Do you know your place?

20 Mar

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. (; 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.


Posted by on March 20, 2012 in Idaho, publishing, romance, women, writers, writing


Tags: , , ,

19 responses to “Do you know your place?

  1. Liz Flaherty

    March 20, 2012 at 5:25 AM

    Good post and good points. Onward and upward, commie pinko liberal feminists!

    • Liz Fredericks

      March 20, 2012 at 8:15 AM

      Hey Liz – perhaps we should get t-shirts made?

  2. johannaharness

    March 20, 2012 at 6:30 AM

    Yes, but great writers change minds and hearts. Keep the faith, Liz.

    I recently watched Iron Jawed Angels with my kids. I highly recommend it for bringing women’s history into clearer focus.

    • Liz Fredericks

      March 20, 2012 at 8:16 AM

      Oh Johanna, you are so correct. I decided to be a writer because of Jo in Little Women. Books matter. Thanks for the recommendation!

  3. Janis McCurry

    March 20, 2012 at 7:09 AM

    I recently rented “The Duchess” to watch. The title character started her marriage with loving expectations. By the end of the film, she lived with her husband and his mistress until she (the wife) died. When she first discovered the existence of the mistress, she left her duke. He carried through on his threat to keep their children from her. She tried to do without them, even found love. Ultimately, she went back because being a mother trumped being happy in love.

    At that time period, men held all the cards. Whether the film was critically acclaimed or even entirely accurate, the gender inequity made it heartbreaking.

    I think, in writing, we can pay attention to how this affects our characters and it allows us to put additional layers in our story.

    Great discussion points. Thanks, Liz.

    • Liz Fredericks

      March 20, 2012 at 8:19 AM

      Janis, I hadn’t heard of this movie, but you broke my heart just describing it. I suspect most of us would have made the same choice as the Duchess. I do, however, believe the women I know would have kicked the mistress’ a#*.

  4. Meredith Allen Conner

    March 20, 2012 at 7:57 AM

    Wow, Liz, you commie pinko liberal feminist you. (Do you wonder about people like that? I do. As an adult do you think he has a huge hairy belly, is swilling a beer and flipping through the channels muttering about all the commie pinko liberal feminists that have taken over?)

    I think it is so important to be reminded of history. It has such an unfortunate habit of repeating itself when we forget to pay attention.

    It drives me crazy when people pigeon hole things. Just last week the “Today show” anchors referred to romance books as BODICE RIPPERS. Seriously? One of my favorite things is to take a character in a stereotypical role and then crack it wide open.

    Great post as per your usual.

  5. Liz Fredericks

    March 20, 2012 at 8:20 AM

    Thanks Mer – I’m definitely going to get t-shirts made . . . or perhaps ‘wife-beaters’ would be more fitting?

  6. Clarissa Southwick

    March 20, 2012 at 8:44 AM

    What a timely topic, Liz. Just yesterday I found myself explaining Title 9 to my daughter who couldn’t understand why I’d never played sports as a child. It’s a good thing to keep in mind when we write historicals or stories set in other cultures. Having our Civil War heroine run the five miles between plantations to save her brother might not be such a realistic plot point afterall 🙂 Great post.

  7. Liz Fredericks

    March 20, 2012 at 8:48 AM

    Hey Clarissa – your civil war heroine might be more be more in-shape than the poor chick in heels and pearls ala 1955.

  8. Peggy Staggs

    March 20, 2012 at 9:32 AM

    I’ll preface this by saying, I’m really old. I remember when we lived in Montgomery, Alabama in the late 50’s. I was introduced to segregation for the first time at a local grocery store. As a kid I, of course, had to have a drink. Confusion set in when I found not only two water fountains but, one with a sign above it that read “white” and, over the other “black.” I had to see what black water looked like. Imagine my confusion when both drinking fountains produced regular water that tasted the same.
    As for women…wow have things changed since I got my first job. The phrase that has stuck with me over all the years was when I asked why the an income discrepancy between me and a guy doing the same job. The answer, “You don’t have a family to support.” News flash! Neither did he.
    Times are always interesting.

  9. Liz Fredericks

    March 20, 2012 at 10:04 AM

    I heard the ‘family to support argument’ in 1998 when I took the job I have now. I asked why my spouse was offered more $ (being the uppity chick that I am) and was given the ‘family to support’ rationale. As soon as the words left the poor man’s lips (smart guy that he was), he blanched, stuttered and gave me a raise.

  10. ramblingsfromtheleft

    March 20, 2012 at 12:52 PM

    And men don’t have to classify their books as “men’s” fiction, men get more reviews from all major publications, are taken more seriously in publishing and in every other profession. We will never in any true sense of the word reach equality. Each advance of women has been hard fought, grudgling given by a white male corporate structure that sill wants us to go away and bake cookies. It threatens them that we can run a school, a corporation and yes, I believe a government and still bake the darn cookies 🙂

  11. Liz Fredericks

    March 20, 2012 at 1:25 PM

    I’m not a good cook. Just sayin’ The not needing to classify books as gendered fiction is so glaringly obvious but I’ve not registered it before. Darn – I’m getting depressed.

  12. Laurie Kuna

    March 20, 2012 at 1:47 PM

    Not to be even more depressing, but just look at this year’s crop of Republican presidential hopefuls. Is there one of them who actually supports women? It certainly isn’t evident in their attacks on health care, Planned Parenthood, or even teachers’ unions. Even John McCain said the GOP needs to stop trying to legislate social issues and get back to problems like creating jobs (although, given the Republican mantra, those won’t be UNION jobs) and national security. I mourn the retirement of Maine’s Senator Olympia Snowe. A true moderate in a time when although desperately needed, moderation is almost non-existent.

  13. Liz Fredericks

    March 20, 2012 at 3:11 PM

    Yeah Laurie, I’m crying in my beer on this point as well. When only men are invited to comment on birth control . . . well, maybe it’s time for the bra-burners to make an appearance.

  14. Mary Vine

    March 20, 2012 at 3:34 PM

    You sound like a kick-ass herione, Liz. I remember really taking note that women got the right to vote after the slaves in my college history class. The last group to get the right. Growing up I was told that women were the weaker sex-just hit me a while back that a woman can do some damage in a fight, even if she doesn’t win. Our culture shapes us and then it’s hard to get rid of those old ideas.

  15. Liz Fredericks

    March 20, 2012 at 3:50 PM

    Hey Mary, I wish I was a kick-ass heroine. I think the difference is – and research bears this out – on average women tend to look at confrontational problem solving techniques as a very last resort. They prefer to use relationship-enhancing approaches as a mechanism to allow all parties to save face etc. Organizations are now deciding this is a superior approach and builds a more effective work group in the long run. Unfortunately, our culture and our institutions tend to respond best to the confrontational approach. Even the term -kick ass – evokes that confrontation. We don’t usually say, ‘collaborative heroine’, ‘nurturing heroine’ ‘relationship enhancing heroine’ to capture a woman who successfully resolves a threatening situation. Oh well. 😉 I’ll defer to Johanna’s position on a writer’s role . . .’pen is mightier than the sword’ – keyboard?

  16. Lynn Mapp

    March 21, 2012 at 8:07 PM

    Know our place. It’s any DAMN place we want it to be. The news in the past few weeks has been…something. When did women lose the ability to think for themselves. Oh, maybe some people believe that’s the problem, thinking.


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