August 23, 2010 by Ilene H. Lang
Look at the money in your wallet. Consider the name of the street you live on. Think about the great monuments in Washington, D.C., or your favorite Hollywood director.
Chances are you’re thinking about men.
Women make up 47% of the non-farm U.S. workforce and 50.7% of the U.S. population, but we are absent from the symbols, icons, images and voices that fill our world. I call it The Invisible Woman phenomenon. And it’s pervasive.
Only one of the 45 major monuments in Washington D.C. honors women, and women make up only nine out of the 100 statues in National Statuary Hall. About 7% of traffic circles in D.C. are named after women, a trend representative of street names nationwide. Only 21% of U.S. postage stamps produced from 2000 to 2009 feature an image of a woman. And all U.S. paper money features men.
The invisible woman phenomenon is not just about statues and coins. The phenomenon includes disparities across politics, media and arts. Women hold 16.8% of seats in the U.S. Congress, while less than 20 female world leaders are in power. Women hold only 3% of positions of clout in mainstream media. Less than 10% of TV sports coverage in the United States is devoted to female athletes. And of the 250 top-grossing movies produced last year, 7% were directed by women. And that’s just a small sampling.
So what’s the deal?
We have inherited a legacy of male-dominated monuments and street names, a by-product of thinking women had less to contribute to society than men. And ingrained biases persist. These shadows of the past still permeate our lives. They need to be replaced.
We tell our children that they can be anything they want to be, but The Invisible Woman phenomenon narrows their vision. Our sons need to see women out there if they are to embrace a culture where everyone is valued when they grow up. And if all our daughters see and hear is men, what does this tell them about themselves and their position in the world?
Women must be visible. Everywhere.