Does a Woman’s Nation Change Anything?October 16, 2009
“I think women should stay at home where they belong. It’s a proven fact that when the women went to work the family started to fail.”
Seriously?! Sounds like a statement from Mad Men, the modern television drama series set in the 1960s or at least a quote from the 1970s, doesn’t it? But I was floored to see these very words in a recent comment on a previous AAUW blog post. My visceral first reaction was to lay into the commentor for making such a blanket, unsubstantiated claim, but I recognize that wider public sentiment on the issue of women in the workplace doesn’t swing back to the 19th century.
A recent poll conducted by Time magazine and the Rockefeller Foundation found that more than three-quarters of Americans — both men and women — view women in the workplace as a positive societal development. A similar survey conducted earlier this year by the Pew Research Center found that 75 percent of Americans disagreed with the statement that women should return to traditional roles in society. That outlook is essential since women now officially account for half of all American workers, and more women are the primary breadwinners or dual earners for their households.
Today, Maria Shriver and the Center for American Progress release The Shriver Report: A Woman’s Nation Changes Everything, a comprehensive look at how the economy and America’s families are being transformed by women in the workplace. This report comes almost five decades after Shriver’s uncle, President John F. Kennedy, established the President’s Commission on the Status of Women in 1961 to review women’s progress and make recommendations to advance employment and educational opportunities for women. The Equal Pay Act of 1963 developed from the recommendations of the President’s Commission, and former commission members established the National Organization of Women (NOW).
It’s true that reaching parity in employment has basis in the current recession; it’s a fact that men are currently losing more jobs than women. But there has been a steady growth of women in the workplace for decades. Forty years ago, women were less than 35 percent of the American workforce. “Economic shifts have pressed women into new roles out of necessity,” said author Gail Collins during a recent NPR Morning Edition interview,
But, while more women have entered the workforce and taken on new roles, the institutions around us, including government, business, and education, have been much slower to adapt policies to meet changing needs. A gender pay gap still persists and paths to mentorship and career development for women have lagged. Women now outnumber men at all levels of degree seekers yet remain clustered in lower paying “pink-collar” professions. Women continue to maintain the traditional role of primary caregiver, but they require legislative policies including paid sick days to keep their families healthy.
Will the Shriver Report change anything? Only time will tell. But, like Gloria Steinem, I am “rooting for the Shriver Report” to “create ideas and pressure” to meet the changing needs of working women and American families.