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Old 11-26-2013, 05:18 AM   #661
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How Can We Jump-Start the Struggle for Gender Equality?
By PHILIP N. COHEN

For several decades women’s success in the labor market was so breathtaking, so propulsive, that full gender equality seemed inevitable.

The traditional division of labor by gender was challenged from all sides. Women’s share of the labor force, husbands’ share of housework, the integration of occupations once categorized by gender and women’s share of management jobs all rocketed upward from the 1970s till sometime in the 1990s. Women went from earning fewer than 10 percent of law and medicine degrees in 1970 to earning almost half of them by the early 2000s.

The very notion of a breadwinner-homemaker ideal family descended into quaint anachronism. Men’s attitudes changed right along with women’s.

The assumption of continuous progress has become so ingrained that critics now write as if the feminist steamroller has already reached its destination. The journalists Hanna Rosin (“The End of Men”) and Liza Mundy (“The Richer Sex”) proclaimed women’s impending dominance. The conservative authors Kay S. Hymowitz (“Manning Up”) and Christina Hoff Sommers (“The War Against Boys”) worried that feminist progress was undermining masculinity and steering men toward ruin.

But in fact, the movement toward equality stopped. The labor force hit 46 percent female in 1994, and it hasn’t changed much since. Women’s full-time annual earnings were 76 percent of men’s in 2001, and 77 percent in 2011. Although women do earn a majority of academic degrees, their specialties pay less, so that earnings even for women with doctorate degrees working full time are 77 percent of men’s. Attitudinal changes also stalled. In two decades there has been little change in the level of agreement with the statement, “It is much better for everyone involved if the man is the achiever outside the home and the woman takes care of the home and family.”

After two steps forward, we were unprepared for the abrupt slowdown on the road to gender equality. We can make sense of the current predicament, however — and gain a better sense of how to resume our forward motion — if we can grasp the forces that drove the change in the first place.

It’s difficult to imagine (or remember) American women’s world in the early 1960s, described to chilling effect by Stephanie Coontz in “A Strange Stirring: ‘The Feminine Mystique’ and American Women at the Dawn of the 1960s.” Women responding to sex-segregated help-wanted ads (including in The New York Times until 1968) faced rampant — and completely legal — employment discrimination on the basis of sex, race, age, motherhood, pregnancy and appearance. They faced obstacles obtaining loans or buying property without their husbands’ approval. Rape within marriage was not a crime, and domestic violence was just barely one. Divorce was relatively rare. Birth control was illegal in many places, and elective abortion was banned.

Women organized against these injustices with increasing success in the 1970s, but one precondition for their gains was the postwar expansion of the market into new areas, especially education, health care, child care and other services. For women, that meant the monetization of fields of work that were traditionally their unpaid responsibility, spurring growth in jobs for which women were preferred and creating powerful incentives to enter the labor force. This in turn generated greater demand for services, from fast food to child care to couples therapy. In response to an upward spiral of employment opportunities, women pursued education in greater numbers, married later (if at all) and had fewer children.

Rising demand in formerly male-dominated industries also drew women into the labor force. Consider the story of one woman whose working-class family did not expect her to pursue a career. With mediocre high school grades, she went to a community college. She decided to leave after a year to get a legal secretary certificate, which led to a law firm job, and finally a job as administrative assistant to a corporate executive, where she eventually earned about as much as her husband, an electrician.

This experience, recorded in Sarah Damaske’s recent book, “For the Family? How Class and Gender Shape Women’s Work,” was not an isolated occurrence. In the 1980s, the demand for legal assistants doubled, so that when Angela finished high school in the early 1990s a quarter-million of these paraprofessionals were on the job, about 80 percent of them women. Opportunities she had not planned for — vocational training and a career track in a booming occupation — intervened to change her life plans. Her cultural attitudes were upended by economic developments.

The entry of women into the labor force and into new fields of work — especially management — and the redivision of labor within families were seismic cultural shifts as well as economic ones. Women developed new self-images, and the daughters of their generation — my students today — would never consider forgoing a career.

So why did progress stall in the 1990s? First, despite the removal of many legal and social injustices, the movement away from traditional forms of gender segregation has remained decidedly unidirectional. As the sociologist Paula England has shown, this is most apparent in education. If you look at female representation in the top fields of study since 1970, the pattern is clear. The most female-dominated majors remained that way; the male-dominated majors had continued increases in female representation through the early 2000s; and some heavily male-dominated ones saw dramatic spikes in women’s share of degrees (which have now slowed or stalled). Strikingly absent is the substantial movement of men into even one female-dominated major.

The same is largely true of occupations, with the most female-dominated — such as librarians and early-childhood educators — remaining that way. Even registered nurses remain nearly 90 percent female despite a decade of increasing male presence (they were 92 percent female a decade ago). And one of the most consequential gender divisions, the residential custody of children, remains stubbornly resistant to change. In the past four decades, the percentage of single-parent families headed by men has risen to just 16 percent from 10 percent.

