What if eliminating the gender gap at work was not just a matter of fairness? What if it was good for business and good for the economy?
A new report by the McKinsey Global Institute, “The Power of Parity: Advancing Women’s Equality in the United States,” says that gender parity in the United States could add up to $4.3 trillion a year to the Gross Domestic Product by 2025.
The study, released Thursday, follows up a report published last September in which McKinsey found that “$12 trillion could be added to global GDP by 2025 by advancing women’s equality.”
McKinsey said Thursday that “every U.S. state and city can add at least 5 percent to their GDP in that period by advancing the economic potential of women. Half of U.S. states have the potential to add more than 10 percent, and the country’s 50 largest cities can increase GDP by 6 to 13 percent.”
While the barriers hindering women from fully participating in the labor market make it unlikely that they will attain full gender equality within a decade, the report finds that in a best-in-class scenario—in which each U.S. state matches the state with the fastest rate of improvement toward gender parity in work over the past decade—some $2.1 trillion of incremental GDP could be added in 2025. That is 10 percent higher than in a business-as-usual scenario.
Writing on Time magazine’s website, two of the study’s authors, Kweilin Ellingrud and Vivian Riefberg, said:
So how can gender parity become a reality in the U.S.? Businesses can promote gender diversity in recruitment, performance evaluation and by introducing flexible work arrangements. Governments can consider ways to make paid parental leave and improved child care a reality for more men and women, and can introduce state- and city-level programs to reduce single mothers living in poverty. More cross-sector collaboration between governments, businesses and non-profits is needed. Change is often gradual, but given the size of the gender parity prize, closing the gap in work and society is well worth the effort.
We applaud McKinsey for taking on this important work. There is always more momentum for societal change when it can be shown that it improves the bottom line.
Once upon a time, little girls went to school and were told that if they studied hard and got good grades, they would be able to pursue good careers and live in economic security ever after.
But a funny thing happened when those girls became women and entered the workplace: they were paid less than the men in the workplace — often a lot less. Once word started to spread that women were being paid less, a list of reasons for the difference in pay was developed. Women preferred lower paying jobs, like child care, teaching, nursing, and waitressing. Women weren’t as interested in higher paying jobs in science, technology, engineering and math. Women weren’t as good at negotiating pay as men were, so they didn’t ask for enough money. And women weren’t as committed to their careers, so they took time off for having children and they often left jobs to follow their husbands when their husbands got promotions that required them to move out of town.
Well now comes a study that suggests gender bias is actually a significant factor in the gender pay gap. Claire Cain Miller wrote in The New York Times on Friday about a new study from that indicates “when women enter fields in greater numbers, pay declines — for the very same jobs that more men were doing before.” The Times article cites a study three sociology professors: Paula England of New York University, Asaf Levanon, of the University of Haifa in Israel, and Paul Allison of the University of Pennsylvania. The article says:
A striking example is to be found in the field of recreation — working in parks or leading camps — which went from predominantly male to female from 1950 to 2000. Median hourly wages in this field declined 57 percentage points, accounting for the change in the value of the dollar, according to a complex formula used by Professor Levanon. The job of ticket agent also went from mainly male to female during this period, and wages dropped 43 percentage points.
Similar changes in pay were seen when women became designers, housekeepers and biologists, The Times article says. But when fields that traditionally had more women began to attract large numbers of men, the pay increased.
Responding to The Times article, Emma Cueto writes on the Bustle website: “Whatever else we can say about the wage gap, the chicken and the egg question of “Are women low paid because they work low-paying jobs or are jobs low-paying because women work them?” has officially been solved. Women are paid less because our work isn’t valued in the same way that men’s is. And that is sexist, no matter how you look at it.”
Cecilia Ford, who has been a psychologist in private practice in New York City since 1987, has addressed emotional issues for Women’s Voices in many articles over the years.
In the golden age of America, supposedly opportunity was open to all and anyone could move up the social ladder. Whether or not this was fact or fiction, there are some ways in which chances to rise from one social class to another were better than there are now. The dominance of the “1%,” the shrinking fortunes of the middle class, and the growing body of research demonstrating that class mobility is more difficult now than it used to be, all underline this trend.
