Not a martyr -- just a woman doing her job

Thursday, March 17, 2005

By Lynn A. Wade

Pat Brophy's column, appearing on today's opinion page, expresses the view that women and men are not equal because they're generally constructed differently with different abilities and natural tendencies and therefore, are not suited to similar roles.

He doesn't base his opinion on science, as a good little columnist ought -- but on the assumption that women achieve success in physically demanding jobs more commonly performed by men only because of a misaligned loyalty to political correctness.

Although this may have indeed been Brophy's experience, it's an assumption made without all things relevant considered.

(At this point, it's only fair to say that my argument won't be entirely scientific, either. Shame on me for abandoning the only truly politically correct argument one could make, but what's good for the gander )

First of all, I want to thank him for thinking, as he appears to believe, that we women should be kept out of harm's way. In a way, I see it as a gesture of respect, but it fails to recognize certain realities -- primarily, that women, like men, come in quite a variety of shapes, sizes, and physical capabilities. (Brophy even admits this, in his "parentheses" but apparently finds it irrelavent).

We'll never know if the accused Georgia shooter would have attempted the same against a man, but I think we can assume so, though I have to agree that gender might play a role here, since the allegations the man was to be tried for included rape -- always an act of anger, generally toward women. Still, the accused shooter didn't discriminate based on gender. Superior Court Judge Rowland Barnes, a man, and court reporter Julie Ann Brandau, a woman, were killed. U.S. Customs Agent David Wilhelm, a man, was killed, as was Sgt. Hoyt Teasley, a male deputy.

Brophy goes on to cite the case of a female pilot. If indeed the pilot he refers to crashed because she was a lousy pilot, the fact remains that men, also -- even those touted as the great ones -- have crashed aircraft for reasons ranging from engine failure to weather issues to being a lousy pilot.

I'll not refute his claim that nature has made male and female, overall, physically different. That's true. And, generally, wonderful, I might add. Most women don't want to be men. We just want the same opportunities men enjoy. And men and women are often socialized differently, often exposed to different expectations as to how we will react, what we'll say and so forth from the moment we're born.

But what he's missing is that many women simply want the same chance to succeed, or fail, on the same playing field as men.

I cannot speak for the female deputy, but if I were in her place, this would be my response. Would that equality have been worth it? Yes, if I were committed to a career of protecting the public, then I would have done so with full knowledge that I may face such perils because I had chosen -- and probably fought on the politically correct-incorrect battleground -- to do so.

I know a young man right now who's in a training program for nursing, a traditionally female occupation. Is he less able to gently and thoughtfully care for patients than a woman? Does it mean he rejects his masculinity? I think not.

I grew up in a world in which I could, essentially, choose any career for which I am physically, emotionally, educationally and experientially qualified. I enjoy my femininity and have in many aspects of life chosen traditionally feminine roles. I like twirly, lacey dresses and I cry at weddings and funerals.

No doors have ever slammed in my face because I'm female, but a good friend was once denied a job (at a time she had two small children at home, and a husband who was recovering from back surgery) because a man who "had a family to feed" had applied. The male interviewer even went so far as to say so. I'm guessing he was thinking that would justify the decision. It's that kind of injustice that women shouldn't have to face in the workplace. Shouldn't her family eat as well?

Women I have known who choose non-traditional roles do so because they believe their particular talents and abilities are suited to those roles. Are they? I think that's a judgment that must be based on individual assessment, not gender generalities.

Should they have the chance to prove -- or disprove, as might occur, as it does for men as well -- their suitability for a job? Absolutely. Must they accept the consequences -- or rewards -- of those choices? Definitely. Should we extend the same courtesy to men who want non-traditional roles? Of course.

But I agree with Brophy on one point. We should never do such things solely because it's politically correct. We should do it because it's the right thing to do.

Lynn A. Wade is editor of the Nevada Daily Mail and Herald.