As the third annual Women in the World Summit concluded on March 10 in New York City, A Daily Beast commenter on a blog posted:
“Most American women know how good they have it without visiting a third-world country where women are treated as pack animals. In America women are respected, revered and of course they have ‘the vote’. The occasional leftie that hates America would be unhappy anywhere — it’s really herself that she dislikes.”
Indeed. The three-day summit amply illustrated how stark oppression against women can still be in today’s world. Suma Tharu, a 16-year old who managed to escape indentured servitude in Nepal sang for the crowd at Lincoln Center while the “moral obligation to educate girls” around the world was discussed. It should be clear to any rational thinking person that women’s rights in some parts of the planet have a long way to go. But, as the commenter points out, should American women be satisfied because in most cases they are “respected, revered” and have the right to vote?
The insurance industry was involved in the event. Paul Alexander, senior vice president of communications for Liberty Mutual Insurance introduced the “Responsibility Project: Women in Film” series, which immediately made me think of a feature I wrote for the March issue of National Underwriter Life & Health on the state of women in the insurance industry. What I found while conducting research for that article was that, although women comprise half of the workforce in the industry, they are vastly underrepresented when it comes to high-level executive positions.
The article, through the oral histories of women who are currently working in the industry, diagnosed a problem and discussed why it was the case without giving any one theory for it. (There isn’t one.) But according to the commenter’s logic, women in the U.S. should just be happy that they are where they are, that they are not overtly or institutionally mistreated, and go on with their lives. Any time they feel that there is an obstacle to their progression they should compare themselves to women in some of the poorest places on earth that are struggling with ancient cultural traditions that systematically oppress them.
I would dismiss the comment as the flawed logic of an obscure individual but I know that there are people out there who agree with the statement and are not able to see that the argument is riddled with defects.
The argument itself reminds me of an episode of The Sopranos, in which Tony Soprano gripes to his therapist, Dr. Melfi, that Americans are the only people on the planet that think that happiness is a right. “Just because we have surpassed the basic needs of food, clothing and shelter does that mean that we have no problems left?” Melfi retorts. “Maybe since we are not scrounging for our next meal, we have time to delve into the deeper problems of the human psyche.”
It would appear, according to the commenter, that since women have overcome certain obstacles, they should become stagnant, and every time they feel pangs for greater things (to reach the top management level in an insurance company, for example) they should compare themselves to the child bride in Pakistan or to the indentured servant in Nepal. This notion is as asinine as it is self-defeating, and the degree to which the commenter and others subscribe to it is frightening. Expecting equality at the workplace is no mere first-world-problem. Indeed, it pales before the plight of women in other parts of the world, but to make that comparison as a means of deflecting the need to improve things here at home is less than productive. To let some accomplishments stymie further ones is, if nothing else, moronic.