Women in the U.S. Today
Women in the U.S. have made big advances in every field. Yet discrimination still exists. How far have women really come?
Perhaps you want to be a lawyer when you grow up. Whether you are a boy or a girl, chances are you find nothing extraordinary about such an ambition. Peggy Kerr, now a top lawyer at Skadden, Arps in New York City, knew she wanted to be a lawyer at age 15. But that was back in the early 1960s.
"I kept it quiet then," she says. "No girls wanted to be lawyers. I thought people might disapprove."
Elizabeth Head, the first woman lawyer to be hired at Skadden (in 1957) recalls the day the partners (senior lawyers who share in the overall profits of the firm) interviewed her.
"They held a meeting right in front of me," she says, "to debate whether it would ruin the firm to have a woman lawyer."
Women are entering the legal provision today in unprecedented numbers. Relatively few, however, become partners in the firms they enter. Of the 178 partners at Skadden, Arps in 1989, only 23, including Peggy Kerr, were women.
The Glass Ceiling
The same is true of many professions. Although more doors are open to women today, there seems to be a "glass ceiling," a level above which women do not rise.
Ellen Futter, president of the American Museum of Natural History and former president of Barnard College in New York City, says "Young women have opportunities to pursue careers in virtually all fields of human endeavor, but their opportunities remain largely those of training and entry....There are few women...at the very tops of their occupational fields."
Even women who are very successful in their careers face limitations because they are women. Meredith Vieira, a news correspondent for ABC's Turning Point told Junior Scholastic "I've had the opportunity to do most of the stories a man could do, except for one thing. I wanted to go overseas for a long time. I wanted to cover the Middle East, and I was never given the chance."
Vieira, who has been in TV news for 12 years, says that an executive told her, "I just don't want you to get killed over there." "That would never have happened with a man," she says. "It's assumed that a man knows how to take care of himself.
"I don't think women and minorities are well-represented at the networks," Vieira continued. "It is still a boys' club in a lot of ways."
An Evolutionary Process
Margo Montgomery, personnel director of Brooks Fashion Stores, points out that even in retail, a field dominated by women, only a small percentage of women have become top-level managers.
"It has been an evolutionary process," Montgomery told Junior Scholastic. "One associates women's liberation with the late ླྀs and early ྂs, but we have been slowly evolving all along. Only in the past few years have women become more prominent in the management levels of retail."
Kathy Foley, a senior vice president at Ogilvy & Mather, an advertising agency, believes that there now are "enormous opportunities" for women in advertising. "With talent and hard work," she says, "you can achieve whatever you want."
Doing "A Man's Job"
As women have gradually become leaders in the professions — in medicine, law, and business, for example — they also have taken jobs once regarded as too physically strenuous.
Women have become sanitation workers, police officers, fire fighters, and coal miners.
"'You don't look like a coal miner!' people always say. But what is a coal miner supposed to look like?" asks a mother of six who works at a West Virginia mine.
In New York City, female fire fighters and sanitation workers initially encountered resistance (and in the case of fire fighters, downright cruelty) from male colleagues.
But Anne Gloria Pabon and Carlen Sanderson, who became sanitation workers in Brooklyn in 1986, quickly earned acceptance and respect form colleagues; today, 18 women work for the department.
Men Coaching Women
Kay Yow, a college coach who led the U.S. women's basketball team to an Olympic gold medal in Seoul, is disturbed by the influx of male coaches into women's basketball programs on the college level.
Yow notes that "men have an opportunity in men's basketball, but women only have one shot. If it were wide open both ways, it wouldn't be so bad. But opportunities for women are so limited."
What if a male candidate is more qualified for the job? Should he be hired over a woman? Yow says: "If there's a great difference, no one will argue that the more-qualified person shouldn't be hired. But if it's close, the woman needs the opportunity."
Status of Women Rises
As women advance professionally, they have begun to redefine their self-images. One women's leader says: "We used to think we had to marry doctors [to achieve status and financial security]. Now we know we can be doctors ourselves."
But women have not achieved economic "parity" [equality] with men. A 1987 Congressional survey reported that women, on average, take home 68 percent of what men earn. That statistic, combined with the fact that many women are raising children alone, helps explain why far more women than men are living in poverty.
Representative Barbara B. Kennelly (D-CT) says, "I think the most chilling line of the report is that women college graduates...earn on a par with high school male dropouts."
"We've made tremendous progress,"says Deputy Secretary of Eduction and former Vermont Governor Madeleine Kunin, "but the earning power of women is still considerably lower than that of men. This affects children more than anyone else. The modern family has two wage earners, for the most part, or a woman as a single support."
An eighth-grade student from Hinsdale, New York reports that her mother, who works as a food buyer, has found that women are discriminated against in the food industry. A women with five years' experience may receive the same salary as a newly hired male.
Paying A High Price
Not only have women often been denied fair salaries, but they have paid a price for trying to "have it all" — both a career and a family. More and more women are feeling the pressure of trying to balance their personal and professional lives.
"I don't really think you can have it all," says Vieira, who at age 35 gave birth to her first child. "I'm part of a generation that thought you could, and now is finding that you can't."
Most women today, including mothers, are in the work force. Some women work part-time instead of full time while their children are young. This choice is not available, though, to single mothers, or to those whose families depend on two full-time salaries.
For working mothers, finding reliable and affordable day care can be a major difficulty. Many women have to settle for makeshift arrangements, such as leaving their children in the library all afternoon.
Women's groups and others are urging Congress and the President to do something about day care and other family issues. But as Patricia Ireland, of the National Organization for Women (NOW), points out, "Less than 5 percent of the members [of Congress] are women. If [women] were 50 percent instead of 5 percent, [Congress] would put a much higher priority on issues like day care."
Partly for this reason, NOW encourages young women to think about running for political office. Ireland told Junior Scholastic, "We are saying to young women, 'You have not only a right but an obligation to be part of the policy making of this country.'"
Deputy Secretary Kunin says, "I would strongly encourage young people to participate in politics. The legal barriers [against women holding office] are gone.... If a person is interested in politics, [he or she] should just go ahead and jump in. Anything worth doing is difficult.
The Next Generation
How do people your age feel about women's prospects and capabilities? Daniels, a 13-year-old from Brooklyn, New York, says he thinks a woman could be President. "If she's fit for the job, I see no reason why not. Men and women are equal in intelligence."
Joe, a sixth-grader from Seattle, Washington, who wants to be a lawyer, says he feels a woman could do any job a man could do except maybe boxing. He thinks a woman could be President, although "people might not vote for her because they're not used to the idea."
Suzette, age 11, from Emmaus, Pennsylvania wants to be a lawyer. "I believe in fairness and justice for all," she says, "not just because one is black or white, or male or female. Suzette thinks there will be at least one women President in her lifetime. "The government is just now developing as a place where women and men can work together," she says, "and women are beginning to stand up for their rights."