One of the most reliable ways to jump social classes was through marriage. Women, particularly in the 50s, were known to go to college to get the infamous “Mrs. Degree,”—meet a man and marry. Some even went to law school or even medical school and never practiced. As The New York Times writes, “From Cinderella to Kate Middleton, fictional and real-life fairy tales have told of women marrying up.” I remember hearing the Middletons being called “social climbers” and thinking, “well, if they are, they are really good at it!” The Times reports that moving up is now been replaced by the rising trend of “assortative mating.”
Assortative mating is the idea that people marry people like themselves, with similar education and earnings potential and the values and lifestyle that come with them. It was common in the early 20th century, dipped in the middle of the century and has sharply risen in recent years — a pattern that roughly mirrors income inequality in the United States, according to research by Robert Mare, a sociologist at the University of California, Los Angeles. People are now more likely to marry people with similar educational attainment — even after controlling for differences between men and women, like the fact that women were once less likely to attend college.
Today, people tend to marry for different reasons than they did in the past. Rather than seek someone with complementary skills, a man and woman are looking for a “like-minded” person, meaning, often, someone with a similar characteristics. The Times uses the example of Don Draper (from the TV show “Madmen”) marrying his secretary in the early 60s. Draper is also a good example because his first wife was from a much higher social background than his—a Bryn Mawr graduate with a Main Line pedigree. But Draper was able to wed her because he had the universal calling card—money.
“First step in solving any problem is recognizing there is one.”
That’s the way the fictional character Will McAvoy put it in the HBO television series The Newsroom.
It’s not a new idea. Many others have said essentially the same thing. It lies at the heart of a variety of 12-step addiction programs. And perhaps this is part of the reason that pay inequity has been such a persistent problem in the United States.
According to a survey conducted by the Harris Poll for the employment website Glassdoor, 70 percent of U.S. employees believe that men and women are paid equally at their company. The survey, conducted in October 2015 and released this month, indicates that more women see inequities in pay than men do. Sixty percent of women believed that men and women were paid equally at their company, while 78 percent of men did.
The survey also found that 93 percent of Americans support the idea that men and women should be paid equally for similar work and experience levels.
This stands in stark contrast with what pay equity studies have shown. The Institute for Women’s Policy Research reported in September 2015 on a study done in 2014:
The ratio of women’s and men’s median annual earnings was 78.6 percent for full-time/year-round workers in 2014. This means the gender wage gap for full-time/year-round workers is 21.4 percent. Women’s median annual earnings in 2014 were $39,621 compared with $50,383 for men. Neither women’s nor men’s earnings significantly improved compared to 2013. If the pace of change in the annual earnings ratio continues at the same rate as it has since 1960, it will take another 45 years, until 2059, for men and women to reach parity.
A more recent study, published this month in Science magazine, says that female sellers on eBay receive fewer bids and lower prices than male sellers of the same items.
In January, the White House proposed a new federal rule that would require companies with more than 100 employees to report salary data broken down by gender, race, and ethnicity. The collection of data would certainly shed light on the issue of pay equity, but it is surprising that this kind of data had not been collected in the past.
Celebrities have brought some attention to the issue. When the actress Patricia Arquette won her Academy Award in 2015, she used her acceptance speech to say, “It’s our time to have wage equality once and for all, and equal rights for women in the United States of America.” And Jennifer Lawrence, the highest paid actress in Hollywood, according to Forbes magazine, asked in an October 2015 essay for Lena Dunham’s newsletter, Lenny, why she was paid less than her male co-stars.
But meaningful change will not come about until more people recognize that women are often paid less than men.
First, the bad news: A new report from the Commerce Department says that the odds of women-owned businesses’ being awarded federal contracts are about 21 percent lower than for otherwise similar companies, according to The New York Times. And efforts to improve the odds have had little impact.
The Times said:
Businesses owned by women generally are “smaller and younger than other businesses,” the report said. Yet that accounts “for only part of the disparity in the likelihood of winning contracts,” it added. “Even when controlling for firm characteristics, including firm size and age, women-owned businesses are less likely to win contracts than otherwise similar businesses not owned by women.”
Now, the good news: Rule changes have made women-owned small businesses eligible for no-bid contracts with the federal government, according to the Small Business Administration.
