WCW Blog

The Women Change Worlds blog of the Wellesley Centers for Women (WCW) encourages WCW scholars and colleagues to respond to current news and events; disseminate research findings, expertise, and commentary; and both pose and answer questions about issues that put women's perspectives and concerns at the center of the discussion.

Female Kicker Makes History

FootballStockFemale Kicker Makes History

When Arizona high school senior Becca Longo on Wednesday officially signed on to be a kicker for Division II Adams State University Football, it was notable for a key reason: She was getting paid.

Of course, she is not literally getting paid. But she is getting a scholarship to play. There is growing history of female athletes playing football at the college level, but it’s not clear that any others have been recruited and given an athletic scholarship.

Katie Hnida, who played for Colorado and then New Mexico, walked on. And while Shelley Osborne in 2014 was recruited from Jeffersonville High in Indiana to play defensive back at Campbellsville University in Kentucky, they play in the NAIA, which does not award scholarships. (Three years later, however, she is still on the roster as an active member of the team.

Why do scholarship dollars matter?

Symbolically it’s a big deal. Not only for the obvious problem women have getting paid the same money for the same work as men (the wage gap now stands at 82 cents to the dollar men earn). But the scholarship also begins to challenge an historic bias about how males and females view and participate in sports. Culturally, there is an assumption that men play to win and women play for fun and fitness, notions reinforced through the origins and structures of sport opportunities.

It has taken decades for female athletes to be viewed as individuals every bit as driven and intense as their male counterparts. The scholarship helps make that case for one simple reason: When coaches recruit, they don’t waste money. They are picking talent and assembling the elements of their team with a goal of winning.

Credit Adams State coach, former Arizona Cardinals quarterback Timm Rosenbach.  He told media that he just picked a player he thought could compete. “I see her as a football player who earned it,” he said. “She has a strong leg and can be very accurate.” Last season Longo made 30 of 33 point-after kicks and a 30-yard field goal

When Hnida in 2003 became the first female to score an extra point in an NCAA Division I game (she actually scored two, against Texas State), it was seen as a stunning event. More than a dozen years later, Longo’s recruitment is more noteworthy than shocking.

We are – at long last – becoming acclimated to the talent and intensity of female athletes. It is not a freak occurrence to see women excel. It’s sinking in that high-level ability can be developed, trained and practiced. Why shouldn’t a 5’11” 140-pound athlete with a powerful leg and strong mental make-up kick field goals?

Just consider the arching bombs that female soccer players launch down a field toward a net. Aim over uprights and a boundary is breached.

Longo’s signing marks progress in the cultural understanding that women – as well as men – can be dazzling athletes worth real money. (NCAA women’s tournament basketball game UConn vs. Mississippi State, anyone?)>

Yet even as Longo’s name was hurriedly added to the Wikipedia “female American football players” entry, one notes that the list isn’t very long. The reasons for girls and women not to play football – aside from reasons no one should – reflect a stubborn gender bias about what is “appropriate” and what is not, particularly when we are talking about kickers.

Journalist Laura Pappano is writer-in-residence at the Wellesley Centers for Women and was a leader of The Women’s Sports Leadership Project. For seven years, she edited the FairGameNews blog, now preserved as an archive.

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Fighting... Women in Sports

indexFighting... Women in Sports

I’m not an athletic purist, one who finds poetry in the elemental mano-a-mano competition of strength, agility and smarts (sigh, yes, I know there’s strategy) of boxing and mixed martial arts, which include grappling moves. Honestly, I just don’t enjoy seeing people beat, punch or twist the crap out of one another. Period.

That aside, I appreciate what Ronda Rousey is doing these days. When you consider that the Institute for Women’s Policy Research estimates we are 43 years away from wage parity with men, Ms. Rousey deserves credit for speeding things up.

In 2012, she became the first woman signed by Ultimate Fighting Championship, the largest mixed martial arts promotion company in the world, and three years later claims to be the UFC’s highest paid fighter. Kurt Badenhausen of Forbes, who compiles the list of highest-paid female athletes, puts Rousey at #8 for 2015 with $6.5 million in earnings, including $3 million in salary (the other $3.5 million from endorsement deals plus a bestselling book and three movies).

