Thursday, January 7, 2010

Women's Rights - How Far Have We Come?

Little more than 150 years ago, women could not own property and had no parental rights. 30 years later most women still had no right to earn wages or own property.

The presidential election of 1920, shortly after the narrow passage of the 19th Amendment, was the first time American women were allowed to vote.

Fast forward to 1961 where the Commission on the Status of Women, initiated by President Kennedy, found severe discrimination against women at work. These findings led to early recommendations on fair hiring practices, paid maternity leave, and the Equal Pay Act. However, discrimination continued. For example, women were not allowed to establish credit without their husband's permission until the 1970's.

Until Title IX in 1972, girls and women were essentially shut out from participation & competition in sports. And shockingly, a husband could still legally rape his wife until 1976, when Nebraska took the first state action which banned it.

Now today, in the 21st century, women still face discrimination. Women do not earn dollar for dollar what men earn in the same position. Discrimination worsens when you compare salaries of women with children to those of men (with or without children). Sure, feminists claim that women get "equal pay" now, but they fail to mention it is ONLY when the women are between ages of 27 and 33 and have NEVER had children. (O'Neill)

If you compare the real difference between the pay of women and men, considering every one's earnings, women earned 59% of men's salaries in 1999 (US Census 2000, Crittenden). This inequality has been called the "mommy tax" by Crittenden and the "family wage gap" by Columbia economist Waldfogel. Undeniably, it is mothers and their children, ironically the poorest segment of the population worldwide, who are suffering the most from this discrimination.

Actions Speak Louder Than Words

The fact is - society has long lauded the value of motherhood, but has done little to ensure that this very important segment of its population - mother and children - are supported. Instead, our culture financially punishes women when they choose to stay home and mother America's children and yes, America's future. They exclude mothers' work from the gross domestic product (GDP), deny them social security credits, tax their income based on their husband's salary, and pass over women with "mommy gaps" on their resume.

This punitive action that American society and government shamelessly inflicts upon its mothers (yes, we are all responsible for heaping this harm upon our mothers) does 1 of 2 things.
  1. It forces mothers back to work prematurely, leaving children to fend for themselves or be raised by someone else.
  2. It forces mothers to become financially dependent on their spouses or flimsy government handouts.
Author Crittenden writes, "the UN recommended in the early 1990's that member countries' include in their GDP "unrenumerated work" of two unpaid tasks that women perform in the developing world: gathering firewood and carting water." Yet in 2010, where the GDP was first used, America has done little about the UN recommendation to recognize womens' unpaid work.

How far have we come?

Women have historically been asked to give of their time freely and sacrificially - for their families and for society. Women have historically complied by providing the majority of free work through child rearing, house management, and care-taking of the elderly. Women quit their careers and dreams - in order to take on these unpaid jobs.

When asked to put a monetary value on caring for other human beings - American society speaks loud and clear. Childcare workers, early childhood education professionals, and professional caretakers in nursing homes are generally paid minimum wage or just above. Yet, they are raising up those that will care-take us later - and perpetuate the human race. They are also caring for those who raised us. We should assign a high level of respect to all care-takers and to those in their charge.

But this is not happening. The elderly in America are frequently neglected, discarded as dinosaurs with feeble minds that are not useful in the "workforce" after they retire. Childcare centers and nursing homes have high turnover rates. Many educators and professional care-takers abandon their career and their passion for it after experiencing low paying jobs that carry little respect or value in society. Mothers are unable to pursue their dream of having a career and family, and our children get lost in the struggle. Mothers are frowned upon when they try to have both a career and a family. Men, however, are praised for having both.

Mothers in other countries, such as France and Denmark, are paid for their work, have stipends for childcare support, and government subsidized daycare, preschool, and community centers. They have year long paid maternity leaves for mothers and fathers.

In addition, other countries assign value to care-taking in their GDP - and mothers receive monetary support and/or units toward retirement/social security when they stay home with children. But not in the US.

Will (not) work for free
Society still expects women to cheerfully and freely give their time raising up the next generation (who will, by the way, pay every one's social security). However, society does not want to give them any tools or means to complete the job. Society accepts womens' "free" work while men are well paid for their work. Women are essentially denigrated when they take time off to care for anyone - children or elderly. Why?

Is Motherhood worthless?
Society assigns no worth to motherhood or the tasks that are required to do it well. Men are generally seen as "experts" over women on just about any topic - even child birth. Society punishes women who take time to be mothers by not hiring them or paying them less because of "gaps" in their resume. This leads to men holding the majority of CEO and authoritative positions in business and government.

The government literally considers the task of mothering worthless - as is evidenced by the "zeros" on the social security statement of any woman for the years she stayed at home as a mother to raise children. If society and government did see mothering and care-taking as the incredibly valuable (difficult, stressful, challenging) work that it is, then we would see more women as CEO's than we do in this country. After all, it is like Ann Crittenden writes, "If you have raised children, you can manage anything."

What can you do?
Increase awareness. Speak. Act.
  1. Read. Learn about your rights as a mother and woman. Learn what other countries do to support mothers and children and prevent poverty for the future of our planet.
  2. Speak. Ask questions. Challenge the status quo. Why are mothers being "punished" for "gaps" on their resume, when they are not gaps at all. I would dare to argue that women who have managed a household and children, and usually part or full time jobs to boot - would be incredibly qualified to hold a position of CEO in a corporation.
  3. Act. We can get involved with our government at all levels. We can help other women in need. If you want to get involved with my activism for women and children in Afghanistan and Haiti, please contact me or visit Another great resource is National Association of Mothers' Centers In addition, you can join this blog, in the top right hand column of this page.
  4. Stop apologizing for being a mother. Do not apologize for being either a stay at home mom or a mom who works outside the home. The Truth is - in either case, society has not and is not doing enough to enable American women to thrive after they have children. Instead of judging worth by whether a mother stays at home or works outside the home - let's join together to facilitate positive change for all mothers.
Are you a mother reading this blog? Have you ever felt isolated, like you have lost your independence, your income, your career, and the social support of your former peers? You are not alone. Read this quote, submitted by an anonymous woman to a magazine.

"By joint efforts my husband and I have made a home. I have borne and raised 9 children and grandchildren but cannot claim a dollar for all of my labor. I have no more power than a child. If my labor has been of any value in dollars and cents then I want those dollars and cents to do as I please with. I feel like advising every women not to do another day's labor unless she can be the owner of the value of it. All the property that I possess in my own right is in this pen and holder." (Crittenden)

The inequalities she speaks of still persist today - and this letter was penned in 1876.

So, how far have we come?

Stay tuned to read more about current trends in women's rights on my next blog this week.
To learn more about the "price of motherhood", read Pulitzer Prize nominee Ann Crittenden's book of the same name, The Price of Motherhood or If You've Raised Kids, You Can Manage Anything.

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