No-bid contracts allow businesses to gain experience as federal contractors, and the theory is that the experience will increase a business’s chances of winning a federal contract that is put up for competitive bids.
In 2014, the percentage of federal contract money that went to companies owned by women was 4.7 percent, compared with 4 percent in 2011. Yet 30 percent of American companies have at least 51 percent ownership by one woman or more.
Perhaps this new opportunity will change those numbers.
The median income for American women who work full time is about $39,600, which is 79 percent of the $50,400 median income for men working full time, according to the White House. We’ve come to know this difference as the “wage gap,” and while it has narrowed somewhat in recent years, it has endured over decades.
On Friday, the Obama administration announced new actions aimed at moving toward equal pay, including an effort to collect information about pay from businesses and government contractors.
“More than 50 years after pay discrimination became illegal it remains a persistent problem for too many Americans,” Jenny R. Yang, chairwoman of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, said in a statement Friday. “Collecting pay data is a significant step forward in addressing discriminatory pay practices. This information will assist employers in evaluating their pay practices to prevent pay discrimination and strengthen enforcement of our federal anti-discrimination laws.”
Under a proposal published in the Federal Register on Monday, companies with more than 100 employees will be required to report to the federal government pay data broken down by race, ethnicity, sex, and job category.
“We can’t know what we don’t know. We can’t deliver on the promise of equal pay unless we have the best, most comprehensive information about what people earn,” Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez said Friday. “We expect that reporting this data will help employers to evaluate their own pay practices to prevent pay discrimination in their workplaces. The data collection also gives the Labor Department a more powerful tool to do its enforcement work, to ensure that federal contractors comply with fair pay laws and to root out discrimination where it does exist.”
In addition, the White House also announced:
- It is urging Congress to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act, legislation that would update the Equal Pay Act of 1963. Among the provisions are penalties for companies that retaliate against employees who share wage information.
- It will play host to a summit on “The United State of Women” on May 23 in conjunction with the Department of State, the Department of Labor, the Aspen Institute, and Civic Nation.
- The Council of Economic Advisers has released an issue brief, “The Gender Pay Gap on the Anniversary of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act,” exploring the state of the gender wage gap, the factors that influence it, and policies put forward by the Obama administration that can help address it.
The announcements came on the seventh anniversary of President Obama’s signing of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which says that the statute of limitations in pay discrimination cases resets with each paycheck affected by the discriminatory action.
Lilly Ledbetter was a supervisor at Goodyear and sued the company for pay discrimination after she retired. The Supreme Court ruled in her case that the 180-day statute of limitations began when she received her first paycheck in 1979, even though she said she was not aware of the pay discrepancy then. This decision planted such an obstacle in the way of women seeking equal pay for equal work that Congress passed, and the president signed, the Lilly Ledbetter Act.
“Women play an integral part in the labor force,” the parade coordinator, Connie Ostrander, told the Danville Commercial-News.
That has been true for much longer than a year, considering that about 60 percent of American women work, making up nearly half the U.S. workforce, according to Department of Labor statistics.
Women have long been significant in the U.S. labor force. The value of the Rosie the Riveters in World War II is well known. (See Janet Golden’s article on American labor heroines, “Rebellious Women,” posted today.) But the U.S. Labor Department recognized the importance of working women long before that when it established a Women’s Bureau “to craft and promote policies that would improve the welfare of working women,” wrote Jane Walstedt, who has worked for the bureau since 1974. The bureau is marking its 95th anniversary this summer.
Writing in a blog on the Department of Labor website, Walstedt described the bureau’s first director as someone who knew the challenges faced by working women firsthand: “The first director of the Women’s Bureau was Mary Anderson, a Swedish immigrant (as was my father) who arrived in the United States in 1889 at the age of 16. She spoke no English, but took her first job as a dishwasher in a Michigan lumberjack boarding house earning $1.50 per week. Eventually, she worked her way up as a skilled shoe maker and eventually became president of her union.”
When Anderson ran the bureau, women represented about 21 percent of the work force, according to the Labor Department. In 2012, women accounted for 48 percent of U.S. workers, and 57 percent of all women were working.
