Katha Pollitt’s new book of poems, The Mind-Body Problem, has just been published by Random House.
The Decade for Women: Forward, Backward, Sideways?
How have American women fared in what seems to be everyone’s least favorite decade since the Fall of Rome, which at least was fun for the Vandals? (Well, to be fair, today’s investment bankers have plenty to chortle over.) Herewith some feminist highs and lows of the era that began with the Supreme Court choosing the president and ended with hope hangovers and tempests in teabags.
. Sonia Sotomayor joined the Supreme Court. Before that, Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin showed how far we’ve come–and how far we haven’t. Between them they normalized forever the idea of a woman running for president and withstood a ridiculous amount of sexist garbage, from nasty cracks (from both sexes) about Clinton’s legs, clothes, voice and laugh to tinfoil-hat accusations that Palin’s baby was actually her daughter’s.
In 2000 women were 13 percent of the House and Senate; in 2009 they were 17 percent. The right direction, but too slow: if women have to make up about 30 percent of leadership before they can move a feminist agenda, we’re looking at thirty more years of political marginality.
. The earnings of women working full time, year round went from around 73 cents on the male dollar to 77 cents. Good news–especially considering that the Bush administration basically dismantled affirmative action and antidiscrimination enforcement. By mid-2009, women made up 50 percent of the workforce–unfortunately, partly because of male unemployment. Elite women inched forward, going from 15.6 percent of law partners to 19.2 percent, and from 24 percent of physicians to 28 percent. At the same time, women are as concentrated in the same job categories as ever–secretarial, retail, caregiving, primary education. Parking valets still make more than daycare teachers, and in every field men still earn more than women. Conditions for single mothers were deteriorating even before the recession. The percentage of female-headed households in poverty went from 28.5 in 2000 to 31.4 in 2008, but because of welfare reform, the TANF rolls have barely risen. And the mortgage crisis hit black women hardest of all.
. The percentage of undergraduates who are female rose to 57 percent in 2007, provoking calls for “affirmative action” for male applicants; in 2006, a sheepish New York Times op-ed from the admissions director of Kenyon College conceded that it was already happening. Women now earn 62 percent of degrees in biology, up from 59.2, and 49 percent of biology PhDs, up from 44.8. Take that, Larry Summers! But physics stayed flat, at 22 percent of female undergrad degrees and 13 percent of PhDs, while female degrees in math and computer science have declined to 44 percent and 18 percent, respectively. By 2007 only 26.5 percent of tenured full professors were women. But Women’s Studies has been thriving, with about 1,200 degrees now granted annually. And with the ascension of Drew Gilpin Faust to the presidency of Harvard, women head three out of the eight Ivies.