All my life have heard the constant refrain that I am so lucky to be a woman in this time and place. I admit my educational and professional achievements have been eased by growing up in late-20th century America. However being a woman today is not all sunshine and flowers. In fact, I would argue that because of those very unlimited horizons stretching before us this is one of the most stressful and difficult times to be a woman.
While tremendous strides have been made to level the educational field for women in reality it is still not equal. The opportunities are the same but study after study continues to show that girls and boys are not treated equally in the classroom. Also the social pressures on girls in school are greater than they are for boys. Girls are expected to achieve just as boys, but girls are expected to behave in a certain way, interact with others according to a rigid social code, and of course optimize their appearance. This additional pressure begins as early as preschool and kindergarten and continues through every level of secondary education.
In the professional world the glass ceiling has been raised but still exists at every level and in every profession. Women also continue to earn substantially less even when performing the same job. In fact, a 2003 survey by the National Association for Female Executives (NAFE) shows that women who work full-time, year-round, earn 76 percent of what men earn. According to NAFE, the gap between men's and women's pay narrowed by only 2 percent between 1991 and 2001. I am not sure I will see a woman become president of the United States during my lifetime. Many people are surprised when confronted with these numbers because the majority of the population operates under the misapprehension that the women's movement successfully achieved its goals. Nothing can be further from the truth, in my opinion. In fact, I suspect there has been some significant backsliding in recent years.
However, I think the worst area where women face difficulty is in the arena of personal life. A truly “successful" woman must not only perform well in school and in her professional life, but she must also juggle in a strong marriage, well-raised children, and a presentable home life as well as be an active community member. Reports indicate that the husbands of working mothers regularly perform, on average, only one-third of the couple's household duties. It is also important to note that the tasks performed most often by men, such as repairs and home maintenance chores, can often be done at their convenience, as opposed to women's duties, such as cooking, which must be done on a daily basis and at specific times, giving women less control over their schedules. A 1990 survey of 5,000 couples found that only 50 percent of husbands took out the garbage, 38 percent did laundry, and 14 percent ironed. When homes are not well maintained and clean, when children are not well behaved, and when a family does not appear to operating smoothly then society is more likely to judge the mother than the father as lacking.
So while today's woman can indeed achieve more and have more than her mother and grandmother, it is not really possible to have it all without paying a cost. While some short-term juggling is possible in the long-term one or more areas will more than likely suffer. I do not mean to prevent women from reaching for every one of their dreams, but hope they will be realistic in their expectations when they do so. The more we can do to destroy the image of the successful “super woman" and raise awareness of the challenges that still face women today then the better chance we have of improving the lives of women and men tomorrow.
Deanna Mascle shares more Advice For Women in her Good Advice blog at http://AnswersForWomenOnline.com