Over time, the workplace has become more accommodating for women. Not so long ago, many women had to present themselves as just slight variations on male co-workers, keeping health and family matters out of the office. That is changing, though, with companies like Netflix and Microsoft expanding their maternity leave benefits and many employers providing places for mothers to nurse their babies or pump breast milk. These changes help allow women to be women in the workplace and indicate that women are valued by employers.
This isn’t just benevolence on the part of employers. It makes economic sense. International Monetary Fund Managing Director Christine Lagarde brought that message to the Group of 20 meeting in Ankara, Turkey, this weekend in her keynote address. “Women’s empowerment is not just a fundamentally moral cause, it is also an absolute economic no-brainer,” Lagarde said, according to The Wall Street Journal. “It holds the potential to boost growth, raise overall per capita income, tackle poverty, and reduce income inequality for people all over the world.”
She added: “We have estimates that, if the number of female workers were to increase to the same level as the number of men, GDP in the United States would expand by 5 percent, by 9 percent in Japan, and by 27 percent in India.
“These estimates, while of course tentative, are significant and large enough to be taken seriously. This applies particularly to countries where potential growth is declining as the population is aging.”
An important component of women’s empowerment in the workplace is pay equity. “Even with the same level of education, and in the same occupation, women earn just three-quarters of what men earn,” Lagarde said of women around the world. “This is by itself a great disincentive for being part of the workforce.”
In 2013, “women working full time in the United States typically were paid just 78 percent of what men were paid,” said a report released this year by the American Association of University Women.
“The gap has narrowed since the 1970s, due largely to women’s progress in education and workforce participation and to men’s wages rising at a slower rate,” said the report, titled “The Simple Truth About the Gender Pay Gap.” “But progress has stalled in recent years, and the pay gap does not appear likely to go away on its own.”
The AAUW report recommends that women arm themselves with education and negotiating skills to avoid being underpaid.
The gains women have made in the workplace have been hard won over the last 95 years. While great strides have been made, continued progress will require continued effort.
As the National Women’s Law Center says: “Every woman matters. Every dollar matters. The wage gap matters.”
Some observers immediately suspected that sexism might have had a part in the firing of Jill Abramson as executive editor of The New York Times. Others believed, however, that a management style so abrasive that it disheartened the news staff was reason enough for this executive’s ouster.
Now, in Women’s enews, Betsy Wade, the Times’s first female copyeditor and a Times staffer for 45 years, offers some historical background. Wade, who was a leader of the women who filed a sex-discrimination lawsuit against the Times in 1974, calmly calls attention to a tradition of sexism she maintains was established by Adolph Ochs, who bought the Times in 1896. (He barred his own daughter, Iphigene, from working at the paper, and hired only four women in his 38 years as publisher.)
Iphigene married Arthur Hays Sulzberger, who became publisher when Iphigene’s father died. Twenty years later, a stag party was held to celebrate Sulzberger’s years at the Times. Iphigene—barred from the party!—recorded this greeting: “Dear Arthur . . . Once more you must admit I am right. If this were not a man’s world, as I have always insisted it was, I would not be left out in the cold tonight. If I’d had been the boss’s son instead of his daughter, this party might have been for me and not for you.”
Historically, Wade writes, the Times was glacially slow in hiring women who could rise in its ranks, and still slower in hiring nonwhite employees for almost anything.
And see publisher Arthur Ochs Sulzberger Jr.’s response to the uproar over his firing of Abramson in another Today’s Talk Topic, “Point/Counterpoint.”
For women who’ve spent decades fighting—first for their place in the workforce, then for equitable treatment and pay—the announcement Monday that The New York Times was firing the first woman to hold the position of executive editor carried many echoes of the old double standard.
When Jill Abramson became executive editor in 2011, she said the promotion was like “ascending to Valhalla.” The post made her a powerful person on the global stage, and women celebrated the shattering of what had been a particularly thick glass ceiling.
