The 21st century America is still behind with regards to gender issues. Women and girls perform relatively lower than men in numerous development indicators such as education, income, employment, and political participation among others (Gaddis, 2007). For instance, in 2000, a survey on the earnings of bachelor degree holders in the U.S. revealed that women earned $35,408, compared to their male counterparts of the same educational level who earned $49,982. The United States was ranked number 31 in the Global Gender Gap Report in 2009, which placed it far below a majority of European and industrialized countries (World Economic Forum, 2009). It is a fact that gender iniquity exists in America, and it remains an issue that is hindering the development of the country (Gaddis, 2007). This paper looks at how the role of women has changed in the 21st century America.
Just a few centuries ago, the typical family comprised of a husband who does full-time work and a full-time housewife who cares for the kids, and manages the domestic affairs of the home. Today, the American couple is a dual-earner with the two partners working and sharing domestic responsibilities (Sweetman, 2000). The radical changes in the role of women have been brought about by the fact that they are now more educated compared to before; in fact, in some countries, more women hold university degrees than men. Consequently, they have been able to access numerous job opportunities, encouraging them to work. In addition, the huge shift from the physical to the office work, which is less demanding physically, has encouraged women to go to work (Tembon, 2008). The increase in divorce rates, in the 21st century America, has also made women realize the need for being financially independent, thus encouraging them look for the job. It is vital to mention that the daily life of a working female is far from a bed of roses, especially for those who have children; it is not easy to reconcile families and jobs. Even though, fathers are now shouldering a greater share of domestic work and child care than before, women still do most of the work (Tembon, 2008). This is evident, especially when the children are still extremely young and time-consuming, and a baby-sitter is either difficult to find or costly. Consequently, women miss out on job promotions because they have to spend more time at home than work.
Relevance and Relation to Violence in the Community and Course Material
The fact that more and more women are pursuing education like the male counterparts, have increased their chances of getting a wide range of job opportunities; hence more women are becoming financially independent compared to before. As much as work has brought numerous advantages to women such as enabling them realize their full potentials as independent and productive individuals, it has also come with its share of disadvantages (Scott & Clare, 2010). Traditionally, the role of women was limited to giving birth and managing the affairs of the home. Unfortunately, some men still continue to uphold this view to date, and have not fully accepted the fact that women can work and be independent. Men feel threatened by working women, especially those who earn more than them, because they fear that the women might take over their places as the head of the home. Consequently, working women have faced harassment and violence at their places of work.
According to Iswarini, the representative of Women’s Justice Forum, numerous women have been sexually violated at the workplace, and several of them have reported to have been forced to have sexual relations with their superiors in order to earn a promotion (Scott & Clare, 2010). Some women who asked for menstrual leave have had to be subjected to underpants examination to verify if they are truly menstruating in order to be given a leave (Scott & Clare, 2010). In addition, some working women have ended up looking down upon their husbands who have relatively lower income than them, leading to constant domestic quarrels that have either ended up in a separation or a divorce.
Popular Opinions (Pro/Con Debate)
According to president of America’s National Council for Research on Women, Ms. Linda Bash, a supporter of working women in the 21st century, women are the drivers of innovation and economic growth (Sweetman, 2000). She argued that women belong to the workplace, and working is advantageous for them, their families, the economy and society at large. Most importantly, it helps them realize their full potentials as independent and productive individuals. She cited a report by the Institute for Fiscal Studies, which revealed that the extensive entry of women into the workforce has significantly increased the living standards amongst lower and middle-income households in the last forty years (Sweetman, 2000). She was quick to mention that a majority of women work not because of choice but due to the economic necessity. Other supporters argue that women have demonstrated their capability in providing every physical, artistic and cognitive skill needed for all occupations from management, marketplaces, fields, to construction sites. Therefore, they should no longer be restrained by the traditional expectations and norms with regards to their roles and places at home, and in the workplaces, but instead, they should be given equal access the full range of economic activities as co-participants with their male counterparts (Sweetman, 2000).
Ms. Christina Hoff Sommers, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, however, argues that women should have the freedom of choosing whether to stay at home or go to work and that it is totally alright for those who want to be full-time mothers. She thinks that the gender disparities seen in workplaces are nearly exclusively the result of the diverse women’s preferences with regards to balancing their careers and homes (Tembon, 2008). Her sentiments are seconded by other critics who argue that women have no assigned place in the society, and thus, they have the freedom to choose where they would want to be. About five million women in the United States stay at home as full-time mums, and critics of working mothers fully support them. According to a research done by Tembon (2008) in 2008, 62% of working mothers preferred working part-time, while 79% of working fathers preferred working full-time; an indication of just how women would prefer to prioritize their families and homes when they have a choice (Tembon, 2008). This according to critics clearly indicates that women still come second to men. Critics have disagreed with the argument that some women have been forced into the full-time motherhood because of the hostility that they experience at their workplaces, or the low wages they are paid. To them, these are myths that are yet to be proven. They claim that powerful feminist lobbies spend millions of dollars yearly, to paint a false picture of gender discrimination, as well as wage disparity at work places continuously, basing their agendas on incomplete studies, but the truth is that their pursuit is for personal gains (Tembon, 2008).
With regard to whether women should work or stay at home, I believe that being economically independent is vital for the woman, especially during the current hard economic times where cost of living has risen significantly. Working not only helps women to be financially reliant, but also realize their full potentials as independent and productive individuals. However, women should not forget their responsibilities as wives and mothers just because they work. They should find ways of balancing between their work and family responsibilities such that none of them is deprived of quality. In addition, women should love and respect their men irrespective of their titles, salaries, or the amount of wealth they have.
The 21st century America has undergone significant changes with regard to the role of women. In the past, a typical American family comprised of a husband who does full-time employment and a stay-at-home wife, who looks after the children and manage the domestic affairs of the home. Currently, the American couple is a dual-earner, with both parties working and sharing responsibilities. The radical changes in the role of women have been brought about by the fact that females are better educated than before. One group maintains that work is a necessity for a woman rather than a choice, and working helps women to live healthy lives that are self-sufficient and productive, devoid of dependency on others. Another group, however, argues that women should be given the liberty to choose whether to stay at home or go to work. I hold the opinion that women should balance between their family and work such that they do not neglect either of the responsibilities.
Future Direction of the Issue
With regard to the role of women in the society, I propose that women should be encouraged to explore their potential and be supported in the pursuit of their dreams. As much as women have the responsibility of being wives and mothers in homes, they should be allowed to balance between work and family without intimidation or harassment, so that they can be productive and economically independent.