Men aren’t acting irrationally; women’s work pays less, partly because of its cultural association with traditionally unpaid tasks. And there is a deep social stigma that attaches to men who are perceived as feminine — much more than the reverse (notice that social change means that women wear pants, not that men wear dresses). At the low end of the labor market, where the men can’t afford to be choosy, some men have taken on traditionally female tasks, such as cooks and cleaners (where such jobs are majority-male outside of private homes), and low-skilled nurses’ aides. But most men who can, choose to avoid female arenas. If more men don’t — won’t or can’t — move into female fields, we hit a ceiling on integration, and with it gender equality.

The second hurdle we face is the failure to develop work-family policies that promote gender equality by enabling women to become parents without sacrificing their engagement at work and encouraging men to work in ways that do not sacrifice their engagement as parents. Unfortunately, momentum for such policy reform is hampered by the resurgent narrative that women don’t really want it. The “opt-out revolution” story was that professional women — those who had gained the most from feminism and the new economy — gave up trying to make it on the career track. Of course, as long as there have been professional women, some have ended up on the family side of the work-family fork in the road. But in the last few decades that hasn’t involved a large or growing proportion of women. Among married women in their 30s and 40s with children, college graduates are the most likely to work — three-quarters are in the labor force, and that participation rate has been unchanged for two decades.

Of course, stressed parents are concerned about their children’s future in what increasingly looks like a winner-take-all mobility contest. They often can’t find — or manage — good, affordable child care that allows both parents to pursue their careers successfully, and many don’t even have a right to unpaid family leave. When push comes to shove, the mother’s career is most often the first to go, or at least to be compromised. But despite the rhetoric of choice that has been adopted by many professional mothers who were actually forced out of demanding, inflexible and unsupportive work environments, women’s behavior belies the idea that they do not want to combine work and family. Their movement into male-dominated fields at work and school, in the continued high labor force participation rates, and the rejection of traditionalist gender roles by large majorities of women all suggest that they remain ready to respond to a more welcoming policy environment.

On the flip side, moving men into the no-man’s lands in the division of labor is daunting. Given the pay penalty for women’s work, some professions have begun recruitment campaigns, especially in areas with labor shortages, such as nursing. They valiantly attempt to mobilize masculine imagery — comparing nursing to mountain climbing, using phrases like “adrenaline rush,” and asking, “Are you man enough to be a nurse?” But that path toward gender integration runs decidedly uphill.

Done right, work-family integration policies can promote gender equality. It’s not an easy formula — either practically or politically. Too much paid family leave, and women might end up weakening their professional status, as years off the job undermined their experience.

One solution is the policy in Iceland, which allocates paid leave separately to both mothers and fathers. Similarly, support for part-time work — such as wage protection — reduces work-family conflicts, but it risks ghettoizing mothers in traditional jobs. We know that child care demands are a major factor driving women out of the labor force. But too much state-run child care frightens traditionalists — especially in the United States — who are more repelled than inspired by countries such as France, Belgium and Italy, where virtually every child is in preschool at age 3. But few rich countries do less to guarantee high-quality child care than the United States, so there has to be room to increase that approach as well even within our state-phobic parameters.

Family leave, reduced work hours and public child care won’t directly reduce occupational segregation, producing more male nurses, teachers and day care workers. But pushing on these policy fronts offers the potential to alter the gender logic of both family and workplace. If you want a society in which men are welcome and willing to be day care workers, you may need a workplace culture that accepts — or encourages — fathers’ spending more time at home with their children. To unblock the path toward gender equality, these policies may be the best ideas we have.

The restrictions on women’s lives that prevailed in the early 1960s today seem draconian; removing them was an obvious extension of basic rights to half the population. But there was fierce opposition to such reforms, and their success was never guaranteed. Someday we may come to see paid family leave, reduced work hours, and public child care as part of our natural suite of rights. And with them, gender equality may not be as far behind as it looks today.

Philip N. Cohen is a professor of sociology at the University of Maryland and the author of the forthcoming book “The Family: Diversity, Inequality and Social Change.”
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Old 11-26-2013, 06:25 AM   #662
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The second hurdle we face is the failure to develop work-family policies that promote gender equality by enabling women to become parents without sacrificing their engagement at work and encouraging men to work in ways that do not sacrifice their engagement as parents.
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Old 11-26-2013, 08:30 AM   #663
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I don't think it's that simple.

You can introduce policies but they only work if the social attitudes are accepting of them.

I can give you two examples. One, I worked at a corporate law firm which introduced paid paternity leave (17 weeks). Two younger guys took advantage of it but they moved on to other opportunities eventually. Nobody else used it because they felt that it would be perceived a certain way.

