happen to men’s athletics if women received equal attention and resources,  

Angela: Well, women’s sports are beginning to flourish, but men’s sports are flourishing, too.   That’s the point.  We shouldn’t approach disparities with a scarcity mentality.  We can increase inclusivity and equity by expanding our thinking — in the water, all boats rise. 

Carlos: And there are new strategies to increase equity.

Angela:  Right.  For example, my own California state senator, Monique Limón, authored a 2023 law requiring all companies with fifteen or more employees to list salary ranges for all job postings.   Other states have passed similar laws.  The pursuit of equitable pay, particularly for those who often face systemic inequities, will contribute to a more sustainable economy.     

Carlos: Another hopeful story for future generations.

Angela:  By encouraging personal stories in our diversity workshops, we help build a climate of respect and curiosity.  Participants feel empowered to share their stories, as well as continuously learn from others’ stories. 

Carlos: Like you and I have been doing today.  Like we do in all of our projects.

Angela: Yes.  And as we learn more, we have a responsibility to relentlessly pursue change.  As women make progress, we also discover new obstacles to be challenged.  The pace of addressing disparities and making necessary change is way too sloooooooooow.  But we must keep the heat on to continue making progress.

Carlos: Well, having thought leaders like you certainly helps.  Thanks for sharing your ideas and your stories..

Carlos Cortés, Angela Antenore

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