Mind you, his calculations came out before the Ms. Rousey’s blockbuster UFC193 November 2015 fight against Holly Holm, which drew 56,215 to Etihad Stadium in Melbourne, Australia, the largest crowd ever for a UFC event. It was also the third most purchased UFC pay-per-view event, attracting more than 1.1 million buyers.

Despite the pre-match promotions and expectation that Ms. Rousey would continue her rampage, the fight turned out not to be a female version of The Thrilla in Manilla. Ms. Holm won – quickly -- stunning everyone who had expected Ms. Rousey to continue the dominance that had her winning 11 matches in the first round.

There remain troubling inequalities in men’s and women’s combat sports. When women box at the Olympics in Rio – women’s boxing debuted in the modern era at the 2012 London Olympics -- there will be three events to the men’s 10. And in classic Olympic Committee style women’s competitions are slightly shorter than the men’s. There will be four 2-minutes rounds, while the men will have three 3-minute rounds (men get an extra minute!).

Yet, women’s fights have gained legitimacy and come a long way from the days of mud wrestling. The emergence of mixed martial arts as a spectator sport – and UFC as a forum – are just over two decades old. Where mud wrestling – not actually a sport – was a 1980s phenomenon about the sex appeal of barely clad women grappling in brown goo, UFC is not titillating in the least.

Ms. Rousey, the MMA competitor, hardly evokes the version of herself with the blonde trusses wearing the painted-on swimsuit in the new Sports Illustrated issue. Which is to say, you never know where progress toward gender equality in sports will come from – or the complications such a boost will offer. Feminism can demand purity, much as boxing fans focus on the base beauty of the physical human contest.

Some celebrate Ms. Rousey as the quintessential feminist while others see her as a traitor. When asked by an Australian reporter about gender pay equity in sports, she didn’t offer an ideological frame – or much sympathy. Rather, she said, “I think that how much you get paid should have something to do with how much you bring in.”

She added that, “I’m the highest-paid fighter not because Dana and Lorenzo wanted to do something nice for the ladies. They do it because I bring in the highest numbers. They do it because I make them the most money. And I think the money that they make should be proportionate to the money they bring in.”

There are a thousand reasons why it’s more complicated than this for women in sports as well as other jobs and career fields. But as we celebrate National Girls and Women in Sports Day, it is a reminder that gains are not always neat, intended or harmonious. And sometimes we win even when we don’t mean to.

Journalist Laura Pappano is writer-in-residence at the Wellesley Centers for Women and a leader of The Women’s Sports Leadership Project. For seven years, she edited the FairGameNews blog, now preserved as an archive.

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The Right to Research: How Data Helps Women’s Human Rights around the World – The Case of West African Market Women

GBlog2The Right to Research: How Data Helps Women’s Human Rights around the World – The Case of West African Market Women

This past November, I had the opportunity to visit Ghana as a member of the international research advisory committee for a study on West African market women that was sponsored by the African Women’s Development Fund, Ford | West Africa, and the Sirleaf Market Women’s Fund (full disclosure: I’m a member of the SMWF board). This sweeping study, in which over 500 women from four Anglophone countries--Ghana, Liberia, Nigeria, and Sierra Leone--were interviewed, was the first ever to examine market women’s contributions to economic and social development in West Africa, particularly from the perspective of the market women themselves. Five researchers--a coordinating lead researcher, Dr. Comfort Lamptey, plus one researcher for each country--collected and analyzed the data, and we were convening in Ghana for a validation workshop to which national government officials, UN operatives, NGO leaders, funders, and market women leaders had been invited to discuss the results and formulate next steps.

Market women--those everyday traders who sell foodstuffs and other necessities in local open markets--are a force to be reckoned with in their respective countries. Yet, their voices, concerns, and ideas have often been ignored because they are considered economically and socially marginal due to their location in the informal sector and the fact that many continue to live at subsistence level. Nevertheless, as our study showed, market women make up approximately 80 percent of the women working in the informal sector in their societies, and, without them, their countries couldn’t function. They are the ones responsible for moving crops and livestock from farm to market and for basic processing of foods most frequently used. Whether rice or corn, yam or cassava, plantains or peppers, pineapples or papayas, sugar cane or palm oil, greens or groundnuts, goat, chicken, or fish--they are the ones who bring it to market and sell. One thing we agreed on at this conference is that no longer should these women be referred to as “petty traders,” because there is nothing petty about what they do!

