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A Month for Recognizing Women: How Far We've Come; How Far to Go
by Julie Norwell

The past month has been remarkable for the number of events, studies and statistics coming out relating to women and the progress they have made (and haven’t made) over the past several decades in reaching social parity with men. Overall, the news is good; women have achieved some impressive gains over the past 50 to 60 years in social and legal equality, including in employment, education, and social institutions.

An informative and entertaining new resource detailing the strides women have made in these areas comes in the new book of Gail Collins, columnist for the New York Times and the first woman to become editor of the Times’ editorial page: When Everything Changed: The Amazing Journey of American Women from 1960 to Present. Collins, who is touting her new book everywhere from New York Public Library luncheons to The Colbert Report, illustrates with humorous anecdotes how much has changed for women, beginning with the story of an unfortunate New York City woman in the 1960s who was thrown out of traffic court for trying to pay a parking ticket in slacks instead of in a skirt. Collins reminds us that not so long ago women in some states weren’t allowed to have credit, work outside of “women-appropriateapostrophe jobs, participate on juries or even fly on some airplanes. But by 1972 everything changed – at least legally – with the passage of Title IX of the Education Amendments, the approval of the Equal Rights Amendment in Congress and the Supreme Court ruling supporting the right of unmarried people to use contraceptives. Of course, then began the long slog of changing public attitudes towards women, which continues today.

In late October Maria Shriver, in partnership with the Center for American Progress, launched The Shriver Report – a status report of sorts on the position of women within American society. It involves surveys and statistical research on everything from today’s gender pay gap to the rising share of women in America’s workforce. The research yielded some surprising discoveries:


•Since the recession began in December 2007, men have accounted for three out of every four jobs lost (73.6%).
•Women now, for the first time, make up half (49.9%) of all workers on U.S. payrolls compared to a third of the workforce in 1969—a mere generation ago.
•Nearly 4 in 10 mothers (39.3%) are primary breadwinners, bringing home the majority of the family’s earnings, and nearly two-thirds (62.8%) are breadwinners or co-breadwinners, bringing home at least a quarter of the family’s earnings. And yet women continue to be paid 23 cents less than men for every dollar earned in our economy.
•Women receive 52% of high school diplomas, 62% of associate’s degrees, 57% of bachelor’s degrees and 50% of doctoral degrees and professional degrees.


Such a detailed study hasn’t been undertaken in about 50 years since President John F. Kennedy, Shriver’s uncle, asked Eleanor Roosevelt to chair the very first Commission on the Status of the American Woman. To publicize the year-long study, Time Magazine and NBC News joined the partnership, each featuring lengthy coverage of the report and profiles of notable women. The cover of Time Magazine’s October 26 issue was “The American Womanapostrophe and NBC made women the centerpiece of a week of programming.


Ultimately, the take-away message of the report is that although the role of women has changed dramatically in the past 50 years, societal institutions have not kept pace. Schools still let children out well before the workday ends and close for three months every summer even though both parents in most families work. Doctors and dentists offices are rarely open on the weekends to accommodate family’s needs despite a national culture where business is open 24/7. Quality, affordable child care is in short supply and every family with children must juggle the personal needs of their children with demands by their employers with little help from government or business.


“Men and women agree that government and business are out of touch with the realities of how most families live and work today. Families need more flexible work schedules, comprehensive child care policies, redesigned family and medical leave, and equal pay,apostrophe said Shriver. In addition to the statistical meat of the report, Shriver crisscrossed the country gathering interviews from people to illustrate on a personal level what the data show. She and the Center for American Progress conclude that the country is at a major tipping point in our nation’s social and economical history and hope their report provokes a national discussion on where to go from here.


Capping off the month was the wildly popular annual Women’s Conference 2009 in California, founded and hosted by Maria Shriver. In recent years the conference has drawn record interest with 25,000 tickets to this year’s two-day event selling out in just two hours in July. Shriver invites such diverse luminaries as stateswoman Madeleine Albright, Olympian Dara Torres, photographer Annie Leibovitz and kidnapping child-victim Elizabeth Smart to speak, teach and inspire attendees. Attendees say this conference was an even greater success than in years past.


Events in October made the month seem much like a celebration of women and their accomplishments over the past several decades. Also clear, however, are the great challenges still facing women socially, professionally, economically and personally. Of course, if the rate of change of the past five decades continues, it is fascinating to consider where Americaapostrophes women will be 50 years from now.