09/26/2013 09:19 am ET Updated Nov 26, 2013

All Aboard: The Parity Train for Women

In an unassuming front-page side column of the September 25 New York Times "Business Day" section, Eduardo Porter wonders, Why the stall in women's progress? I imagine Mr. Porter at a desk, meandering his way around 1200 words, never reaching an answer that suits him. Believing he is writing a nonchalant article full of hypotheticals, his goal is to make it as interesting as possible. As any good writer would do, he searches for striking metaphors and comparisons to use in his piece. Little did he realize that the language he used throughout the article answered his own question.

The problem with Mr. Porter's language is one of both oversimplification and monolithicizing. He asks: "How did women get stuck?" Apparently the Parity Train for Women was chugging along hiccup-free and suddenly derailed while crossing a bridge. I can assure you there has never been such a train. The so-called "gender gap" is such a complex, deep-rooted, multifaceted issue that it would be impossible to solve by laying one set of tracks for every woman in every region in every nation.

Porter makes a halfhearted attempt to address some of the multifacetedness of the issue in his article, but he quotes too many people from too many sources. His statistical juxtapositioning is some fine rhetoric, but upon closer examination it is haphazard at best. Notably, he cites Anne Marie Slaughter, who argued in a recent Atlantic op-ed that women can't have it all (at least not today) because of the way modern society and economy are structured. But apparently the only part of Slaughter's argument that Porter found salient was the part about accepting that men and women should be equally involved in parenting.

To this, Porter shrugs: "Perhaps." Or they could just say home, at least until the kids are gone, says Porter, citing an article published in the American Economic Review that concludes that working women are unhappy. But if you look at the data sourced by the article's author Marianne Bertrand, it does not go deep enough to expand on why a statistically significant number working women appear to be unhappy -- perhaps they are unhappy because they are working in an unequal environment where men still receive more cents on the dollar, still receive more promotions, and still dictate the "rules" of the work environment. Women who "have it all" might not be happier, per se, but to backtrack and emphasize Slaughter's actual point, this is likely because society and the economy is structured in a way that enables and nearly ensures this unhappiness.

Porter admits that the many statistics he quotes about the plateauing of women's progress in society are "troubling." But to him, it's troubling because women are cogs in an economic machine -- not because we're humans who deserve equality. If it is not clear enough already, his reductionist view (however subconscious) of women is crystallized in his closing statement, where the existence of college-educated, stay-at-home women is equivalent to "letting sophisticated machinery lie idle and depreciate in plain sight." So, Mr. Porter, here's the answer to your question. Women will get "unstuck" as soon as men realize they are human beings and not some sort of monolithic species that, like a plant, will surely thrive when given the right food and set in the proper corner.

While Mr. Porter's hypotheticals may be interesting to ponder, they amount to darts thrown, blindfolded, at a board that doesn't exist. Too many efforts to address this issue search for a pill to ease one symptom (in this case, Porter's "stuck"-ness) instead of focusing on changing the very notions of "woman" and "equality" in society. As a woman, I can assure you I'm doing all I can to navigate through an unequal world -- and I am moving forward. "Why are we stuck?" is not the question here. The question is "How can we keep moving forward, no matter how small the steps?"