So Maria Shriver has a new project called A Woman’s Nation (Huffington Post April 15). Her goal: “identifying America’s modern woman and helping her overcome obstacles to success”. Some new information has surfaced regarding women’s role in the workplace – apparently more than fifty percent of the American workers are now female. Wow. From bread baking to bread winning. And how is that going? Well…
Let’s take a look back, shall we, identify our fore sisters’ success in overcoming obstacles, and chart how far we’ve come.
Lucretia Mott, abolitionist, minister and major mommy of the women’s movement, had a great dad. He, like many Quakers, encouraged education for girls as well as for boys, even though girls were considered man’s chattel, had no rights and were – in 1825 – legally uninsurable – like eggs and glass. Mott was a teaching assistant at a Quaker boarding school near Poughkeepsie, New York when she learned that the men doing the same job as she were paid more. Hmmm. Sounds sadly similar to Lilly Ledbetter’s story. Lovely Lilly Ledbetter has quite the little story that Lucretia Mott would not like to hear. In 1979 she became a working mother with her job as a plant supervisor at The Goodyear Tire Company in Alabama. One fine day, in 1998, she got to work and when she checked her mailbox – yes an actual physical mailbox – she found a note someone sent her showing her pay versus three men who did the same job, and guess what – the men got paid a whole lot more. And had been. For like twenty years. Ruh Row. Déjà vu. So, she sued, and her case went all the way to the Supreme Court. And then, she lost. It was a silly Supreme Court decision. (So silly, it was mentioned for it’s nonsensical ruling in the Sotomayor hearings.) But in the fine tradition of her suffragist sisters, Ledbetter fought on– for ten years, until on January 27, 2009, the silly Supreme Court decision was reversed and The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Restoration Act became the first bill President Obama signed into law. What would Lucretia say? In 1848, in Seneca Falls, she and a gaggle of gals helped Elizabeth Cady Stanton draft The Declaration Of Sentiments, (http://facweb.furman.edu/~benson/seneca-falls.cmu) a written framework demanding equality. Modeled after the Declaration of Independence, which was based on eighteen grievances against King George, it started with “we hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men and women are created equal”. I can’t help thinking of the eighteen million cracks Hillary made. Of course we have come a long way baby since then – or have we?
Today, woman STILL earn only seventy-eight cents to the man’s dollar. Yes. Someone should tell Sarah Palin who, when asked by Katie Couric where she stands on the Ledbetter Fair Pay Act (before Obama made it a law), responded by saying “I’m absolutely for equal pay for equal work. Thankfully, there are laws on the books, there have been since 1963, that no woman could be discriminated against in the workplace in terms of anything, but especially in terms of pay. So, thankfully we have the laws on the books and they better be enforced.” Lucretia Mott would be appalled.
I am hoping A Woman’s Nation is working with Momsrising.org, who reports that forty-four percent of mothers are not hired compared to non-mothers, and mothers earn eleven percent less than non-mothers. Ann Crittenden, former New York Times reporter, financial writer for Newsweek, economics commentator for CBS News, Pulitzer Prize nominee, wrote “The Price of Motherhood: Why the Most Important Job in the World is the Least Valued”. Her inspiration for writing this book came when after giving birth and “opting out of the paid workforce”, someone asked her “didn’t you used to be Ann Crittenden”? She discovered that we moms pay. A real “mommy tax” (a term she coined) which is what mothers pay for opting out, off-ramping, interrupting their careers, leaving the paid work force and staying home – to raise the future. Crittenden computes a loss of one million dollars over a lifetime if one is college educated. And every year around Mother’s Day, Salary.com comes out with THEIR tabulation on what mothers’ unpaid work is really worth – usually in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.
“We will take a hard look at how women are doing in the United States today and consider the central question of the role government, business, and faith organizations, as well as individual women and men should play in supporting women’s role now in the workforce and the U.S. economy,“ said John Podesta, president and CEO of the Center for American Progress. “We look forward to teaming up with Maria Shriver on this important work.
Maria’s project is all about painting the modern portrait of the American Woman. Gosh, I know exactly what she looks like. Hurried. Worried. And Harried.
