Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Women: Good News Bad News

Yesterday (March 8) was the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day. According to a press release I received from a local Senator, this day celebrates “the economic, political and social achievements of women past, present and future and is a day to recognize the obstacles that women still face in the struggle for equal rights and opportunities.”

Celebrating women is a good thing, in my opinion, but why should we set aside a special day to celebrate women? Shouldn’t we do that every day? Setting aside a specific day to honor women seems to indicate that women are not yet considered equal to men; if they were, then there would be no need to set aside a day to honor something we should consider the norm anyway. There isn’t an International Men’s Day, is there?

My opinion: women and men are different but they are definitely equal. I am not saying this to impress any women; I truly believe it. The first time I had a female boss was decades ago when I was in college. The two best managers I have had in my entire career are women, including my current boss. There does seem to be a pattern to their management style that differs from the typical male manager, but the result is the same and very effective.

Yet study after study, including a new one I scanned just last week, indicates that American women still earn less than men for the same job. My current boss and her boss are both women, but most managers further up the line in my company are men, as are nearly all the top brass in the company. That scenario is typical. The opportunity is there, however, and the ‘glass ceiling’ is definitely cracking.

Women in several other countries are not so fortunate. A few statistics from the press release that inspired my blog post: According to the World Bank, women account for approximately 70 percent of individuals living in poverty worldwide. According to the International Center for Research on Women, there are more than 60,000,000 child brides in developing countries, some of whom are as young as 7 years old. According to the World Health Organization, as many as 1 in 5 women report being sexually abused before the age of 15. Those three statistics alone tell me there IS a need for an International Women’s Day.

Women’s rights in the United States made great strides since the 1970s, in part because media attention was focused on the issue. But there have been many highly successful and well-recognized women throughout American history. These names are top of mind for me: aviator Amelia Earhart, Red Cross founder Clara Barton, ‘Underground Railroad’ leader/ex-slave Harriet Tubman, “First Lady” Eleanor Roosevelt, women’s rights activist Gloria Steinem, photographer Annie Liebovitz, Senator Barbara Mikulski and “first Lady”/Senator/Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. There are many others.

And, of course, my mother gets plenty of credit for my respectful attitude toward women. On one hand, she was a product of her generation in that she knew when she had children she would become a stay-at-home Mother and willingly accepted that housewife role. On the other hand, she dared to have children in her 40s in an era when most first-time-moms were 20, her last job before getting married was virtually the same job as my Dad (in fact, they met at work), and even though she was a ‘housewife’ she was very independent and opinionated and in a subtle but strong way she was a 50/50 ruler with Dad when it came to family matters. With that as a role model, it should surprise nobody that I am attracted to strong women.

So while I am happy to acknowledge International Women’s Day, I believe every day is a day to honor women.

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