Rosie the Riveter wasn’t invited into the factory because she was wanted. She got the call because she was needed to win World War II. Change is never handed out. It is demanded by circumstance or required by principle. That crack in the factory door was pushed through by subsequent women, including the 13 Founders of the LPGA Tour, and eventually led to the C Suite.
But on International Women’s Day it is appropriate to point out that the journey is not complete. Equality is not an almost measure; it’s an all-or-nothing proposition. Anything short of full equality is inequality. The path ahead involves not only equal job opportunity, but also equal pay as well as freedom from sexual harassment and predatory intimidation.
Progress is a pesky thing in that once it occurs the path is always forward and, while there are missteps along the way, rarely does it return to where it started. After the war, Rosie put down her rivet gun and picked up a golf club and in 1950 the LPGA Tour came to be. That was important in that it gave female golfers opportunity, but it also gave all women inspiration.
That women golfers could have a tour of their own offered the hope that all women could have the same opportunities as men in all aspects of American society. For more than 70 years, the LPGA Tour has been a beacon of that aspiration. Today’s members also serve to remind us that there is still work to be done.
Those who support equality need to support it not only with their hearts, but with their deeds. Women professional golfers play for about one-fifth the prize money as men. That needs to be fixed. They work for an even smaller fraction of endorsement money. That needs to be fixed. Words spoken in support of gender equity need to be backed by signatures on checks.
Those in the media who support equality need to do more than merely voice their support; they need to attend LPGA Tour tournaments and write about its amazing athletes. Equal pay in sports comes only with equal exposure – in print, on-line and on television. Words written and spoken need to be backed up by bodies in the media center.
And those men who support equality need to express that support in the way they treat women. Those males with power need to use that power to lift up female employees, not exploit their position with sexual harassment. All men – no matter their rung on the employment ladder – need to stand by their female colleagues opposing sexism as well as monitor their own behavior.
The LPGA Tour is a shining example of what can be. In 1950, total prize money was about $40,000. In 2021, it will be more than $75 million. And the women of the LPGA – like all women – have had to carve out that progress under the chilling shadow of threats, intimidation, name callers and naysayers who at times appeared to the rooting for the Tour to fail.
First it was: “Who wants to watch a bunch of girls play golf?”
Then it was: “Who wants to watch a bunch of Lesbians play golf?”
Then it was: “Who wants to watch a bunch of Asians play golf?”
But the LPGA Tour has not only overcome that bigotry, it has helped America recognize the extent to which bigotry exists, which is the first step toward true equality. The LPGA Tour has helped the fans of golf realize that greatness is not restricted to gender and that talent comes in all colors and sexual orientations.
And that’s the point – talent.
Sport is a great meritocracy. For the most part, pay is commensurate upon performance. The better you play, the more you make. And that is true for both men and women – it’s just that it is more true for men.
And those fortunate enough to make their living playing game need to support the struggles of those women fighting for equality in other lines of work.
On International Women’s Day, it is appropriate to celebrate how far we have come on the road to equality. But it is also necessary to note how much father there is left to travel.
Those who support gender equity in principle need to support it in practice.
As Bob Dylan wrote nearly 60 years ago: “Your old road is rapidly aging. Please get out of the new one if you can’t lend a hand, for the times they are a changing.”
When Rosie the Riveter grabbed a golf club, a new world opened for women. Now, women ask that their world be equal in opportunity to men. That’s an ideal you either support or you don’t. Equality is not an almost thing.