Something for the Ladies

Women’s History Month is here, and, while I am not a feminist—really, I like men holding doors for me, and occasionally appreciate the flirtatious comments on the street, and simply will not deal with anything gross that should be handled by a man—I thought it important to reflect on women (all things great and small).

First, I think women are fabulous. I also think that while women spend time sending out emails to their friends with titles like, “Is Your Husband Dumber Than a Potato?”, and laugh at the guy on TV who couldn’t find his socks (on his feet) without his wife’s help, many women do not live lives that honor their fabulousness.

Women have made huge strides in sports. Some manage (Jean Afterman, vice president and assistant general manager of the 2009 World Champion New York Yankees); some communicate (Roxanne Jones, vice president, ESPN Publishing) and some dominate (Jackie Joyner-Kersee, Billie Jean King, Mia Hamm, Ann Meyers, to name a few, see here for more).

The Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 held any school and college receiving federal money accountable for providing equal opportunities for girls to participate in sports as they did boys. Recent studies are backing up a theory that girls playing more sports would develop confidence and many of the other skills imparted by participating in sports and as part of a team with tangible proof: women who had participated in sports as girls had a 20% increase in higher education, and a 40% increase in rise in employment, and a 7% decline in obesity (if you aren’t impressed, remember that no other public health initiative has even come close to results like this).

We’ve still got a long way to go as far as pay and exposure. Consider this:

  • In 2009, women playing in the WNBA could earn anywhere from $35,190 to $99,500, with a team salary cap of $803,000 while men in the NBA were earning $442,114 to $13,758,000, (with a team salary cap of $58.680 million). (WNBA Collective Bargaining Agreement; Coon, Larry; “NBA Salary Cap/Collective Bargaining Agreement FAQ.”)
  • ESPN’s SportsCenter (1999 and 2004) devotes only two percent of its air time to women’s sports. (Messner, M.A., Duncan, M. C. & Willms. N. (2006). “This revolution is not being televised.” Contexts.)
  • A survey of 285 newspapers found that nearly 25% of editors agreed with the statement “Women are naturally less athletic than are men;” and nearly half of the editors said that Title IX impaired men’s sports. (Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly cited in “Research Finds Lack of Women’s Coverage,” June 1, 2005.)

The amazing thing about women is our drive to accomplish even without promise of equal, or any, reward or recognition. Like these women you may have never heard of:

  • Doctor Helen Brooke Taussig is known as the founder of pediatric cardiology for her innovative work on “blue baby” syndrome. In 1944, Taussig and colleagues developed an operation to correct the congenital heart defect that causes the syndrome. This operation is considered a key step in the development of adult open heart surgery.
  • As an aerospace engineer for 36 years at Rockwell International Space Division, Barbara Crawford Johnson was involved in flight dynamics studies, lunar reentry vehicle research, and developing of one of the country’s first missile efforts. In 1968, on the Apollo Program, Johnson held the highest post ever by a woman in her division as Manager of Mission Requirements and Evaluation. She received a medallion in 1973 from NASA in recognition of role she played in the Apollo 11 mission, mankind’s first successful attempt to land on the moon.
  • Writer and Editor Ida Tarbell’s exposé of the Standard Oil Trust in the 1904 publication, “The History of the Standard Oil Company” prompted the federal government to prosecute and break up Standard Oil for anti-trust violations. She founded the American Magazine, authored several biographies, and, in spite of her 1912 anti-feminist book, “The Business of Being a Women, remains a role model for women and men in journalism.

So with all these wonderful women, why do I sometimes feel disappointed in my own sex? I believe that women are becoming more complacent over the little things that honor our place in society, like demanding that paychecks for the same job have the same number of digits in them, or keeping reproductive rights a women’s-only issue at least presenting a united front to the world.

I would like for more women to stand together on common issues. Like working mothers and stay-at-home mothers supporting each other. They share the same problems and fears: Lack of sleep, lack of time, lack of money, whether they are doing the best by their children. This divide is very clear in Switzerland where working mothers are called “Raven Mothers” (ravens are notoriously neglectful of their young). Of course this is a country where women have only been able to vote in national elections since 1971, women equality did not become a constitutional right until 1981 and a “Federal statutory maternity leave of 14 weeks at 80 percent salary was implemented only in 2005”.

And the United States has a disparaging record on women’s health insurance. Before the health care reform, many women were denied coverage if they had “had a prior Caesarean section or been victims of domestic violence.” Several healthcare provider companies expressed concern that Caesareans or beatings were “pre-existing conditions that were likely to be predictors of higher expenses in the future,” and in their rejection letters to these women, informed them that they would have been eligible had they been sterilized. (The New York Times, March 30, 2010) The poor state of healthcare will be saved for another post as there is too much to say and this post is about positive things.

And finally, I would like women to be more truthful with one another about things that matter, like how hard motherhood really is, that marriage is more about the partnership than the size of your engagement ring, and that if you have one decent, honest woman friend in your life then you are blessed.

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