But her ousting from the job after less than three years has commentators saying she was viewed as “pushy,” “abrasive,” and “condescending.” Ken Auletta of The New Yorker reported that when Abramson discovered recently that her compensation package was less than that of Bill Keller, her predecessor in the top newsroom job,she demanded an increase, which “may have fed into the management’s narrative that she was ‘pushy,’ a characterization that, for many, has an inescapably gendered aspect.” (The Times told Politico that Abramson’s “total compensation as executive editor was not less than Bill Keller’s, so that is just incorrect . . . Her pension benefit, like all Times employees, is based on her years of service and compensation. The pension benefit was frozen in 2009.”
Yes, the more things change, the more they stay the same.
Male leaders are perceived as taking charge, female leaders are seen as being bitchy. A Gallup poll in November found: “If Americans were taking a new job and had their choice of a boss, they would prefer a male boss over a female boss by 35 percent to 23 percent, although 4 in 10 would have no preference.”
In April 2013, only about a year and a half into Abramson’s tenure, Politico wrote: “In recent months, Abramson has become a source of widespread frustration and anxiety within the Times newsroom. More than a dozen current and former members of the editorial staff, all of whom spoke to Politico on the condition of anonymity, described her as stubborn and condescending, saying they found her difficult to work with. But, as the article pointed out, “every New York Times executive editor has demonstrated the ability to cut someone off at the knees.”
The compensation issue, if the news reports are accurate, is particularly disappointing because The New York Times has long stood for civil rights, women’s rights, and equality. In an editorial on “comparable worth” published on Jan. 2, 1985, The Times wrote: “Deliberate discrimination between men and women by a single employer is impermissible.
Was Abramson a perfect executive editor? Probably not. Was she given less leeway than her male predecessors? Probably.
She’s not the first executive editor to be forced out. Howell Raines, an executive editor who was also criticized by staff members for having a brusque management style, left the job in 2003. Of course, it took a plagiarism scandal to unseat him.
In making the announcement of Abramson’s firing, Arthur Sulzburger Jr., publisher and chairman of The New York Times, told the staff that she had done an “outstanding job in preserving and extending the level of excellence of our news report,” according to the Daily Beast website.
“She’s an accomplished journalist who contributed mightily to our reputation as the world’s most important news provider,” he said.
So the playing field is not yet level. But as women, even given the inequities, we need to keep playing.
(VIDEO) The Wednesday Five: Domestic Violence Awareness Month, Hollywood’s Power Execs, New Answers on Pay Equity and Thinking Twice About Crop Tops
This week, blogs marked Domestic Violence Awareness Month, shared intriguing studies on pay equity and women & development, and listed some maybe-questionable attire for women over 50.
- We’ve spent a lot of time here on Breast Cancer Awareness Month, but Miranda Spencer reminds us at Women in Media and News that October is more than that. “Less reported is October’s other “ribbon” issue, domestic violence (DV), which has had its own Awareness Month since October 1987 to connect those who work to end violence against women and their children. [Domestic violence] statistics are even more devastating than breast cancer rates. A woman has a 1 in 8 lifetime chance of having breast cancer, whereas 1 in 4 women (and 1 in 13 men) will experience domestic violence in their lifetime, and an average of three women in America die as a result of domestic violence each day. Add in psychological and economic forms of abuse that can follow even after the DV victim leaves the perpetrator – including physical and cyber stalking and even identity theft – and we’re talking about a preventable menace that could use a lot more public awareness.” Click over for the rest, and think about wearing a purple ribbon next to your pink stuff, at least.
- While we’re considering what to wear, Gerit Quealy has some thoughts on what not to at Style Goes Strong. Among her “5 Things Not to Wear After 50” are micro-minis, complicated lattice heels, and crop tops: “You may have the greatest abs of your life, but showing them off in a crop top doesn’t show them to their best advantage. Helen Mirren revealed her admirable belly in a bikini and you still wouldn’t catch her in a crop top. In fact, a bikini is a better option. Or workout wear at yoga class. Gwyneth Paltrow’s ensemble at the Emmys exposed her midriff and she took a lot of heat for her choice — and she’s just 39.” We’re guessing that WVFC’s Eleanore Wells, for one, will take issue with Quealy’s list: do you? Click over and see if you agree, and let us know in comments.
