By Dr. Julianne Malveaux
Our United States of America loves to brag about our advancements. We are the biggest, the best, the most progressive and the most democratic. We believe that people, no matter who they are, deserve a voice. We have invaded other people’s countries to make that point. We beat ourselves against our chests to talk about our democracy, our exceptionalism. The data don’t bear us out.
The World Economic Forum says it will take 131 years. Internationally, to close the gender gap with economics, politics, STEM engagement and more. It ranks the so-called exceptional United States as 46th in gender parity, behind Norway and Iceland (1 and 2), the United Kingdom (15), France, Columbia, Switzerland, the Philippines and South Africa. These countries do better than ours because they have policies that support families, instead of penalizing them for simply existing. Our country took a step in the right direction after COVID when we chose to provide unemployment benefits, child services, and more for challenged families. Now, we have leaders who would punish those who want to uphold families.
The gender pay gap bleeds over to the life gap. Women who don’t earn enough can’t contribute enough to the candidates of their choice. No matter what they think or feel, they can’t support at the level of the predatory capitalist men who have attempted to craft a world that allows them to rule. At the root of the gender pay gap, there is an oppression that sidelines women’s voices. And some of the strange fruit of the root is the way many women buy into our own oppression.
As long as the American economy is introducing great results, the inequity in these results is hidden. GDP growth is robust, unemployment rates are low, at the macro level all is good. Down here on the ground, not so much. Down here on the ground, too many are wondering what will happen next. Down here on the ground, low unemployment rates, coupled with low wages, mean that a robust labor market is not a robust paycheck.
Thus, the myth of American exceptionalism is a story of illusion and delusion. Where is the exceptionalism for women, when a world body ranks us as 46th, not in the top 3? When our wealth gap is greater than that in developing countries? When it is not just our economics but also our politics that sideline women? When we are content to accept a century before we can effect change?
Our nation truly cannot tout exceptionalism if it dos not trickle down to women. We cant talk about how great we are unless our greatness is gender-neutral. American exceptionalism is a lie if it does not lift all of us up. Exceptional for women? For women of color, especially Black women? Exceptional for other Black people? Exceptional means special, outrageous, amazing. There is nothing about these United States that is exceptional, except our rhetoric.
Can we, somehow, get over ourselves? Can we shrug off the constraints of American exceptionalism to speak candidly about our flaws? Can we embrace our flaws and manage them? Can we decide that American exceptionalism does not serve women, Black folks, other marginalize people and then some.
There is an African saying that “women hold up half the sky.” Without they ways we hold it up, the sky would come crashing down on us. We hold up the sky but we are marginalized and it will take more than a century for us holding up half the sky, to get the equality we deserve. As long as women are marginalized, our nation misses out on its purpose. And it’s not just women in general, it’s Black women, Latinx women, Indigenous women. It’s those who are marginalized by class.
American exceptionalism is a bald-faced lie, a horrible illusion, when those who hold up the sky are systematically ignored.
Dr. Julianne Malveaux is an economist, author, and Dean of the College of Ethnic Studies at Cal State LA. She is also President of PUSH Excel, the education arm of the Rainbow PUSH Coalition. You may reach her at juliannemalveaux.com