In fact, our study revealed that market women play a major role in human capital development in their respective nations because, after feeding their families, their major economic expense is paying school fees for their children--and often for the children of others, such as extended family members. In our study, there were market women paying school fees for up to 13 children; an average was four or five. Often, these women also generously take care of neglected or orphaned children in their communities, even on their subsistence-level budgets. Market women are committed to education, and many have put children not only through primary schGBlog1Layli Maparyan with the Delegation from Liberia.ool, but also secondary school and university. Some can claim heads of state, government ministers, lawyers, doctors, nurses, professors, and corporate executives among those they have educated. In fact, the head of Ford | West Africa expressed that he was in part inspired to fund this study because his own mother was a market woman. Even President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia, Africa’s first democratically elected woman head of state, after whom the Sirleaf Market Women’s Fund is named, is the grand-daughter of a market woman. Almost everyone in West Africa--or anyone from West Africa, living in the diaspora--is related or connected to a market woman.

Although our study was able to identify the fact that market women contribute significantly to the gross domestic product (GDP) of their respective nations, further detailed study of their contributions to GDP by economists would be the next logical follow-up. Such data would provide leverage for convincing governments to earmark budgetary lines for market women. Market women have many needs, from infrastructural improvements to their markets (such as better stalls, improved storage and security, and improved water and sanitation), to financial literacy and business skills training (which will enable them to better engage formal sector institutions), to basic literacy programs (our study found that most market women have only completed primary school or less), to child care and early education schemes for their children, to family leave policies and maternal care provisions that will provide flexibility and support when they are pregnant or lactating. These are the needs that were identified by the market women themselves in our study. Although some foundations, multi- or bi-laterals, and NGOs address these needs quite valiantly, they would be most comprehensively and reliably addressed if governments became involved, creating relevant policies, contributing dedicated funds, and coordinating multi-sectoral efforts so that duplication is avoided. More detailed research about the economic impact of market women could show governments that investing in market women isn’t just the right thing to do for the women themselves, but it is also a profitable economic investment for each nation respectively, particularly as many struggle to move from low-income to middle-income economic designations.

In the study and from the floor, the market women expressed the need to strengthen their national blogpullquoteMarketWomenmarket women organizations, with a special focus on gender parity in leadership. Although women are, by far, the largest proportion of marketers and traders, often it is the few men who are afforded positions of leadership that allow them to engage with policymakers. The market women who participated in our study would like to see women’s voices rise to the top and for women’s leadership to be recognized with top-level posts. Additionally, they indicated that the time might be right for a West Africa-wide market women’s organization that allowed market women from different countries to network, share best practices, and shape policy that affects them. Many touted the Sirleaf Market Women’s Fund as a good example of a multi-constituency organization that has raised the visibility of market women’s issues at the same time as it has brought different stakeholders together for a common cause, and they imagined this model growing from its roots in Liberia to other countries. Additionally, the pivotal roles of the African Women’s Development Fund, UN Women, and Ford, all of which have provided funding for market women’s issues and related actions, were lauded as model donors.

One extremely interesting and exciting development from the floor was the suggestion that market women should and would like to take more responsibility for data collection about themselves. Many market women expressed “research fatigue”--an exhaustion with “outsider” researchers who “come in, collect data on us, write books about us, don’t call us back, and don’t do anything to help us.” Fortunately, the whole purpose of the validation workshop was to present the findings to the market women, determine whether they rang true with market women, and engage in conversations about the way forward with market women as equal partners at the table with other stakeholders. At the workshop, all of us discussed ways that data and research could be maximized for the benefit of market women, including how to collect data in ways that avoid duplication and how to bring market women into the process as researchers. It is market women who know best what is important to their lives and their businesses, yet the ability of researchers from different sectors (academia, government, multilaterals, NGOs, CBOs, and funders) to converse together enriches the larger effort.