- Are you sick of hearing from men, discussing the severe gender gap in pay in the business world, how “it’s women’s choices” that explain the inequality ? At Harvard Business Review, Christine Silva and Nancy Carter of Catalyst can help you fight back. Sharing results from their most recent study, which tracked nearly a thousand MBAs across the country, Silva and Carter write: “The problem isn’t only a late-career phenomenon by which women are denied the big promotion after having advanced steadily alongside men. Rather, the entire pipeline is in peril. More particularly, our research has managed to explode four prevailing myths about the progress of women in workplaces.” In addition to the one about women’s choices, they found that you can’t blame the recession or lack of mentoring, or the one about the gap disappearing as women rise up the pipeline. “Major interventions are required to build a robust pipeline of women leaders,” Kimberly-Clark CEO Thomas Falk told Catalyst in a meeting reported on at HBR.
- Why do women hate development? That question was put to WVFC recently after Infrastructurist reported on a different kind of study, a national poll from a poll by the Saint Consulting Group.”The poll results — which come from a nationwide telephone survey of 1,000 people done in June — indicate an interesting divergence in priorities between men and women when it comes to industrial growth,” writes Melissa Lasky. “Just about any type of project that comes with potentially negative environmental consequences — natural gas pipelines, nuclear power plants, quarries, malls — received much stronger support from the men surveyed than the women, usually with more than a 10% difference. (For example, 50% of the men said they’d support a new power plant in their community while just 32% of women said they would.) And across the board, men were uniformly more open to development than women.” She cautions us that these findings “aren’t a blanket statement about gender and urban development,” but it left us thinking about power in towns and whether some concrete ceilings need shattering along with the glass ones.
- When we saw the title “Hollywood’s Top Six Women,” we thought we’d see a list of actors. But in Third Age’s slide show, only Oprah has put in time in front of the camera — and she’s included less for that than for her producing prowess. Others include Disney’s Anne Sweeney and “50-year-old Stacy Snider [who] has been a major player in Hollywood for decades, previously climbing to the top spot at Universal Pictures, where she was chairman, and responsible for making much-loved movies like Erin Brockovich and Meet the Parents.” In honor of Snider, this week’s W5 video also celebrates fellow midlife women Julia Roberts and Erin Brockovitch herself, who probably contributed to the skepticism among women that we mentioned in the previous item.
In the wake of the Supreme Court decision blocking a class action lawsuit by women who work for Wal-Mart, the question remains: What can women who believe they are underpaid do? Claire Shipman of ABC News reports that it is important to find out what others doing similar work are paid and to negotiate for pay increases. Shipman notes that in workplaces in which pay is made public, like the federal government, pay inequities are smaller than they are in workplaces where talking about pay is discouraged or prohibited. And Mika Brzezinski of Morning Joe on MSNBC tells ABC News that women should not threaten to quit over pay inequities unless they are ready to follow through on the threat.
We don’t watch Morning Joe religiously, so we’re glad we learned about the moment below, when Mika Brzezinski talks about confronting MSNBC about pay inequities.”In another interview,” As Huffingtom Post pointed out, “Brzezinski said she was making fourteen times less than co-host Joe Scarborough.” Also in the clip are two women Brzezinski included in her new book Knowing Your Value: Women, Money and Getting What You’re Worth: the seemingly unflappable director Nora Ephron and NBC News political correspondent Norah O’Donnell. Watch to see these three talk about when they realized what they deserved; you may end up resolving to do so in your own life.
Eager to see what the Shriver Report has to say about women over 50, I paged through my electronic copy, wishing in my over-50 way that I had physical pages to flip and leaf through. But despite my failure to find any chapter or essay specifically dedicated to those of us who remember only too well the plight of women that Betty Friedan described so well in 1963, I could not stop reading. The study codifies what many of us know to be true, and it also reveals facts about American society that both encourage and dismay.
The statistics are eye-openers; they describe a social landscape much changed in 50 years. In 1969, a third of all workers were women. Now the labor force is 50 percent female. Heather Boushey, an expert on women and workforce issues and an editor of the Report, calls this change “certifiably revolutionary—perhaps the greatest social transformation of our time.” As Gloria Steinem writes, “It should end forever the debate about women’s place in the labor force; women are the labor force.”