Give me a call Maria and I’ll hook ya up. Ya see, I am the modern woman. I am a fifty-two year old college educated single divorced mother of two, whose fourteen-year detour from the paid workforce really cost me. Thanks to the very real issue of gender and maternal bias (and a healthy dose of eleven percent unemployment in my home state of California), I can’t find a job to pay me enough (not NEARLY enough) to provide for my family. And let’s not even talk about health insurance! I went from a well paid full time career woman to an unpaid full time career as a mommy and guess what? Although I could not be prouder of the humans I am raising – THEY apparently, are my resume, and OUR future – I am paying. As Ann Crittenden says, the price of motherhood is high and is the big obstacle to economic equality. Leslie Bennett so eloquently put it in her 2007 “The Feminine Mistake”, saying, “Choosing to leave the paid workforce and depending on the spouse (male or female but statistically the breadwinner is male because male earns more money) is economic suicide”. How eloquent and true. Ann Crittenden says, “Having a baby is the worst financial decision a woman can make.” And unfortunately Maria, they are right. Elizabeth Cady Stanton (suffering from what she called “mental hunger and domestic drudgery”) knew it. Lucretia Mott knew it and Susan B. Anthony knew it, which is why she refused – as she put it “to fall into the trap that is marriage and motherhood”. David Leonhardt wrote a great piece in the New York Times Business Section (Financial Careers Come At A Cost To Families May 26, 2009) about the economic price – the financial penalty – for leaving the paid workforce. He knows it. The Harvard researchers who conducted the research know it. And you Maria, must know it with four of your own.
But you don’t really have to look far or wide to “identify” the modern woman. Just pop in to a restaurant or hospital or school. In the corporate world, most of the clerical and middle management positions are filled with modern American women – not trying to do it all or have it all (a completely archaic and unrealistic ideal today) but just trying to make it, and dinner, and the kid’s open house – oh and the house payment or those bills on that seventy eight cents to a dollar paycheck.
“The last time a government project like this was organized was in 1961, when my uncle, President John F. Kennedy, appointed Eleanor Roosevelt to chair a commission to report on the status of women”.
Well yeah but it was actually Esther Peterson, pioneer and long-time woman’s rights activist and the highest ranking woman in Kennedy’s administration who proposed the idea. He ran with it but let’s give credit to Esther and of course to the amazing Eleanor Roosevelt (who in 1948 helped draft the Declaration of Human Rights for The United Nations) and led the first Presidential commission on the Status of Women (which Esther established and co-chaired).
And what is so very interesting is that first of all, Eleanor Roosevelt was not a supporter of the Equal Rights Amendment, although it was SHE who pressured JFK to give women executive positions. When he only came up with nine female appointments, she gave him a letter – three pages listing many qualified women to fill the posts. According to the Eleanor Roosevelt Papers Project “After chairing the commission’s ?rst meeting February 12, 1962, she told readers of her syndicated newspaper column My Day that “the effort, of course, is to ?nd how we can best use the potentialities of women without impairing their ?rst responsibilities, which are to their homes, their husbands and their children.”
Fascinating isn’t it? Who knew? We modern – and not so modern – women are just filled with contradictions.
A Woman’s Nation will include roundtables, a national poll, and interviews with icons of the women’s movement and other prominent leaders. The preliminary report will be released in the fall, to be followed by a book.
I cannot wait to hear/see/read your preliminary plan. And I am so curious about which accomplished women and icons of the women’s movement A Woman’s Nation will be working with. I hope they are really on the front lines, truly experiencing the daily obstacles of making it. Your average modern American woman does not have a housekeeper or chef, personal trainer or personal assistant.
“The world has changed dramatically since my uncle launched his commission, and “A Woman’s Nation” serves to update these findings to promote the new definition of who the American woman is today and what she expects and needs from our nation’s economic, cultural and social institutions in order to thrive now and in the future.”
Susan Mashuart said it best in her groundbreaking “The Mask Of Motherhood”. On mothers: “The fears frustrations and confusions they are experiencing are not evidence of personal incompetence, but a legacy of unworkable social structures and contradictory cultural demands.”
Yes. Mashuart has so clearly identified the obstacles: Unworkable social structures and contradictory cultural demands. I hope Maria, you really take this on. Mott, Stanton, Anthony – Peterson and Eleanor Roosevelt are watching.