Equal opportunity doesn't fix anything until we address unequal obstacles
Ginger Rogers, as the saying goes, did everything Fred Astaire did, only she did it backward and in high heels. It has such resonance because it’s not just about Ginger Rogers, and it’s not just about dancing.
Women face obstacles to professional success few men can even imagine, from areas as seemingly divergent as affordable child care and sexual assault. Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s rollout of her childcare plan and reports of musician Ryan Adams’ predatory behavior toward teenagers are among the latest stories highlighting how many women face gendered challenges that could keep brilliant careers from ever getting off the ground. And the fact that flamboyant, horrific predators aren’t the only or even the main threat to women’s success reminds us what’s really going on here: When you take out the individual villains and the obstacles come in the form of unreliable or unavailable child care, you see that there’s a system holding women back from opportunity and success—particularly women of color, and especially black women, who disproportionately experience workplace sexual harassment and struggle to find affordable child care given a wage gap that’s more of a chasm.
We’ve seen time and time again as women’s stories of sexual assault and harassment have come out through the #MeToo movement how women targeted by predators see their careers derailed or ruined, their opportunities foreclosed, by men’s abuse. That’s been glaringly visible, and much commented on, in the stories of entertainment industry predators like Harvey Weinstein and Leslie Moonves, who actively ruined the careers of women who fought off their assaults. It’s been more subtle but ever-present in the stories of many, many other women, from the teenage musician who never played another gig after sexual communications from Ryan Adams to every woman who ever skipped a networking event or office happy hour because of the creep she knew she’d face.
But as the introduction of Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s childcare plan has showed, women’s opportunities face threats that go beyond predatory men (as if predatory men aren’t enough). Warren has told two stories of how, at critical moments in her career, the lack of reliable, affordable child care threatened to derail her.