GBlog3Dr. Comfort Lamptey and Layli MaparyanMy own horse in this race has to do with making sure that women all over the world have equal access to good research that affects their lives. At the Wellesley Centers for Women, we have prioritized raising the banner of research in important conversations and working with women- and gender-focused research organizations around the world to increase capacity, where needed, and to partner as equals wherever possible. We have so much to learn from each other; but, more importantly, the world’s policymakers need more and better information about women’s lives that is informed by women themselves. Whether it is creating more opportunities for women to become researchers, or making sure there are enough women- and gender-focused research organization around the world, or making sure that data generated by and about women gets utilized in all the right places, or making sure that everyday people who aren’t researchers have the research literacy to interpret research findings critically, we believe that research is a human right and that access to data advances human rights. So, on this Human Rights Day, we are glad to be part of the cause!

Layli Maparyan, Ph.D., is the Katherine Stone Kaufmann '67 executive director of the Wellesley Centers for Women and Professor of Africana Studies at Wellesley College.

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Equal Pay Day & A Woman's Worth

78centsEqual Pay Day & A Woman's Worth

April 2016 Update: The wage gap cited has improved by 1% point since this article was originally posted in April 2015.

What is a woman worth? On Tuesday, April 14, 2015, we celebrate Equal Pay Day, a day to acknowledge the continuing gap in wages between women and men. By now, we are all familiar with the statistics – women employed full-time, year-round earn only 78 cents for every dollar a man earns. While some of this gap is attributable to differences in worker’s education, training or experience, about 40% of the pay gap can be attributed to discrimination.

What does this familiar narrative mean for individual women? Let’s start with STEM (science, technology, engineering and math). While girls have closed the gap with boys in high school science and math, women are losing ground in engineering and computing. While Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, recommends leaning in, Gamergate reminded us of the challenges and open hostility that women can face in tech fields.

Over one-third of women are employed in the health and education fields; four of the top 20 occupations for women in are these fields--elementary and middle school teachers, secondary school teachers, registered nurses, and nursing and psychiatric aides. Even in these heavily female occupations, men outearn women. For example, “males in nursing outearned females by nearly $7,700 per year in outpatient settings and nearly $3,900 in hospitals.”

blogpullquoteEqualPayService occupations, such as maids and housekeeping cleaners, personal care aides and child care workers, are the lowest paid of all broad occupational categories. This disproportionately affects the earnings of women of color; while 16% of all women work in service occupations, 24% of Black women, and 27% of Latinas, are employed in service occupations.

How do we fix this? There are a few proposals on the table right now that would go a long way to address this gap. First, raising the minimum wage would affect women who are disproportionately employed in low-wage occupations. Second, ensuring equal pay for work of equal value, and putting teeth into the Equal Pay Act, would reduce wage discrimination [link ]. Third, providing paid parental leave for all workers would make it possible for mothers with young children to stay competitive in the labor force, and for parents to participate equally in raising their families. Wouldn’t it be great if we never needed to celebrate Equal Pay Day again?

Nancy Marshall, Ed.D. is an Associate Director and Senior Research Scientist at the Wellesley Centers for Women (WCW) at Wellesley College. She leads the Work, Families and Children Team at WCW and is an Adjunct Associate Professor at Wellesley College.

April 2016 Update: The wage gap cited has improved by 1% point since this article was originally posted in April 2015.

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More than the Gender Wage Gap

SocialJusticeDialogueBox NewSocial Justice Dialogue: Eradicating Poverty

More than the Gender Wage Gap…On Many Fronts the Economic News is Not Good for Women

In spite of attention-grabbing headlines like, “The Richer Sex: How the Majority of Female Breadwinners is Transforming Sex, Love, and the Family" (Liza Mundy, 2012), on many fronts the economic news is not good for women: and indeed for the poorest, the news is getting worst.

It is not good news when we examine:

  • PovertyBlog The gender wage gap that continues at all educational levels. In 2012, the median annual earnings for womenworking full-time were 76.5 % of men’s earnings and had barely changed since 2001. This is evident in the gap between the median earnings for women and men with Associate’s degrees ($42,300 and $55, 600, respectively), and continues through earnings for those with Ph. D. degrees.

  • Racial/ethnic disparities among women. The gender wage gap is smaller between African-American and Hispanic men and women (89%), but it is much larger when compared to white men (64% and 53%, respectively). Although the median earnings of Black, Hispanic, and White women with less than a high school diploma are almost equal (around $380), the median weekly earnings of White women with Associate degrees is $678, compared to $595 for Black women and $611 for Hispanic women.

