For the first time in U.S. history, women comprise half of the workforce, said a recent report.
California first lady Maria Shriver partnered with the Center for American Progress to take a comprehensive look at the advancement of women over the past few decades in the U.S. workplace and educational system. The Shriver Report “A Woman’s Nation Changes Everything,” along with a poll conducted by Time magazine and the Rockefeller Foundation, examined American views of women’s roles in today’s society.
In two-thirds of American families, mothers are the chief or co-bread winners. In addition, women currently receive 60 percent of college degrees and 50 percent of Ph.D.s and professional degrees each year.
UC Davis Professor of Law Emeritus Martha West currently teaches Gender and Law for the UC Davis Women Studies program.
“The huge shift [in our society] has been women going to work full time,” West said.
The Shriver Report said that for women, the priorities of career and family now occur concurrently. A choice between the two is no longer necessary.
Associate Professor of English Claire Waters said UC Davis has an excellent policy for maternity leave. Waters is also a graduate advisor to the English Ph.D. program and a mother of two. She had a quarter off while pregnant, as well as an additional quarter after her children’s birth under the university’s active service-modified duties leave of absence policy.
“I had better maternity leave than anyone I had ever known,” Waters said.
Although the term “housewife” may no longer apply to many women, West said certain jobs are farther from a woman’s grasp than others.
“In terms of professors, it’s still more difficult for women to be hired at a research university,” West said. “Despite the fact that women have received over 50 percent of Ph.D.s.”
Women make up 27 to 30 percent of the professors at research universities, according to West.
“At UCD the percent of women faculty has risen, but is still far from gender parity, which means that in many fields there are few role models for women students,” said Margaret Swain, co-director of the Women’s Resources and Research Center in an e-mail interview. Swain is also an associate adjunct professor and the director of a gender and global issues group.
Time magazine essayist and editor at large Nancy Gibbs published “The State of the American Woman: What Women Want Now,” using data collected for the Shriver Report.
“We just came through an election year in which Hillary Clinton, Sarah Palin, Tina Fey and Katie Couric were lead players, not the supporting cast,” Gibbs said in the October article. “And the president of the United States was raised by a single mother and married a lawyer who outranked and out-earned him.”
Nonetheless, women are 10 percent of civil engineers but 98 percent of kindergarten teachers, Gibbs said.
A fundamental belief embedded in American society is the idea that women should be the primary caretakers of young children. This may explain why only 2 percent of kindergarten teachers are male and why the percentage of male teachers increases with the age of the children, West said.
“Our societal roles are reflected in professions,” she said.
The Shriver Report received criticism from many including Men’s News Daily Columnist Robert Franklin Esq. who said the only reason women now make up half of the workforce is because men have lost so many jobs in the recession.
If men and women are now equals, women should be required to register with the Selective Service System and there should be equal treatment for fathers and mothers in divorce courts, Franklin added.
Former Deputy Managing Editor of the Wall Street Journal Joanne Lipman said in a New York Times editorial that women have made progress, but it is far from what she expected for this point in time.
“When I graduated from college in 1983, women earned only 64 cents for every dollar earned by a man,” Lipman said. “Today? Women earn just 77 cents. According to the American Bar Association, women in 2008 made up almost half of all associates, but only 18.3 percent of partners.”
Years later, when West heard one of her female students repeat the same words, she knew that things had not changed as much as was anticipated.
“[Lipman is] absolutely right,” West said. “I said in 1974, ‘There aren’t many women [law] partners now, but soon there will be a lot because so many women are graduating from law school.'”
Because of family roles, more high-level jobs are awarded to men. Women are less likely to work 80-hour weeks because of the duty they feel to their families.
“I think it’s clear there are strong tendencies that make life harder for women with families, but not exclusively, to have certain kinds of very high power jobs,” Waters said. “Time constraints are very severe and women feel more pressure to raise children.”
West saw the passage of Title IX – a law that prohibits sex discrimination in education – in 1972 as the crowning achievement for women’s rights.
Facilities like UC Davis’ Women’s Resources and Research Center are now in existence. Swain views the WRRC as a vital step forward for women.
“It’s a good start that more than half of UCD’s students are women, but we still have plenty of work to do,” the WRRC website stated.
“Ideally we’ll eventually be at a point where everyone has as many options as their capacities will give them,” Waters said.
KELLEY REES can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.