Women of the new millennium need to only talk to their mothers and grandmothers for a reminder of how much their role in society has changed in less than a hundred years, economically, socially, politically and philosophically. We have only to conjure up images of the 1950s’ domestic diva doting on her husband and children, smiling in a freshly pressed apron as she serves a hot meal — while secretly pining on the inside — to see what huge strides have been made for women since the time of “the perfect housewife” ideal.
A very interesting thing has happened, because that zealous mother may still be serving up delicious dinners (switching off nights with her husband, of course), coordinating living room color schemes and taking the kiddies to swim practice, but now she manages to do it while juggling a full-time career and taking time to workout. The modern woman of today finds herself doing it all, and doing it better than ever before because the choice to pursue her own potential, in whatever form that make take, is finally hers.
The world is teeming with superwomen, and the numbers are only growing.
How Has The Economic Playing Field Changed?
In a span of 20 years, the number of working wives out earning their husbands financially has more than doubled to an unprecedented 4 out of 10. American society has gone from employing 18 million women in 1950 to 66 million in 2000 – a 257% increase. And women occupy 60% of the seats in all American college classrooms, taking home the majority of all U.S. master’s and doctorate degrees. Though full-time working women in general still only make $0.81 to every man’s dollar, there is a tidal wave of single, childless women in their 20s making more than a dollar more than their male counterparts in the same city.
Not that it’s necessarily a competition. Or is it?
What About The Men?
Women are experiencing a sense of financial freedom, economic power and self-fulfillment greater than any other time in history. But what about the men? Is the balance of power shifting, or is it just readjusting to accommodate the female half of the world’s population? With roughly 75% of all American women participating in the workforce, the inherent element of competition is certainly present. No longer are women prescribed a narrow path down Domestic Ave., so with women potentially competing for jobs with their male peers and stepping into the societal limelight, the lines are being redrawn in male-female relationships, marriages and domestic partnerships.
In dual-earner couples, women bring home on average almost as much as males – and this means shared power–shared decisions, shared cooking and cleaning duties, shared child-raising responsibilities. And surprisingly, men are generally okay with this. Married men have tripled their weekly domestic duties since 1965, but if you think about it, it’s not all dirty work. With Mom staying late at the office on Thursdays, Dad has more time to play a round of golf with the guys, pick up the kids from choir practice, joke around with them and spend some quality time developing his cooking skills while bonding with his offspring – pleasures that were previously only allotted to the mother. Meanwhile, Mom exercises her managerial, technical and intellectual skills in a way that satisfies a strong inner need and capability that full-time housewifery never could.
What About The Children?
All things being equal, ideally children growing up in the digital age will see both of their parents about the same amount, when before a working father may have been predominantly absent. And countless studies have shown what a tremendously positive impact father-child bonding has on the growth of the child. Yet, the divorce rate still hovers around 60%, and 35% of working mothers are the sole source of income in their families.
Some life situations force women into the workforce to support themselves or their children, and while these unfortunate circumstances may have detrimental emotional effects, a strong, independent and working mother (especially one who also manages to be supportive and nurturing) can instill a sense of respect and fortitude in the minds of her sons and daughters. Daughters, especially, who are raised by working mothers learn that they, too, can harness their own power and overcome any difficult obstacle themselves, rather than waiting for a Prince Charming to come and sweep them off to some distant – and unrealistic – castle.
What About The Future?
So, how did women suddenly become formidable players in the economic battleground? And where are we headed now?
First of all, it wasn’t easy, it wasn’t quick, and it isn’t over. The incredible blossoming of economic power for women has been paved by decades of civil rights struggles, philosophical exploration, and formidable backlash from opponents who support the old way of doing things. There have always been strong women, but with the expansive ideologies written by great female thinkers like Virgina Woolf and Mary Wollstonecraft, the American inclusion of women in wartime work in the 1930s, on up to the feminists and civil rights activists of the 1970s, and on through to the smart businesswomen of today, the movement is only trending forward. Surely, women are still fighting for equal rights in the economic, political and domestic realms, and both genders are navigating the immense change that is occurring between the sexes, but if there’s anything that has come to light in the past hundred years or so, it’s that the age of empowerment for women is here, and it’s only gaining steam.