  • The incidence of family poverty, particularly among households headed by women of color. In 2012, 18.4% of all families with children under the age of 18 lived in poverty. However, almost 49% of Hispanic, 47% of Black, and 38% of White single-mother households with dependent children lived in poverty.

  • blogpullquoteGenderWageGapThe inadequacy of full-time, year-round minimum wage earnings to support a family. In 2009, single mothers earning the hourly minimum wage of $7.25 earned just over $15,000--well below the poverty level of $17,285 for a family of three. These earnings are far below the median U.S. family income (almost $50,000) and the median earnings of dual earning households (over $78,000).

  • The erosion of public benefits for the poorest families. The greatest income gap emerges in the discrepancy between the amount of income received by families with federal cash benefits known as TANF (Temporary Aid to Needy Families) and the federal poverty level. In 2012, not a single state’s TANF benefits for a family of three brought the family up to 50% of the poverty level, i.e., $8,641 per year. For example, the Massachusetts TANF benefit for a mother with two children under the age of 18 was $7,400 a year. Even when the value of food benefits (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) is added to TANF, only one state (Alaska) brings its families up to 80% of poverty level.

  • The erosion of opportunities for economic advancement through education for low-income mothers. The ‘welfare reform’ policy of the mid-1990’s diminished access to education for TANF recipients. Prior to TANF, forty-eight states had counted participation in postsecondary education for periods ranging from 24 to 72 months; post-1996, women have had difficulty participating in even 12-months of vocational training. Instead, welfare-to-work programs have shunted women back into the same low-paid jobs without benefits they had previously.

 

The earnings and wealth gap is not a recent phenomenon; it has been growing steadily for three decades. However, only recently has it become a topic of general interest, particularly as the gap between the very rich and the very poor accelerated during a time of deep economic recession. This inequality gap has seeped into the national consciousness as it became a rallying cry for the “99 percent” movement, and trickled into the 2012 presidential debates.

Clearly, at the Wellesley Centers for Women an account of economic inequality is incomplete without the concerns outlined here: the inequalities among women, including the deep poverty of vulnerable families headed by women. In addition, we must address the often overlooked and alarming educational divide that exacerbates these economic concerns by eroding the possibility of social mobility through education, particularly for the poorest women. While access to college has become a mantra of the current administration, we must become more aware of and concerned with the educational divide as it affect low-income mothers – both in and out of the workforce.

Erika Kates, Ph.D. is a Research Scientist at the Wellesley Centers for Women at Wellesley College, working in two major research areas: Gender and Justice with a focus on women, and low-income women’s access to education.

Sources:
Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. March 2013. The Value of TANF Cash Benefits Continued to Erode in 2012. Washington D.C.: CBPP.
U.S. Census Bureau. Current Population Survey. 2012.
U.S. Census Bureau Statistical Abstract of the U.S. 2012 (based on 2009 data) Tables 692, 703.
American Association of University Women. Fall 2013. The Simple Truth About the Gender Pay Gap. Washington D.C. AAUW.

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Tackling Inter-generational Poverty through Education

collegecounselingSocial Justice Dialogue: Eradicating Poverty

Tackling Inter-generational Poverty through Education

SocialJusticeDialogueBox NewA frequent theme in the discussion on poverty is the degree to which poverty persists across generations. While the United States is touted as the land of opportunity where everyone can attain their American dream, poverty is still the most likely outcome for a child born into a poor family. A large body of research demonstrates that education is the best way out of poverty, especially when dealing with inter-generational transmission of poverty. The problem is, however, that children from economically disadvantaged families are much less likely to obtain college education than their wealthier peers. In this article, I review innovative recent studies demonstrating cost-effective ways to increase educational attainment among poor children.

