Equal, but Different


Equal, but Different

 It’s not hard for me to come up with things to write for the annual Women In Parking issue of Parking Today. It is hard for me to say everything I want to say in 800 words or less. 

I became a feminist while I was at college. Before that, I was a tomboy. I grew up surrounded by boys and set my priorities accordingly. In college, I found that being a tomboy sometimes had a negative impact on my dating life. 
I was still trying to work that out when I took a class called the Psychology of Gender. 
What I learned was that female and feminine did not have to rule out strong, smart and capable. I also learned that the way I had internalized the differences between men and women was typical of most of the world, and that was, essentially, that women were less than men in many important ways.
Men and women are different, and I think it’s time we get used to it. Every funny joke about men vs. women highlights, and even exaggerates, the differences between the sexes, but the rules of our culture, business and industry, education and economy are not reconciled to those differences. If we can go so far as to accept that difference does not predetermine inequality, maybe we can get past the idea that women have to be like men in order to be considered worthwhile.
An article I read about special parking bays for women made me contemplate how I really feel about accommodating the differences between the sexes. The Pier Street Car Park, in Perth, Australia, has designated 28 parking spots, out of 700, just for women. The spots are painted pink and labeled, and the area includes upgraded lighting and extra CCTV cameras. Compliance is optional, and the parking garage’s management hopes the honor system will handle enforcement for them.
When I try to think about it objectively, my opinion is that men and women need different things to succeed, and they need different things to be safe. Fulfilling those needs is a good idea.
I had a conversation with a cashier at the grocery store recently that gave me some hope. He asked me if I’d like my bags heavy or light, and I’m looking at him thinking he must outweigh me by 80 pounds, so I said I wanted them light, but light for me, not light for him. 
He stopped what he was doing and considered what I had said. Then he respectfully acknowledged the truth that his idea of a light bag could not be the same as mine. He said he’d have to remember that when he was packing groceries for other women who came through the store. It felt like a breakthrough.
In a perfect world, children are raised without gender biases, so nobody out there thinks one gender is better than the other. Deep down, we all appreciate and understand our gender the most, and that’s healthy, but in practical terms, the best approach is to value the specialties of both sexes.
As for female-friendly parking, in an ideal world, this is a win/win scenario. It’s a statement about courtesy; it’s a tool for offering security to a group that is statistically known to be frequent victims of violent crime. But we don’t live in an ideal world, and that makes us feel like offering women priority parking implies weakness, a difference that indicates lower ability and diminished value. But that’s not true.
It’s a huge pill to swallow, these entrenched attitudes toward gender. We all know they’re counterproductive, but it’s hard to reset. According to the World Economic Forum Global Gender Gap Report 2015, men still make more money doing the same jobs as women. In the U.S., women are half the workforce, but there are only 26 female CEOs at Fortune 500 companies – that’s 5%. 
Women are also sadly underrepresented in our government – they fill only a quarter of our country’s highest offices. These are enormous gaps that will only be filled by being realistic about the differences between men and women, and then respecting those differences. I know it’s going to take a long time, but I see policies such as female-friendly parking as progress.
Big changes start small. A first step is to do what they did in Perth – consider the needs of all the many kinds of people that you work with and work for.
 If you’re building or managing a parking structure or providing any kind of parking, make women the standard for a day and ask the question: What does a woman need to be safe here?
If you’re running a company in the parking industry, whether you manufacture parking meters, enforce parking for a city, or provide valet parking, make women the standard for a day and ask the question: What does a woman need to be successful here?
Ask the questions. Some of the answers are the same for men and women, but some of them are different.
Melissa Bean Sterzick is Parking Today’s proofreader, occasional writer and amateur parker. She can be reached at Melissa@parkingtoday.com.
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