I sometimes use my experiences as PunditGirl’s mother as a lens through which to view issues that are important to me. But PunditGirl isn’t the only daughter in my life. I also have two adult step-daughters. They don’t need me much at this stage of the game — they’re women with their own professional lives and relationships and, yes, one of them is married with a toddler of her own — another girl.
The presence of three different generations of girls in my life colors how I view this day — Women’s Equality Day — that many are celebrating. And it’s not a happy color. I was tempted not to write anything about Women’s Equality Day because, in all honesty, I can’t think about it without laughing and crying at the same time.
Equality? We’re not even close.
Sure, we’ve come a long way, as the saying goes, but that doesn’t acknowledge just how far we still have to go for anything resembling true equality for women in America. President Obama issued a proclamation yesterday stating that although women have achieved a lot in terms of gaining the vote and participating in politics that “disparities remain.”
So how does he explain to his daughters and mine why more isn’t being done to fix that once and for all?
Nothing close to equal pay for equal work exists for women. While the president did sign the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, he and his administration have dragged their feet on making the Paycheck Fairness Act — one that would mandate equal pay — a priority, notwithstanding their continued promises to do so. Ledbetter only gives women (and men) additional rights to sue for back pay and benefits after they find out they’ve been discriminated against. Various commissions and committees established to promote, study or advance the idea of paying people fairly and equally for the same work only delay real change.
Women are still fighting to be treated equally and fairly in the workplace when it comes to getting paid sick days and paid family leave for the birth or adoption of a child or to care for other family members. In order to have flexibility in some jobs to manage the work/life balance dance, there are women who agree to be paid only 80 percent of full wages, even though they’re really working 120 percent, putting in time at home once the kids are in bed, just to get the scheduling flexibility they need without the fear of losing their job.
Women are still fighting for fair treatment when it comes to health care — some men on Capitol Hill still believe that health insurance shouldn’t have to cover maternity benefits, and coverage for injuries from domestic violence incidents can still be denied under some policies pre-existing condition language.
Women are still less than 20 percent of Congress, women publish less than 20 percent of op-eds in major newspapers, and women are still significantly less than half of governors, as well as law firm and accounting firm partners. Women might make up close to 50 percent of the workforce these days, but that is hardly the equality we’ve been looking for or deserve.
So how do I explain all that to my daughters and, yes, to my granddaughter when she’s old enough to understand? My stepdaughters are adults and know that things are the way they are. But PunditGirl, as she enters middle school, still believes the story we tell all our kids — that boys and girls can do the exact same things if they want. Which is true in a limited way. We as parents don’t have the nerve to tell our daughters that they’ll only get paid three-quarters of what the boys make. We conveniently leave out the part that as girls they will face obstacles, barriers and ceilings, both glass and cement, that I had assumed in my girlhood we wouldn’t have to worry about anymore in the 21st century.
In his proclamation, President Obama stated:
Women’s rights are ultimately human rights, and the march for equality will not end until full parity and equal opportunity are attained in every State and workplace across our Nation. It remains our responsibility to ensure that the principles of justice and equality apply to all Americans, regardless of gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, disability, or socioeconomic status. If we stay true to our founding ideals and the example of those who insisted upon nothing less than full equality, we can and will perpetuate the line of progress that runs throughout our Nation’s history for generations to come.
Yes, I agree with all of that and to have the President of the United States acknowledge that women’s rights are human rights is crucial to making any strides for true equality. But it’s time for the President and others who use these words to take actions that make them a reality.
So forgive me for not inviting you all over for a Women’s Equality Day celebration. I’ll save my party for the day when the idea of a governmental commemoration devoted to women’s equality is as ridiculously outdated as those 1980’s power suits with the big shoulder pads they said I had to wear to be viewed as “equal” to my male colleagues.
Image by Joanne Bamberger. All rights reserved.