Caroline Hoxby and Sarah Turner show that high-achieving students from poor families typically apply to selective colleges much less frequently than students from wealthier families, despite the fact that those selective colleges would have generous financial aid available. In their experimental study, Hoxby and Turner offer customized information on the application process and financial aid to students, and find that the college application, admission and enrollment rates of high-achieving low-income students increase dramatically. As their intervention only cost $6 per student, the authors argue that providing information in this manner would be a highly cost effective way to improve the educational attainment of low-income students. Their experiment was adopted by the College Board in an effort to attract poor, high-scoring students to elite colleges. Indeed, Wellesley College has just launched their own effort to advertise financial aid available to low-income families.

blogpullquoteTacklingPovertyEric Bettinger and his colleagues tackle the low take-up rate of college financial aid among low-income individuals by providing assistance for filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) forms and handing out information on the expected student aid levels relative to college costs. High school seniors whose parents received the assistance were much more likely to enroll in college and complete at least 2 years of education during the 2-year follow-up period. The experiment cost a total of $88 per participant (including a $20 participation incentive and $20 incentive to the H&R Block tax professionals proving the assistance). Even so, the large positive effects of the experiment would far outweigh the modest cost per participant.

Several recent studies have provided information on the benefits of higher education to high school students, concentrating especially to students from economically disadvantaged backgrounds. These studies cover students in a variety of countries such as Canada, Dominican Republic and Finland. In each case, these low-cost interventions find that students exposed to the information provided change their application behavior and/or post-secondary educational attendance. In most cases the effects are particularly large for students stemming from poorer or less educated families.

The studies reviewed here demonstrate that children from poorer families are lacking in their educational attainment at least in part due to insufficient information on the economic benefits of education and available financial aid. In addition, their college attendance may further be hampered due to the application procedures required to obtain financial aid. These disadvantages could be easily, and cheaply, overcome by providing targeted information and assistance to students and their families. As the research shows, the modest investment would be far outweighed by the positive benefits stemming from greater college attendance and higher future earnings of the participating students. And most importantly, these types of policies could begin to bring children out of chronic poverty by cutting down the inter-generational transmission of economic status.

Sari Pekkala Kerr, Ph.D. is a Senior Research Scientist and Economist at the Wellesley Centers for Women at Wellesley College. Her research and teaching focus on the economics of labor markets, education, and families.

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Celebrating Women's Equality Day

WomensEqualityDayCelebrating Women’s Equality Day

August 26, Women’s Equality Day, always raises mixed feelings for me. I can join in the spirit of celebration over how far women have come from the days when my graduate school professor announced in class that if the political science department ever hired a woman, he would leave. When I was told I could not change my name from my married name to my “maiden” name; when flight attendants were all women who had passed an “attractiveness” test; and domestic workers had no rights to fair pay nor protection from assault and sexual harassment. And, of course, I remain grateful to Rep. Bella Abzug (D-NY), who almost single-handedly pushed the creation of “Women’s Equality Day” through Congress in 1971.

The date was selected to commemorate the 1920 passage of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, granting women the right to vote (though a meaningful extension of this right for African American women in many states did not occur until the 1964 Voting Rights Act). The passage of the 19th Amendment was the culmination of a massive, peaceful civil rights movement by women that had its formal beginnings in 1848 at the world’s first women’s rights convention, in Seneca Falls, New York. Workplaces, libraries, organizations, and public facilities now participate with Women’s Equality Day programs, displays, video showings, or other activities.

blogpullquoteEqualityDayThis is all good. So why my lingering sense of discontent when the subject of equal rights for women comes up? It may be based, in part, on personal experience. I lived in Illinois in the 1970s, when the very last states were scheduled to vote to ratify the Equality Rights Amendment (ERA). Having passed Congress and been ratified by 35 states, it seemed that the ERA was on the path to becoming part of the Constitution.

But Phyllis Schlafly, doyenne of the right-wing, anti-feminist women’s movement, decided to stop Illinois’ ratification of the ERA, making that goal explicit by starting an organization called STOP ERA. Her followers baked pies for Illinois legislators with the message Stop ERA hidden inside. She travelled tirelessly to argue against the ERA. She raised the specter of “horrible consequences” that would follow from its passage, such as women in military combat and unisex bathrooms. On June 18, 1980 Schlafly succeeded when the Illinois legislature failed by five votes to ratify the ERA. Our current Congress would never pass its equivalent, though it has been reintroduced in every session of Congress since 1982.

Certainly another source of my discontent is the ongoing plight of low-income women, whose safety net is now shredded, so that life is increasingly unmanageable and the struggle to keep food on the table is harder every year. As the gap in income widens inexorably, these women and their children are, far from equal, being left farther and farther behind. A growing number of women continue to live in fear of violence, wage theft and abuse by employers, with little access to public services and usually facing a hostile welfare system. Their rights are limited by their lack of earning power and, often, their lack of a good education.

