Women’s issues have been, to an extent, independent from the broader socio-history changes witnessed in twentieth century America. The foremost issue that had not found suitable resolution since the 1920s is the wage disparity between men and women in America. While at the beginning of the century the percentage of women who participated in mainstream economy was negligible, this situation changed with the two world wars. As men were waging battle in the war front, women undertook jobs that were erstwhile only done by men. Emboldened and encouraged by their success, the social norms concerning the role of women had undergone a radical change. Yet, business enterprises did not easily accept the notion that women deserve equal remuneration as that of their male colleagues. While the magnitude of the disparity had eased up during the subsequent decades of the century, the issue is not satisfactorily resolved.
The disparity is not just confined to the realm of business. Even in interpersonal relations, starting from courtship, men prefer women who earn lesser than they do. Toward the end of the twentieth century, where a small but significant number of Fortune 500 Chief Executive Officers are women, there is no apparent change in the mentality of men. Hence, while the law affords equal economic opportunities for men and women, deep-rooted prejudices and cultural norms have thwarted further progress for women. The status of women as second class work-force is at no time better expressed during economic crisis. In the history of the United States since the 1920s, in each episode of economic recession, more women lose jobs when compared to men. While the reasons given by employers are ‘rationalization’, ‘right-sizing’ or ‘redundancy’, it is obvious that gender is a significant factor in the equation. These tendencies are best exemplified by the film North Country starring Charlize Theron as a working class single mother.
But, all is not doom and gloom for women. Laws pertaining to marriage, divorce and child custody have been amended time and again in favor of women. This is a crucial victory for American women and serves to symbolize the break down of the conventionally patriarchic justice system. The percentage of the ex-husband’s wealth that the ex-wife is legally entitled to has increased multiple times in the last fifty years or so. The 1960’s civil rights movement, which originated from agitations by the Black American community, has had a spill over effect on other areas of American society. The gradual but substantial concessions made to women are in large measure a product of this historically important activist movement.
Finally, the one women’s issue that had polarized the nation since the 1920s is abortion. The liberal intellectuals strongly advocate the right of pregnant women to choose abortion, while the conservative sections of the American polity object to it on grounds of theology and morality. As a result of this polarization, abortion as a women’s inalienable right is yet to come to legal fruition. The issue comes up for discussion in every Presidential election, but has not attained political consensus. In fact, the laws pertaining to abortion in the USA are somewhat lagging behind those in many European countries. This issue, alongside approval of stem cell research, assumes greater import as advances in medical sciences and molecular biology have the potential to improve health and well-being of both mother and child.
Mike Anton, Marriage: The state of the union; A knot tied in many ways; Anthropologists and historians point out that the history of matrimony is quite fluid: The Constant? Economics”, In Los Angeles Times, March 31, 2004
Book Review: “A look at how love found its way into matrimony;” in Los Angeles Times.
E.J Graff and Evelyn Murphy, “The skinny pink paycheck Syndrome”,in Los Angeles Times, February 12. 2006.
Film:North Country, Directed by Niki Caro, With Charlize Theron, Elle Peterson, Thomas Curtis, released in 2005 by Warner Bros.