America wasn’t ready for a female president. Here’s how to change that.

Republican U.S. presidential nominee Donald Trump and Democratic U.S. presidential nominee Hillary Clinton during their first presidential debate at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York, on Sept. 26, 2016. Photo by REUTERS/Pool

217 years.

According to the Global Gender Gap Report, it will be at least 217 more years until we reach gender parity in the global workforce, given the current rate of change.

Moreover, of the 144 countries assessed in this annual report generated by the World Economic Forum, the U.S. placed a depressing 49th overall and is sandwiched between developing countries, Peru and Zimbabwe. We are moving in the wrong direction, having slipped four spots from last year’s ranking.

One of the biggest culprits behind the U.S.’ poor ranking is the lack of equality in political empowerment. The election of Donald Trump (a man with zero experience in politics) over Hillary Clinton (a woman who, according to President Barack Obama, was the most-qualified presidential nominee in U.S. history) should be a cry to men and women throughout our country that if we are serious about being a gender-equitable nation, we have some critical issues to address.

In a recent article in “Equality, Diversity and Inclusion: An International Journal,” we tackle the outcome of the election and four theories that explain how gender played a role. We argue that sexism is prevalent in American society, and that it’s not just men who are the culprits. In our society, both men and women too often denigrate women who challenge men’s power and violate traditional gender roles. Clinton did both of these things.

Second, social role theory posits that the distribution of men and women into societal roles (men in leadership positions, women in caring positions) leads to differences in perceptions about what men and women can and should do. Clinton violated expectations.

Third, stereotype content modeling suggests that we view people along the dimensions of warmth and competence and that we have significant expectations that women should be warm. Opponents of Clinton consistently portrayed her as being cold.

Finally, system justification theory suggests that people like to defend the status quo, especially those who could feel threatened by changes to the system. The 2016 election saw the greatest divide in the gender vote ever. Many people simply felt threatened by a female president.

And so we have arrived at President Trump, who:

  • surrounded by men, signed an anti-abortion executive order (more laws in our country have been passed to restrict women’s reproductive rights than to restrict guns).
  • is trying to defund basic maternity care.
  • bragged about sexually assaulting women (there are at least 15 who have come forward about sexual harassment, sexual assault and lewd behavior).
  • who publicly acknowledged that he is not a feminist and therefore not for the advocacy of women’s rights on the basis of gender equality.

A quote from Greek poet Dinos Christianopoulos is helping to galvanize women’s marches and both men and women who are still trying to come to terms with the fact that Trump is leading our country. “They tried to bury us,” he wrote. “They didn’t know we were seeds.”

To each man and woman reading this column who champion gender equality, who want to see our incredible country prosper in a fair and progressive way and who want to see our rankings on the World Economic Forum increase, here are actions you can take:

  1. Support women in politics. Why? First and foremost, because women’s issues get heard — and then addressed. Second, because the more a government reflects the composition of a society, the higher its democratic quality for the people.
  2. Be aware of sexism. Realize that you — even if you are a well-intentioned person — may hold subtly sexist views; however, you can turn your dial to be more egalitarian if you are aware of your biases.
  3. Embrace feminism. This is not some dirty word reflecting a hatred toward men. This is equality and a recognition that in many situations, women don’t have the basic rights that men do.
  4. Invite men to the discussion and action. Male allies are critical to the mission of gender equality. Our own emerging research shows that if this very article were presented as being authored by two men (instead of two women), it would have a far greater impact on men. Emma Watson (the beloved Hermione Granger in the “Harry Potter” movies) stated on behalf of the United Nations campaign “HeForShe,” that “gender equality is your issue, too.” On that campaign’s website, pledges to “take action against gender bias, discrimination and violence” increased from several thousand to more than 1 million in the last couple years, likely due in part to Trump’s election. Join it.

The election of Donald Trump to the presidency is an indication that we have a long way to go before we see a female president, but our hope is that Nov. 8, 2016, and the years that follow are simply the soil in which the seeds of change are being planted.

Rice University has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune's journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

Michelle Hebl

Martha and Henry Malcolm Lovett Chair of Psychology, Rice University

Abby Corrington

Graduate student, Rice University

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