Carole Levine March 10, 2022
This week, we acknowledged International Women’s Day which was established by the United Nations in 1975, and predates our designation in the U.S of the month of March as Women’s History Month. Some would trace its origins to the 1908 strike by the New York City garment workers (almost all of whom were women). Somehow, having a special day and a designated month in which we focus on a certain group of people and their history and significance is supposed to elevate them in everyone’s eyes. But, as I reflect on this annual observance, and that just one month before we observed Black History Month, and that April will ask us to think about people on the Autism Spectrum and survivors of sexual violence, I find myself questioning the value of these practices.
At the end of March, will women find themselves in a better position than they were at the beginning of the month? Will the Equal Rights Amendment have finally passed? Will we actually see equal pay for equal work? Will women find that paid maternity leave is the law of the land for all workers whether you are a domestic worker or a corporate executives? Will women’s bodily integrity and health care choices, including abortion, be left to them and their doctors and not to legislators? When these things happen, I think that I might see more value in elevating and focusing a specific month on women’s history and the issues at hand.
But as with others and their celebratory “months,” women, all women, are not seeing the benefits of the hard work and struggle of those who came before them. As a matter of fact, we are losing the progress we made before and during my lifetime in women’s rights, or at least in how women’s rights are perceived.
Some, however, may point to data and say that women are doing all right. A recent Gallup poll indicated that 6 in 10 Americans are satisfied with the positions of women in the United States. These numbers mirror findings of the last four years but are a clear drop from the average of 71% from 2001 through 2008. Not surprisingly, women are less satisfied than men with where they rank in society and the 10-percentage point gender gap is a close match to the average gap in 2001. It seems to be a move backwards, not forward. The chart below shows the changes, but it should be noted that this poll was not conducted between 2009 and 2017.
The latest finding is from Gallup’s Mood of the Nation Poll conducted January 3-16, 2022. It should be noted that this is approximately four years after the #MeToo Movement shone a light on the widespread sexual harassment and misconduct against women across all sectors in the United States and elsewhere. Women’s satisfaction with the position of women hit a new low of 51% in 2018 and has not recovered much since then, in spite of some significant political gains.
While the Gallup information is helpful in laying out a pattern and showing some direction, it only digs in limited directions. It tells us the traditional gender subgroups (male/female) of respondents, and it also breaks them out into the two traditional political parties (Democrats and Republicans) as well as educational levels of each group. While interesting, these data are no surprise in what they show.
Americans’ Satisfaction With the Position of Women in the U.S., Among Demographic Subgroups
Are you very satisfied, somewhat satisfied, somewhat dissatisfied or very dissatisfied with the position of women in the nation?
|Gender by Party Identification|
|Gender by College Education|
|Women without college degrees||62|
|Women who are college graduates||46|
|Men without college degrees||66|
|Men who are college graduates||67|
The bottom line is that Democrats and those college-educated adults are less satisfied with the positioning and gains of women than their counterparts in the Republican party and those without a college education, and women less satisfied than men. Even with women’s’ gains in public offices (including the Vice Presidency) and in corporate and executive positions, the satisfaction level remains lower than it was prior to the #MeToo movement. And the missing piece in this particular survey data is that we have not data that breaks out information on Women of Color and the economic status of those surveyed. So, I needed to do some further digging.
A 2020 Pew Research Center survey on gender equality found that nearly 80% of Americans support gender equality. But then this same survey took a turn to dive into asking people if the dictionary (Merriam-Webster) definition of feminism as “the theory of the political, economic and social equality of the sexes” described them. Only 61% of women and 40% of men then said “feminist” described them very or somewhat well. “I think ‘identify as feminist’ has morphed into ‘identify with a wide breadth of social, political issues that align with contemporary politics of equity and reparative justice,’ ” says Karla Holloway, who has taught African American studies, women’s studies and law at Duke University. “Feminism is taken to mean a shared perspective on these issues, but because the issues divide constituencies, it turns into pushing aside the label rather than understanding it as a category that can, and does, contain complexity.”
Has the Women’s Movement, feminism, been truly helpful in bettering the lives of women, especially the lives of Women of Color? According to the data collected by Pew, 6 in 10 U.S. adults would say yes – feminism has helped the lives of white, Black and Hispanic women…at least a little. One third would say that it has helped white women a lot; but only 21% say it has really helped Black women and just 10% say feminism has helped poor women a lot. Professor Holloway says that the feminist movement is not inclusive of Women of Color. “We need to begin again,” Holloway says. “Defund the institutions and restructure the values so that women of color, women with limited economic means, women who have been excised and disabled by the mantra of ‘American dream’ are architects of its new formations. Not a seat at the table but determining the size, shape and congregants who come to the table.”
As I ponder the value of International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month, I think the question is why is this relegated to a 30 day timeframe? And why are we not elevating those who need to be most recognized – women of color, Indigenous women, women with limited economic means, those with disabilities and those of different gender identity and expression. They are the ones that need year-round recognition and a platform where they can raise their issues and their voices. An ongoing platform where people will listen, understand, and act both with them and for them. Nothing less is acceptable.