Yet Hilda Solis, Secretary of the U.S. Department of Labor, offers these sobering statistics: “About 67 percent of workers paid at or below the minimum wage are women. African-American women working full time earned about 70 percent (69.6 percent) as much as men (as a whole), and Latinas 62.7 percent as much as all men. … At the top end of the work pyramid, only 23.4 percent of women in the workforce are executives.”
What the study makes clear is that as women leave home to go to work, everything changes. Lost in the great health care debate, for example, is the fact that women are no longer able to provide free, at-home care for sick children or aging parents. They have little time to volunteer at schools or local charities or to head community religious and service organizations. Families depend on supermarkets, restaurants and other retail stores that stay open 24/7 to serve their needs. However, Boushey points out, that means that somebody—disproportionately, somebody from an immigrant and/or lower-income family—has to work during nonstandard hours. The marriages of those workers suffer, as does their ability to access childcare and other support during those off-hours.
What were once viewed as women’s issues are now understood to impact everyone.
- Young men today are much more involved in the business of parenting than their grandfathers were. Maria Shriver reports that a large majority of both men and women believe that businesses should be required to provide paid family and medical leave for every worker who needs it.
- Today mothers are the primary breadwinners in 40 percent of all families, a trend accelerated by the recession, but they still earn less than men—$0.77 on average for every dollar—in the same jobs. Since three-quarters of the jobs lost in the recession belonged to men, the laid-off husbands champion equal pay for their wives.
Women, by occupying seats in what once were exclusively male preserves, enable, even challenge, men to understand that a woman’s experience can be very different from a man’s. Ruth Bader Ginsburg, for example, explained to her male colleagues on the Supreme Court that a 13-year-old girl suffers a strip search in a way that men can’t imagine. More recently, Sen. John Kyl (R-Ariz.) argued against requiring the inclusion of basic maternity care in medical insurance because he, for one, wouldn’t need it and it would raise the cost of the insurance. “I think your mom probably did,” interrupted Sen. Deborah Stabenow (D-Mich.).
The Civil Rights Act of 1964, Title VII, banned employment discrimination based on race, sex, religion or national origin. “Forty years ago it was assumed that more men participated in sports because women were uninterested,” Delaine Eastin, former California superintendent of public instruction, remembers. But, she continues, “[w]ith the passage of Title IX of the Education Act of 1972, the number of women in high school sports grew 904 percent.”
Gloria Steinem, Betty Friedan and many, many other women fought long and hard for rights that some younger women today take for granted. Sister Joan Chittister, author of The Gift of Years: Growing Older Gracefully, writes:
I am an American woman born in an era when women rose up to claim the human rights that men had been giving men for over 200 years…. Brave women bore the ridicule that being called ‘feminist’ brought with it. They risked the rejection that came with building “a woman’s nation.” They braved the social cost, the terrible discomfort, of being “the first this, the first that.” They gave their lives to changing laws and opening doors. Most of all, they taught their daughters to expect for themselves the same opportunities their brothers took as birthright, to arrogate unto themselves the same possibilities the male world assumed for its sons.
Although women enjoy more possibilities and have more choices as a result of the feminists’ fierce determination to change the laws and attitudes that restricted them, much remains to be done.
Shriver pulls it all together:
Women still don’t make as much as men do for the same jobs. Women still don’t make it to the top as often as men. Families too often can’t get flex-time, child care, medical leave or paid family leave. The United States still is the only major industrialized nation without comprehensive child care and family leave policies. Insurance companies still often charge women more than men for the exact same coverage. Women are still being punished by a tax code designed when men were the sole breadwinners and women the sole caregivers. Sexual violence against women remains a huge issue. Women still are disproportionately affected by lack of health care services. And lesbian couples and older women are among the poorest segment of our society.
I share the hope of the authors that The Shriver Report: A Woman’s Nation Changes Everything will be a clarion call to action for all Americans to work to rectify these inequalities. Only such hard work can bring America, who pioneered social change in the 20th century, back into the vanguard.
On Friday, the House of Representatives passed two bills of importance to women. The Paycheck Fairness Act requires employers to pay equal wages to men and women who perform the same job unless there is a rational reason for the pay disparity. Also passed was the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which overturns the 2007 Supreme Court decision Lilly Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. (550 U.S. 618). In the year since that decision, lower courts around the country have been busy deepening its effect, turning away suits charging discrimination based on sex, race and disability.
