Monday, October 26, 2009

Divinipotent About the Status of U.S. Women

"If particular care and attention is not paid to the ladies, we are determined to foment a rebellion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any laws in which we have no voice or representation."
~ Abigail Adams

Today is the 62nd birthday of Hillary Rodham Clinton, a woman of many accomplishments. She is the current U.S. Secretary of State, runner-up for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination, former New York State senator, former First Lady of the United States, and an attorney with degrees from Yale and Wellesley who graduated in an era when few women were accepted into law programs.

"No one can argue any longer about the rights of women. It's like arguing about earthquakes."
~ Lillian Hellman"

Secretary Clinton's birthday comes at a time when debate about women's progress is alive and well in the media. Much of the discussion centers on "The Paradox of Declining Female Happiness," a report issued last May by Professors Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers of the Wharton School. The study's primary finding — that women's sense of personal well-being has declined over the past 35 years, despite expanded opportunity, labor-saving technology and increasing wages — sparked a debate that flared up in a major way in the past few weeks.

Some recent highlights:
  • September 17: Author and motivational speaker Marcus Buckingham published "What's Happening to Women's Happiness," the first in a series of articles for Huffington Post. Buckingham uses the Wharton study as a jumping off point leading inexorably to his new book, Find Your Strongest Life: What the Happiest and Most Successful Women Do Differently, published on September 29, 2009. 
  • October 13: Sociologist and author Barbara Ehrenreich attacked the Wharton study's methodology and its conclusions in an article titled, "Are Women Getting Sadder? Or Are We All Just Getting a Lot More Gullible?" for the online magazine Guernica. Ehrenreich rejects the entire idea of measuring happiness saying, "Happiness is an inherently slippery thing to measure or define....when we ask people if they are happy, we are asking them to arrive at some sort of average over many moods and moments. Maybe I was upset earlier in the day after I opened the bills, but then was cheered up by a call from a friend, so what am I really?"
  • October 15:  The Center for American Progress and NBC Correspondent/First Lady of California Maria Shriver released "The Shriver Report," new study on the status of U.S. women. Based on a nationwide survey, the report describes many important achievements but also notes that women still earn only 75 cents on the dollar v. men, remain rarities at the top of large companies and struggle with finding that ever-elusive work-life balance.
  • October 22: New York Times blogger Judith Warner tried to put things into perspective with a post under the self-explanatory headline, "When We're Equal, We'll Be Happy." Looking back to the 1970s, she wrote, "There was definitely a feeling in the air that women’s lives were changing in a positive way. There was a sense that everything was possible, that life for women was getting better, that if things hadn’t yet come together as well as they should have, they inevitably would. Down the line. Like, today."
  • October 24: Joanne Lipman, former deputy managing editor at the Wall Street Journal founding editor of Condé Nast Portfolio, weighed in with "The Mismeasure of Women," a New York Times op-ed. Her article argues that women's progress has not met the expectations of women like herself. Lipman explains that she and her cohort entered the workforce in the "post-feminist" 1980s, a time when many women rejected the previous decade's feminism and believed that equality was a done deal.
“I only know that people call me a feminist whenever I express sentiments that differentiate me from a doormat or a prostitute.”
~ Rebecca West

Divinipotent Daily is a pre-post-feminist who entered the workforce in 1970, a time when women had to battle every day to be taken seriously. After growing up with parents who considered women equal to men, it was a shock to discover that society didn't agree. Most men and many women looked at professional women as hobbyists — as if careers were a phase and we'd all return to our senses any day now. It should also be acknowledged that many women did not want careers outside the home and felt pressured to change their lives to fit in. (Now that it takes two incomes to support a family, that dispute, at least, seems moot.)

"Because I am a woman, I must make unusual efforts to succeed.  If I fail, no one will say, 'She doesn't have what it takes.'  They will say, 'Women don't have what it takes.'" 
~ Clare Boothe Luce

The 1970s were also the days when the sexual harassment came with the territory and domestic violence and even rape were sporadically reported and rarely prosecuted. The belief that so many deep-seated attitudes and resentments would dissolve in just a decade was at best optimistic.

“Our struggle today is not to have a female Einstein get appointed as an assistant professor. It is for a woman schlemiel to get as quickly promoted as a male schlemiel.”
~ Bella Abzug

Many aspects of women's lives have changed for the better in the past few decades. And yes, much remains to be done. The fact that almost 40 years after Gloria Steinem, Bella Abzug, Shirley Chisholm and others first marched for women's rights we are still debating about progress only underscores the complexity of the challenge. Today, while 50 percent of all workers are women, only a handful are CEOs of large corporations. Even now, only 17 of 100 U.S. senators and only 75 of 435 U.S. congressional representatives are women.

To Secretary Clinton, a woman who has bucked all of those statistics, Divinipotent Daily wishes a very happy birthday.


  1. I can't prove that Joanne Lipman is correct when she talks about respect being one of the as-yet-unrealized goals for women, but I tend to agree with her main point - we still have a way to go. especially against quantifiable goals. And buried in her piece is the sad fact that women have fared better during the economic downturn because we're still worth less in the business marketplace. No matter how you measure it, that's not progress.

  2. I agree. The rarity of women in C-suites and congress, combined with the continuing pay disparity, makes it clear that we are still less than equal.

  3. Thank you for this post and timeline. It made me take a hard look at my career and my status in the workforce. I am anxious to read "Find Your Strongest Life: What the Happiest and Most Successful Women Do Differently"

  4. Thanks for commenting, Kendra. Let me know what you think about the book.