So, here we are. National Women’s History Month ~ March 2012 ~ proclaimed twenty-five years ago by Congress as an ongoing national celebration of women and their role/future in our country.
As a child, it was hard to conceive of events occurring before my existence. I see this in my children at times . . . shock I’d understand what it felt like to be in love for the first time . . . certainty that I couldn’t possibly empathize with the crush of a breakup.
For many of my students, it seems history began with their birth. When they hear about discrimination, there’s little discussion of male/female, but more of other groups, other people who aren’t full participants in the potential of this country. Oh, one hears about gender issues in the news, but as one young woman said to me ‘girls don’t need to be aggressive and demanding these days. Everything is equal’.
As a newbie political science professor, I remember a student eyeballing me on the first day of class and announcing he wouldn’t put up with a ‘commie pinko liberal’ — and if that wasn’t bad enough, I was probably ‘a feminist’.
1987 is history to my kids. So, too, is the 15th amendment to the U.S. Constitution as it extended the vote to citizens of the United States without regard to race, color, or previous condition of servitude in 1869. True, the delicate condition of gender still excluded women, but that changed in 1920 when the 19th amendment precluded sex as a basis for denying the vote to a citizen.
Twenty years ago, I was frequently the only woman in my graduate classes, both those I took and those I taught. Now, women often make of the majority of students in college classes. The 2012 executive proclamation of this month closed with the statement referencing Title 9 of the Higher Education Act Amendments (1977) which prohibited gender discrimination by federally funded institutions.
‘it transformed the educational landscape of the United States within the span of a generation’
My daughters were allowed to wear pants to school, encouraged to take math, and welcomed into sports and other extracurricular activities. And from the standpoint of education as empowerment, things are looking good. Young women are more likely to pursue and attain a college degree (certificate, associate, or bachelors) than men. The majority of young adults enrolling in undergraduate programs are women and nearly 3/5 of graduate students are women. In fact, women are doing so well, pundits now bemoan ‘the feminization of higher education’.
The following excerpt from “The Good Wife’s Guide” published in Housekeeping Monthly on May 13, 1955 was serious advice for women.
…you should prepare and light a fire for him to unwind by . . . catering for his comfort will provide you with immense personal satisfaction . . . Listen to him . . . let him talk first – remember, his topics of conversation are more important than yours . . . Don’t ask him questions about his actions or question his judgment or integrity. Remember, he is the master of the house and as such will always exercise his will with fairness and truthfulness. You have no right to question him . . . A good wife always knows her place.
1955 is history to me. This excerpt is ‘old news’— and yet — a certain message still seems to echo through contemporary discussions. Consider how expanded educational opportunity translates to the marketplace. On average, women’s compensation is a percentage of each dollar earned by a man. We’ve seen improvement, moving from 58.9 cents on each dollar in 1963 to 77.4 cents per dollar in 2012.
I hear explanations for this disparity, but the research demonstrates reality. In 2008, our population distribution reflected 49.3% male and 50.7% female. However, men earn more than women in almost all occupations. Women earn less than men even within the jobs women are most likely to hold. Women earn less than men in the ten highest paying occupations for women. Women earn less than men in the ten lowest paying occupations for women. (Census.gov; Institute for Women’s Policy Research, Washington DC Apr09)
And why is this relevant for writers? With each bit of knowledge I pick up on writing and publishing, I learn exactly how great my ignorance is and how much more I need to know.
When I read the “good wife’s guide”, I hear echoes of advice about what women should read and write, what romances should include and what the market will bear in terms of gender, authors, industry norms, and story lines. When I read blogs and industry news, I pick up snippets about contract differences and expectations about genre and pricing.
I can’t help but sense the same message to those who write romance and who wish to reach children and young adults . . . a good writer knows her place.