I am a woman. At home, at work, and on the campaign trail.

In a December article in the New York Times1, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg’s daughter, Jane, states, “My mother strongly believes there won’t be true equality until men take full participation in child care and other household tasks.” And, in both of the recent movies on her life, you see Justice Ginsberg’s husband doing just that: taking on more housework, cooking, and providing childcare thus allowing his wife the room to spend more time working outside their home.

I benefit from this type of partnership in my own life. When I ran for office in 2018, I was able to do so because my husband took on a larger share of household tasks and childcare. We started our household built on the idea that we are equals. So when it came time for me to make the decision about whether or not I would run for a seat on the Lexington-Fayette Council, we made the decision together. We knew my running for office would reduce how much time I spent co-parenting our daughter, cooking, cleaning, and grocery shopping. These duties and others would fall more to my husband. We agreed to work hard to try and minimize any negative effects that my being away more might have on our daughter, that I would pitch in as much as I could, and that we would view my candidacy with a particular awareness that, even though it would be a sacrifice for all three of us, working for the greater good of our community demanded it.

This thoughtful and equitable start, however, did not stop people from telling him, “It’s so great you are letting her do this.” We tried to brush off such statements with a joke about how if they thought I needed his “permission” to do anything, they didn’t know me. But comments like this were frequent enough that we also found ourselves getting angry at what they suggested: that my husband and I aren’t equals at all. This is just one of many examples of gender bias I experienced while campaigning. 

Let me be clear. Though I did face sexism as a female candidate, I did so with a partner who enthusiastically supported me, and I benefited greatly from that support. I also benefited from my privilege as a white person. Were I a single mother or a woman of color or a transwoman, my experience would have been markedly different, maybe even impossible.

Such is the reality of gender inequity here in Lexington and around the United States. Recently, a colleague sent me a link to a research paper published in a scholarly journal2 that showed how different college students’ expectations are regarding interactions with female vs male instructors. Students believe female instructors should be more nurturing, like academic moms. When we don’t meet these expectations, we must then deal with negative outcomes, resulting in increased work hours, a higher work-related emotional burden, and potential unemployment due to unhappy students. Male instructors are able to navigate their careers without these challenges a vast majority of the time.

In addition to navigating more fraught workplace experiences, women also earn less pay than men. According to the Kentucky Center for Economic Policy3, women in Kentucky earn $.83 for every dollar a man earns. When you factor in race and ethnicity, this disparity increases. A Black woman earns $.67 for every dollar a white, non-hispanic man makes.4 A Latina woman earns a mere $.58 for every dollar.5 This gender pay gap doesn’t just affect women while they are in the workforce either, because less pay means less savings for retirement, negatively impacting quality of life in later years.6

These realities showcase why celebrating the intersection of the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the Anniversary of the Women’s March, Black History Month, Women’s History Month, and International Women’s Day is so important. Until becoming civically engaged is easy for everyone regardless of their identity, inequities like these will hold us back. Every voice in our community must be heard and counted, which is why, when inequities such as the ones I mention above rear their ugly heads, we must not only call them out but work to eradicate them, even when it makes us uncomfortable, even when it means there is still more work to be done. As Mayor Gorton is fond of saying, “Many opportunities are missed because they come dressed in overalls and look like work. In Lexington, we’re not afraid of work and we don’t miss opportunities for our city.”

The difficult work of equity and equality is one such opportunity we need more Lexingtonians and Kentuckians engaged in — in their homes and relationships, their neighborhoods and workplaces, and in their evaluation of our government’s policies. Doing so won’t just mean women like me won’t have to answer to sexist comments while on the campaign trail; it will also mean the next Ruth Bader Ginsburg might just come of age right here in our community.

 

1https://www.nytimes.com/2018/12/27/movies/on-the-basis-of-sex-ruth-bader-ginsburg.html

2https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs11199-017-0872-6

3https://kypolicy.org/the-state-of-working-kentucky-2018/

4https://nwlc-ciw49tixgw5lbab.stackpathdns.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/Black-Women-State-by-State-Dec-2018.pdf

5https://nwlc-ciw49tixgw5lbab.stackpathdns.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/Latina-Women-State-by-State-Dec-2018.pdf

6https://www.kentucky.com/news/business/article224865585.html

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