One of my best friends had a baby last year, their first. Her husband is a young star at a huge multinational organization and works in their head corporate office in finance. This company also introduced paternity leave a few years ago (less generous, I think 8 or 10 weeks) and his wife was very keen on him taking it. He was at a dinner with much more senior executives and sort of mentioned it in passing and the response he got from one of them was a laugh accompanied by a "I guess you don't want to proceed up the ranks here!" It was told in a jovial, joking manner, but you can take a guess as to whether my friend's husband took the time offered.

When we talk of these policies, the issue is often that large corporations introduce them due to a combination of a) wanting to be progressive and retain more of the younger generation which has a different view of parenting and b) wanting to be able to tick off the boxes of workplace equity and diversity. But it's one thing to introduce a policy and a whole another thing to have a corporate culture that openly embraces it. Until that point you can introduce policies until you're blue in the face and all they'll be worth is the paper they're written on.
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Old 11-26-2013, 08:48 AM   #664
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Yes, but attitudes tend not to change spontaneously in the absence of policy- it's just that policies have to be put in place with the intention that they be used. Of course if everyone from the top down knows the policy is a joke then it's not going to change attitudes, and that's the fault of management. But policy plus intention to carry them out tends to be quite effective over time.
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Old 11-26-2013, 09:07 AM   #665
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One of my best friends had a baby last year, their first. Her husband is a young star at a huge multinational organization and works in their head corporate office in finance. This company also introduced paternity leave a few years ago (less generous, I think 8 or 10 weeks) and his wife was very keen on him taking it. He was at a dinner with much more senior executives and sort of mentioned it in passing and the response he got from one of them was a laugh accompanied by a "I guess you don't want to proceed up the ranks here!" It was told in a jovial, joking manner, but you can take a guess as to whether my friend's husband took the time offered.
This is why many are choosing not to have children. When given a choice between a steady career that will give them strong financial stability or falling behind the ranks and even losing your status in the workplace while struggling with bills and time with the kids, why would anyone choose the latter? Even I wonder if I'm being delusional when I say I want to have kids.
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Old 11-26-2013, 02:45 PM   #666
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I think about adoption a lot.

When I read these stories, I start to think that maybe I should remain childless and work hard to help out my siblings financially so they can better care for their children.

This is where the present generation faces real challenges that didn't exist even 30 years ago -- the costs of health care, housing, education, and child care are so exorbitant, and the workplace so competitive, that raising a family is utterly daunting.
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Old 11-26-2013, 02:58 PM   #667
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I think about adoption a lot.

When I read these stories, I start to think that maybe I should remain childless and work hard to help out my siblings financially so they can better care for their children.

This is where the present generation faces real challenges that didn't exist even 30 years ago -- the costs of health care, housing, education, and child care are so exorbitant, and the workplace so competitive, that raising a family is utterly daunting.
Utterly daunting sounds like an understatement. It really makes me think that I should give up finding a job that I will like and just take a simple admin job that will pay well. Forget about my education, my abilities and all. I'll just make my priorities of being financially stable and having a child (maybe two) my goal.
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Old 12-03-2013, 06:51 PM   #668
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I know this is from BuzzFeed but it talks about how rape survivors are fighting back against the stigma over rape victims by speaking out about what they went through:

Why The "Rape Girls" Are Speaking Out
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Old 12-04-2013, 11:40 AM   #669
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What about these feminist heroes?
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Old 12-04-2013, 12:18 PM   #670
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Are you looking for someone to defend their actions?
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Old 12-04-2013, 12:48 PM   #671
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Are you looking for someone to defend their actions?
I would hope nobody would try.

I do find it interesting that this story is not being reported in a meaningful way.

If the roles were reversed, and men were spitting and shoving their jockstraps in the face of women (or homosexuals) - this story would be the major headline.

I suppose I'm just calling "foul."
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Old 12-04-2013, 01:25 PM   #672
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I just found your phrasing (heroes) a little unfair and fighty.

As for why it's not being more widely reported, I actually don't think it would be gaining much more traction if the genders were reversed. Local news from South America doesn't typically make the headlines here.
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Old 12-04-2013, 01:37 PM   #673
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How much news is reported from South America in general?

While what these women were doing was cruel and generally unhelpful to their cause, it's kind of an outlier. Violence and sexual assault against women is the norm in that particular gender dynamic rather than this episode. This is not something I can gather particularly meaningful comment on, other than it's unpleasant.

Anyway isn't this people being crappy to people who support an institution that wants to be crappy to women's rights? Not an expert on Argentina but I imagine it's not too dissimilar to how the Catholic Church has affected things in Ireland, which wasn't really good.
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Old 12-04-2013, 01:40 PM   #674
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IMO these women are just as bad as the men they're claiming to be against by being feministst. It's doing their cause more harm than good.
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Old 12-04-2013, 01:54 PM   #675
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I just found your phrasing (heroes) a little unfair and fighty.
Yeah, it was like saying all feminists are just like those who do more harm than good, which is largely untrue.

Rioting, vandalism, attacking and the like never solves anything. Dialogue and nonviolent protests work. Even with women's issues.
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