It’s National Women’s History Month. So let’s take a look back at some history….and then check in with the state of today’s women in America.
105 years ago this month at a gathering of the International Conference of Socialist Women taking place in Copenhagen, Denmark, 100 women who represented 17 different countries voted to establish an International Women’s Day. This celebration of women was later brought to the United States on a wave of feminism in the late 1960s. Now American women join with women around the world every year on March 8 to honor the struggles and triumphs of great women of the past, as well as those of present day.
Here in the US, March became National Women’s History Month. This grew out of a desire to recognize and celebrate women’s accomplishments in American history. While the impact of women’s history may seem abstract to some, and perhaps less imperative than the struggles that women face today, to ignore the importance of women’s dreams and accomplishments and the role they play in our lives today would be, at the very least, a big mistake.
Both strength and inspiration can be gained from those who came before us, as well as those amazing women working among us today. Women play a vital role in American history and to leave them out is to hold an inaccurate, unbalanced, and untrue view of American society and our collective past.
The White House Report
On the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day, President Obama ordered a study, which by the way hasn’t been done since Kennedy asked Eleanor Roosevelt, nearly 50 years ago, to report on the state of women in America. Now if you make the assumption that in this year of 2016, women surely are on equal footing with their male counterparts, you would be sadly mistaken. While much has been accomplished by American women, there is still so much work yet to be done. One glaringly obvious example of this is the fact that women still make only 78-80 cents on the dollar for doing the same exact work as men.
The White House’s Report on Women found many other troubling things. It found that:
-women are more likely than men to live in poverty.
-female-headed families have the lowest family earnings among all family types.
-while women were found to be receiving more overall college degrees, they actually earn far fewer degrees in Math, Science and Technology than men.
-females are more likely than males to suffer from depression.
-one out of seven women age 18–64 has no usual source of health care.
Regardless of the level of education the woman had, it was found that she made approximately 75% of what her male counterpart made. This could be explained partly because she made less money and also because single women are far more likely than men to be responsible for raising and supporting children. This may also be a factor in why more women than men live in poverty.
In Politics And Business
In political terms, at the rate we are going now it will take nearly 500 years for women to reach fair representation in American government. We now rank 83rd in the World for women in legislative positions. To put this into some perspective, here in the US 19.3% of the House of Representatives are women. In Rwanda, 64% are women. Afghanistan and Iraq and China and Cuba all have more women in legislative positions than the US.
There is a remarkable myth that women are doing so great in this country because of some like Hillary Clinton, Elizabeth Warren, and Nancy Pelosi when the reality is something else entirely.
3% of Fortune 500 companies are owned by women.
7% of Hollywood directors are women.
10% of writers of the top 250 grossing films are women.
The value we place on women in this country can even be seen in the way they are treated in budgets. At this time when the government is so focused on making budget cuts, it is clear that so many of the cuts are disproportionally hurting women. The attack on Planned Parenthood is one obvious example of this. Lianna Cook, of Massachusetts commission of the Status of Women said, “In many cases, the state’s efforts to provide economic security, expand opportunity, and protect the well-being of women and girls have been directly harmed by budget cuts.”
While in some areas, enormous progress has been made, clearly there is still much work to be done as women strive to live on equal footing with men. So as we celebrate this National Women’s History Month, it is important that we take an objective look at the big picture. There is surely plenty to celebrate as we remember triumphs of the past, but we must also realize that as a society, there is much room for improvement.