ADVISORY: Women’s Equality Day Turns 44. Gains, stalls, and setbacks
August 25, 2017, Austin, TX: Since 1973, August 26th has been designated as Women’s Equality Day, offering a chance to assess the current status of gender equity. In a fact sheet compiled for the Council on Contemporary Families, Nika Fate-Dixon and Stephanie Coontz (The Evergreen State College) summarize research on women at work, in families, and in politics. In sum, they report: “The past three decades have seen continued gains in women’s educational and occupational achievements and a striking increase in egalitarian arrangements on the home front. But progress has not been the same for women of color as for white women; it has stalled for parents; and there have been serious setbacks in the political realm. Additionally, class differences among women have widened.”
This new analysis refutes claims that women are becoming “the richer sex.” But in the 20 percent of marriages where women do have higher earnings, this no longer raises the risk of divorce. Despite real progress toward gender equity, the report suggests, taking further progress for granted is a mistake.
The report also notes several contradictory trends:
- Social class changes everything. Up until 40 years ago, the average college-educated woman working full time earned less than the average male high school graduate. Today highly-educated women greatly out-earn less-educated men — but the gender wage gap between high-earning men and women is now larger than ever.
- The gender gap differs by race, and the race gap differs by gender: Between 1980 and 2015 white women narrowed the gap in hourly wages with white men by 22 cents, but black and Hispanic women narrowed the gap with white men by only 9 and 5 cents respectively. The racial wage gap between black and white men didn’t budge at all during the same period, and that between Hispanic and white men worsened slightly.
- Progress toward equality in family life continues—though kids bring backsliding, meaning moms do more and more. Men have increased their involvement in childcare, and egalitarian couples report the highest marital and sexual satisfaction. But even the most egalitarian couples tend to backslide into an uneven division of labor after having children — often without even realizing it.
- There have been serious setbacks in the political arena, despite polls showing overwhelming public support for equality in public life and for women’s reproductive rights. For example, a national poll taken this month found that two-thirds of voting age adults support access to reproductive health care and pregnancy prevention. Yet the Trump Administration plans to defund a successful national teen pregnancy prevention program, with the 2018 budget funding solely for abstinence-only sex education.
Finally, well, sexism may have gotten a new lease on life.
The authors note “the increased visibility and volume of sexist sentiments, from the ‘grab them by the pussy’ tape released during the campaign to the new prominence of Breitbart News, known for headlines such as ‘Birth Control Makes Women Unattractive and Crazy,’ ‘Would You Rather Your Child Have Feminism or Cancer?’ and ‘The Solution to Online ‘Harassment’ Is Simple: Women Should Log Off’. The invigorated neo-Nazi movement preaches a venomous male supremacy as well as white supremacy: Witness the reaction of Andrew Anglin, editor of the Daily Stormer, to the death of Heather Heyer, the 32-year-old paralegal who was mowed down by a Nazi sympathizer during the August 11 white supremacist demonstration in Charlottesville. Anglin wrote that Heyer’s death relieved society from tolerating yet another “fat, childless, 32-year-old slut… who had failed to do her most basic duty – her only real duty, in fact – and reproduce.”
The authors observe: “Most Americans are rightly horrified by such sentiments, but some disturbingly similar sentiments lie behind the attacks on Planned Parenthood and the demonization of feminists by more cagey social conservatives.” The question, say the authors, is whether the recent outbreaks of vicious sexism will reinvigorate the movement for gender equality or encourage more people to express even more hostility toward women?
Stephanie Coontz, Professor of History, The Evergreen State College and CCF Director of Research and Public Education, at firstname.lastname@example.org, cell 360-556-9223.
Philip Cohen, Professor of Sociology, University of Maryland, email@example.com.
Virginia Rutter, Professor, Department of Sociology, Framingham State University, firstname.lastname@example.org.
On August 26, 2017, Women’s Equality Day Turns 44 by Nika Fate-Dixon and Stephanie Coontz
The Council on Contemporary Families, based at the University of Texas-Austin, is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization of family researchers and practitioners that seeks to further a national understanding of how America’s families are changing and what is known about the strengths and weaknesses of different family forms and various family interventions.
The Council helps keep journalists informed of notable work on family-related issues via the CCF Network. To join the CCF Network, or for further media assistance, please contact Stephanie Coontz, Director of Research and Public Education, at email@example.com, cell 360-556-9223.
August 25, 2017