Inequality the new normal, historian says

Historians in the News

Women's rights are under attack, says historian Barbara Berg.

Yes, women have made tremendous strides but many of their rights have eroded since feminism's second wave in the 1970s and 1980s, she writes in her new book, Sexism in America: Alive, Well, and Ruining our Future.

I reached the longtime married mother of three at her home in New York City.

This is an edited version of our 90-minute conversation.

Q: You surveyed some 200 women, and interviewed another 200, and you paint a very grim picture.

A: I don't want you to get the feeling that we're back in the dark old ages, but in many ways we are moving backward, not forward.

Many of the ways that women go about their lives and men go about their lives are based on premises such as we had seen in the 1950s. A sense of difference over who had power.

Numerous women told me that would not challenge the authority of a male boss, that they were happy to have their jobs, that they felt that they had to accept – and this is very disturbing – a certain amount of sexual harassment, that they did not expect the same kind of promotions, that they were accepting the 70 cents to the dollar gender wage gap.

Q: Why?

A: I think there has been a tremendous sense of acceptance of a hierarchical and patriarchal society again. Twenty years ago, people would have been up in arms about some of the issues I encountered.

Q: But, when you asked young women whether they should have equal rights, they said yes.

A: But on the follow up question – "Do you and your friends act equal?" – many said no. They said it's a man's world; we have to play the game, even if we have to play the sex kitten. So how many of them are identifying with the male power structure? ...

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