But women do have a number of avenues to redress unequal treatment. The Violence Against Women Act became law in 1994 (though periodic reauthorizations are still a struggle). Title IX became the basis for the transformation of women’s and girls’ participation in sports in 1972. Women have successfully sued for equal pay for equal work, equal access to promotion, equal right to a military career, and pregnancy rights in the workplace. In international settings, pursuit of rights for women is increasingly seen as an important key to unlocking the potential for improvements for a country as a whole.

Women’s rights organizations continue to organize, lobby, and litigate in areas that remain intransigent, such as family leave, child care, equal pay, protection from sterilization, domestic violence, and the rights of women in prison. Massive problems, such as human trafficking, persist. Fighting for women’s equality is an arduous but necessary process, ploddingly pursued by dedicated women and men who refuse to accept a lesser role for women in society.

“Women’s rights are human rights”--a current anthem of the women’s movement--remains a vision, a goal, and a noble quest that we pursue at the Wellesley Centers for Women. As we say, “A world that is good for women is good for everyone."

Jean Hardisty, Ph.D. is a Senior Scholar at the Wellesley Centers for Women at Wellesley College. She is the founder and president emerita of Political Research Associates (PRA), a Boston-based research center that analyzes right wing, authoritarian, and anti-democratic trends and publishes educational materials for the general public.  

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What Is A Woman Worth?

PayEquityBlogWhat Is A Woman Worth?

Are you paid what you’re worth? How much do you earn? Is your paycheck fair?

These are the kinds of questions we don’t talk about in public, or even with co-workers. We might broach them with close friends or family, but many Americans don’t like to talk about whether our paychecks are fair. However, when women earn 77 cents for every dollar a man earns, and this gender wage gap holds at all levels of education, we have to ask what’s at play here. For Black and Latino women, the gap is even greater; Black women earn 70 cents for every dollar earned by men of all races, and Latinas earn only 60 cents.

Is it that women put family and children first, and that affects their pay, because they work part-time or take time out of the workforce? While women who work part-time or take time out of the workforce to experience a “motherhood penalty,” the majority of mothers are working full-time. Working mothers are as serious about their employment as are working fathers, in an economy where a second income is essential to maintain a standard of living that, decades ago, could have been supported by one income.

Perhaps the pay gap is because women “chose” to go into jobs or professions that pay less? Women are concentrated in relatively few occupations, such as nursing, teaching, administrative assistants, health aides, customer service and the like. This concentration of women in a few, predominantly female, occupations does hold wages down, because more women are competing for a more limited range of occupations. However, even when women work in the same occupations as men, they often earn less than the men.

These kinds of arguments about why women earn less than men are grounded in old ideas about what a woman is worth, and about women’s place in the world. When we devalue women’s family and community work, we also devalue the paid jobs that support families and communities, such as teaching and nursing. When we ask whether it's women’s choices that drive the pay gap, we’re ignoring the effects of discrimination enacted by others with the power to hire and fire.

According to the official blog of the U.S. Department of Labor, “Economists generally attribute about 40 percent of the pay gap to discrimination--making about 60 percent explained by differences between workers or their jobs.” That’s right, almost half of the pay gap is attributed to discrimination. Two bills that would address this discrimination are currently in committee and not likely to go further. The Fair Pay Act (S.168, H.R.438) is designed to end wage discrimination by requiring equal pay for comparable work. The Paycheck Fairness Act (S.84, blogpullquoteWomanWorthH.R.377) would strengthen the Equal Pay Act of 1963.

However, we don’t have to wait for Congress to act to address the issue of discrimination and pay equity. As workers, we can start talking to each other about what we earn, and whether we think that’s fair. As employers, we can reconsider the wage structure in our firm, and evaluate its fairness. As citizens, we can challenge the old ideas about what a woman, and women’s work, is worth, and encourage our daughters and sons to not limit their dreams to the old dreams, but to explore a wide range of occupations and follow their own interests.

Nancy Marshall, Ed.D., is an Associate Director and Senior Research Scientist at the Wellesley Centers for Women at Wellesley College. She leads the Centers' Work, Families & Children team and teaches courses at Wellesley College on gender, employment and the sociology of children and youth.

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