Barbara J. Berg : Getting Real about Women’s Progress

Women at work: White Oak Mill in Greensboro, NC. 1909. Photo courtesy of the National Museum of American History.

‘A Women’s Nation Changes Everything’
The (feel-good) Shriver Report

…instead of celebrating how far women have come, we should be asking why, after so many years, we still have so far to go.

By Barbara J. Berg / The Rag Blog / October 22, 2009

Maybe we’re all suffering from bad-news overload. That’s the only explanation I can come up with for the media’s uncritical embrace of the often erroneous feel-good Shriver Report: A Woman’s Nation Changes Everything, essentially declaring an end to “the battle of the sexes.”

Time magazine, writing about the report, claims, “the argument over where women belong is over.” Try telling that to Andrea Wolff-Yakubovich whose boss fired her from her position as finance director for a Denver-based John Elway AutoNation dealership when she disclosed she was expecting, telling her husband, “She should be barefoot, pregnant and at home.” (Really!)

And I seem to remember not too long ago a lot of angry GOP males urging General Stanley McChrystal to put Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi “in her place,” because of her statements about the war in Afghanistan.

Notwithstanding all the real gains we’ve seen from the second wave women’s movement of the 1970s, the United States ranks 27th out of a total of 130 countries, behind Cuba and Lithuania, according to the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report of 2008.

We are the only industrialized nation that doesn’t offer paid maternity leave. And like Wolff-Yakubovich, hundreds of women, in stark violation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, are being fired when they become pregnant. The United States is one of a very few westernized nations to leave day care almost completely to the unregulated private market. And a new study has just disclosed that more than a quarter of our nation’s schoolchildren are unsupervised and alone after the regular school day because of the scarcity of funded after-school programs.

Unlike some other 145 countries, the United States doesn’t assure all workers paid sick days for their own illnesses or to care for a sick family member, and women pay hundreds of dollars more than men for identical health insurance overage. Our infant mortality rate is appalling — 29th in the world — and although the American Academy of Pediatrics “urges mothers to breastfeed exclusively for six months,” we differ from 107 countries in not protecting a working woman’s right to breastfeed. In our nation’s capital the mortality rate is four times as great for black infants as for white ones.

Unfortunately, it’s not just at hedge funds, as Time suggests, where women are facing strong headwinds. At four year colleges across the nation, women make up 50% of instructors and assistant professors, but are only 27% of tenured faculty. They are 50% of managers and professionals and only 2.6% of CEOs of Fortune 500 companies. The majority of working women in America still work in low-paid service jobs with little flexibility and few benefits. And thanks to the gender pay gap that starts right out of college and continues to grow, a woman working full-time her entire life makes on average $700,000 less than a man.

For the first time since 1918 women’s life expectancy is shortening. Women across the nation are dying from treatable chronic diseases. “[In no state] do women enjoy satisfactory health status,” according to the National Women’s Health Report Card issued by the National Women’s Law Center. Women present with different symptoms and respond to different medicines and therapies in a variety of diseases including strokes and heart attacks, but they are still not included in medical clinical trials.

Intimate partner assaults on women are soaring, yet everywhere we turn — from advertising to electronic gaming — we are bombarded with images of violence against women. We have the highest teen pregnancy rate in the western world and one out of every four adolescent girls has some form of STD.

Our reproductive rights are in jeopardy with the far right waging a quietly successful campaign to have fetuses granted personhood on the state level. If that drive succeeds, then Supreme Court or no Supreme Court, abortion will be declared murder under the U.S. Constitution and will be illegal throughout the land.

So — instead of celebrating how far women have come, we should be asking why, after so many years, we still have so far to go.

[Barbara J. Berg, Ph.D., is the author of Sexism in America: Alive, Well and Ruining Our Future (Chicago Review Press, 2009).]

The Rag Blog

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One Response to Barbara J. Berg : Getting Real about Women’s Progress

  1. Fed Up says:

    Yes, well, from my perspective, all that really happened is that working class families have been delivered up to the employers as two workers for the price of one.

    A single wage used to support a family, now two wages will not support a family.

    The US family is in shambles; the divorce rate is over 50%, the blended family divorce rate is even higher, a whopping 75%, 24% of all famlies are headed by women, and unlike in Europe, NOTHING has replaced this unit of nuturance.

    This is another dinosaur in the living room of the left that no one talks about.

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