The Name Isn't Rosie. It's Officer Riveter to You...
The recent discussion of women’s rights has been the most prominent, I can ever recall experiencing, in my lifetime. Consistent with past instances of the advocacy for women's rights, modern feminists experience their share of undue criticism. In fact, even the word feminist has become an argument of semantics. The term has been propagated to represent a negative connotation. One can frequently see both men and women argue that the word “feminist” is an inherently negative term. Fascinatingly, most who will vehemently admonish feminists as being a destructive force in society, more often than not, say they support gender equality. This is always intriguing to me, considering the fact that the term feminist, by definition, actually means someone who supports equality for the social rights of women.
Often the biggest discrepancies between the advocates and critics of feminism center on just a few central themes. The less outwardly expressed theme comes from individuals who indeed consider that women represent an inferior social role. How prevalent this belief really is often can only be inferred by a person’s actions or statements. Because, even the most misogynistic amongst us, recognize their opinions are drastically counter-culture from the beliefs of the majority of people. Therefore, the misogynist often hides their views from the public.
Another habitually used criticism against women’s movements is focused on the tactics employed to promote gender rights or women’s issues. Most famously, would be the emergence of the “pussyhat” phenomenon. Evidently, to some, its ok to talk about grabbing it, but it's obscene to wear a hat bearing its name.
The last, and arguably most dominant criticism is that women’s marches, movements, or advocacy are unnecessary because women already have complete equality. This, of course, is another argument used against racial minority rights groups as well. Once again, I am fascinated by the fact that you don’t see any “rich, white men rights groups.” It’s as if this demographic of society is just so downtrodden and hopeless that they don’t even bother. Or it is because they actually don’t suffer any sprawling disparaging treatment. Hmmmmm…
Now, in consideration of the latter argument, I interestingly have some experience that could offer some contradictory evidence to those who admonish the futility of women’s rights based on existing equality. My experience comes from 15 years as a career law enforcement officer and observing what it is like for women who wear the badge.
As it stands today, women make up only 12% of the workforce in law enforcement. De Facto, this means that a woman getting into law enforcement inherently enters a profession that will be dominated statistically, by 1 female officer to every 8 male officers. When it comes to police supervision only 10% of all police supervisors are women.
Now, understand that is based on the national data for all sworn police officers. Those statistical numbers are intensely more disparaging when one considers 94.7% of all police departments in America are comprised of a sworn staff of fewer than 100 officers. When examining the compartmentalization of differing police assignments, such as detectives, specialized units, and the breakdown of police patrol shifts, the average female police officer is likely to work on a shift or in a unit that is entirely comprised of male co-workers.
Additionally, it is hard to argue that there exist a “brass ceiling” when it comes to women being able to reach command or executive positions. Out of the 14,000 police agencies in America, less than 2% or 219 have women, who hold the rank of Chief of Police.
Stop right there for a minute and consider what that actually means…
Women represent 12% of the police workforce, however, only 2% of the police Chiefs. Now, that may seem striking to you, but don't start shaking your head just yet. The number of 2% of Chiefs to 12% of the female workforce only represents the dramatic drop from female officers to executives. Given the entire population of sworn police officers in America, 1.1 million, the actual percentage of a woman rising through the ranks to Chief of Police is 0.02%. No, I didn’t fail to carry a digit or write that correctly. Indeed, I mean .02% as in considerably less than 1% and almost none.
Law enforcement culturally is one that is encased in an environment of bravado and machismo. In this regard, law enforcement shares a commonality to the military. However, unlike the military, all cops are cops, and there isn’t any distinction between “men’s jobs” and “women’s jobs.” Essentially, the undiminished truth is that women police officers must exist in a man’s world. Therefore, the average female cop finds themselves having to be accustomed to many things they may not have to face in other sectors.
The concept of gender inequality in law enforcement isn’t something I’ve read about in a book either. Rather, I have personally seen a lion’s share of instances in which female officers are treated differently than their male counterparts. I’ve seen women be asked on hiring boards, “Are you married?” With the justification for that line of questioning being, “Well they said they had a child. I just wondered if they had someone to care for their child while they worked.” In case, you might be lost at the moment, childcare and marriage actually are mutually exclusive topics.
I’ve seen how female officers are often not chosen at all or are selected for the “safe” transport tasks when it comes to planning out high-risk activities like search warrants or arrest sweeps. I’ve heard male supervisors complain that they felt “unsafe” because their particular shift was comprised of 40% of female officers. It is almost the standard that often female investigators are selected to work on the special victims or sex crimes unit.
When it comes to harassment, female officers deal with it in varying degrees. From blatant sexual harassment, such as the case in 2008 when a female canine handler with the LAPD was awarded a $2.25 million dollars in a sexual harassment lawsuit, stating that the male officers on the unit frequently exposed their genitalia. Or the degrading, such as instances where other officers feel that a female officer is receiving preferential treatment, and it is declared that the female officer assuredly is sleeping with the supervisor.
Lastly, there are subtle examples, such as how female officers are addressed. Consistent with the paramilitary format of police service, almost all officers are addressed by their last name. In fact, a lot of cops may not even know some of their co-worker's first names. However, you will see supervisors who will address only their female officers by first name consistently. That may seem immaterial to most outside of the profession. However, within police culture, that is the equivalent of addressing a woman as, “baby” or “sweetheart.”
The female officer often has to walk a narrow bridge in how she acts around her fellow officers. Too friendly, and the female cop is assumed to be flirty and a “whore.” Too impersonal and she is a “bitch.” Too tough, and a woman is assumed to be a “butch lesbian.” Navigate this precarious professional role well, and an officer will end up being, “a really good female cop” or “one of the few good female cops" to her peers.
So while there may be professional sectors that indeed are impeccable representations of gender equality, law enforcement is not one of them. At the end of the day, that is simply just the cold hard truth. Now, in all fairness that is not to say that it the profession hasn’t gotten better. Undeniably, law enforcement has become more gender equal over the decades. The problem is that it has done so much more slowly than most professions. Which, considering up until the late 1990’s most research studies on women in police work were based solely on their fitness to do the job, it's candidly impressive that women have achieved what they have in police service thus far.
So, ultimately at the end of the day, I am by no means saying it is miserable for all female police officers. Additionally, I am not suggesting that some of the things I’ve mentioned go on at every single police department in America. However, I am willing to admit, in totality, it is far from being an equal playing field for female cops. So next time you hear someone say that total equality for women universally exists, you can tell them about the one time you read something by a male cop that suggested otherwise. If they don’t believe you, feel free to send them my way. Because it isn’t as if I enjoy these truths existing. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. Therefore, to ever actually see genuine change, we must be willing to share and accept the real truth. Not, simply the truth we want.