As Congress enters recess, House members are reminding their Senate colleagues to get serious about pay equity, in the wake of last year’s disastrous Ledbetter v. Goodyear decision by the Supreme Court. One is 15-year House veteran Lucille Roybal-Allard, who as the first Mexican-American woman to serve in Congress knows a thing or two about societal barriers:
The Paycheck Fairness Act creates a training program to help women
strengthen their negotiation skills. It enforces equal pay laws for
federal contractors. The measure requires the Department of Labor to
work with employers to eliminate pay disparities by enhancing outreach
and training efforts. The bill prohibits employers from retaliating
against employees who share salary information with their co-workers.
Finally, the legislation allows women to sue for punitive damages in
addition to compensatory damages now available under the Equal Pay Act.
A couple of weeks before the House passed the Equal Pay Act, I
had the pleasure of gathering with many of my colleagues in the House
and Senate at a rally on Capitol Hill in support of both this measure
and the pending Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. We were joined at that
rally by Lilly Ledbetter herself, who provided first-hand testimony
about the years of gender-based wage discrimination she endured while
employed as a supervisor for a Goodyear Tire plant in Gadsden, Alabama.
After nearly two decades, an anonymous note revealed that she had been
paid less than male co-workers who held the same job, including recent
hires with less job experience.
This measure passed the U.S. House of
Representatives with my support on July 31, 2007, but awaits passage in
At forty, learning how to fly: Filmmaker Jennifer Fox knows a thing or two about bravery. Her PBS documentary series include Stories From a Free South Africa and Beirut: The Last Home Movie. But as Britt Wahlin writes this week, her new Flying: Confessions of a Free Woman required bravery of a very different kind:
But in her early 40s, she begins to wonder where she fits. Though
she eschews marriage, she has a relationship with a married man, and
the way she feels when he’s not there for her is anything but
liberating. She thinks she may want children after all. All around her,
female friends are experiencing parallel struggles figuring out how
love, sex and partnership square with often competing desires for
independence: professional, financial and otherwise.
To figure it
all out, she turns the camera on herself and invites family, friends,
and friends of friends to share their stories, too. “Flying:
Confessions of a Free Woman” is the resulting tapestry of narratives, a
six-hour meditation on the modern female experience. The women in
“Flying” cover a gamut of topics ranging from marriage, motherhood,
divorce and sexuality to abortion, infertility, virginity and violence.
germs of “Flying” came to Fox in the mid-’90s, when it struck her that
though she tended to be in relationships with men, her female
friendships were holding her together. “I was initially interested in
female language, how women communicate with each other,” she said. In
South Africa, where she was working, her water-cooler conversations
with the female members of a mostly male production team always hit on
the same topics: love, sex, relationships. “Though we were from
different backgrounds, we were experiencing the same things,” Fox said.
She hypothesized that the themes of modern women’s lives cut across
race, class and culture, but she wasn’t sure how to incorporate her
ideas into a compelling film…
And in classic old-school feminist fashion, Fox draws out her subjects partly through the power of her own confessions:
In India, Fox initiates a discussion about masturbation with a group of
widows. The women ask, “How would one do that?” and then break into
hysterics at the mere suggestion that they would touch their own bodies
for sexual fulfillment in the absence of husbands.
But the main
story in “Flying” is Fox’s own, which plays out like a soap opera —
each episode ends with a cliffhanger. She takes a tell-all approach:
about her sex life, her relationships, her abortions, her miscarriages,
her sexual abuse, and her anger toward her parents and grandmother. She
says her decision to share everything, both the good and the bad, was
her political choice. As a filmmaker, she wanted the film to show that
“this is not a perfect life, but it’s a real life.” As the film’s
subject, she believed she was on a journey to self-understanding that
required complete honesty.
Newsmix wonders how many other late bloomers, on learning of the film, thought instinctively of the Kate Millett book of the same title. Fox’s own website for the film, which is busy winning awards at numerous film festivals, makes no reference to any such thing; perhaps she’s instead thinking that by making it this far, we are all superheroes.