I was talking to a group of women recently who weren’t too excited about Woman’s History Month. Maybe you feel (as they did) that women haven’t made much progress. Their issue was that women still make less than men for doing the same job and there are way fewer women CEOs in major corporations and on corporate boards. Or maybe you feel, as I sometimes do when I tune into some show like The Bachelorette or one of the “Housewives of…” shows (for research only!), that some younger women are embracing some sort of “enlightened feminism” that tells them to behave in way that would tickle the likes of Larry Flynt.
So, yes, sometimes progress is hard to recognize.
But for sure women are progressing. And it’s ever-so-noticeable in the way women are fighting for their rights in Iraq, Afghanistan and other middle eastern countries.
And consider this:
In the 1950s, actress Jayne Mansfield did everything possible to call attention to her sexy self, including a series of wardrobe malfunctions. Fifty years later, daughter Mariska Hargitay has gained fame as the smart and tough-as-nails cop on the long-running Law and Order SVU
In 1957, Your Power as a Woman by Alma Archer was a how-to book that advised women that charm, beauty and their ability to dress in enticing negligees was their powerbase. In contrast, just since 2005, books like my own Victorious Woman! and Barbara Wilder’s Embracing Your Power Woman have been encouraging women to find their own personal power and take their places as leaders.
Before the 1960’s, fewer than 20% of women earned a college degree – and many of the women who did go to college were from wealthy families; young women were often sent to school to get their “mrs” degree. During those days, finishing and charm schools were far more common because they were designed to teach women how to behave in marriage – and, after all, marriage and children was considered a woman’s highest calling in life.
In the 1960s, more women started getting college degrees but were far outnumbered by male students. Many parents didn’t want to pay for college because they felt there was no reason a woman needed a college degree to change diapers.
But, if a young woman wanted to be a nurse or a teacher, then post-high school education might have been acceptable. Yet I remember when I interviewed Kathy for Victorious Woman. She said her goal after high school was to be an engineer – but everyone from her guidance counselor to co-workers told her women engineers would never be accepted and she’d never work in the field.
By the 1980’s the tide was starting to turn. More and more women were earning both undergraduate and post-graduate degrees.
In 2011, the college dynamics have changed. Women are getting married later and continuing their education into post-graduate work at a higher rate than men. For an interesting discussion on this topic, see the March 4, 2011 edition of To The Contrary, a PBS show for women. You can watch or podcast at https://www.pbs.org/ttc
This month I’ll be writing about the progress women have made and celebrating Woman’s History Month! I’ll look forward to sharing the celebration with you!