Midweek @ Musings: A Change in the Air for Women

I can’t help it: I’m fascinated by societal trends. Back in June, I read Gail Collins’ book When Everything Changed: The Amazing Journey of American Women from 1960 to the Present (read my review).  Soon after, I wrote about the changes I had seen and experienced in my life, ending the post by saying:

Reflecting on the changes that have taken place in the last 50 years, I wonder what the future holds for my teenage daughters.  When they are in their 40s, will they look back on the women of 2010 and think about how far they’ve come?

Based on some recent reading, I’d say the answer is yes.  Last week The New Yorker’s Book Bench published a post entitled, You’ve Come a Long Way Baby, which discussed the Working Woman Report published in the 1980s.  But even more interesting — at least to me — was the link to an in-depth article in The AtlanticThe End of Men.  The headline is blatantly sensational, and the article begins with a somewhat tangential discussion about choosing the sex of your child.  But if you can get past that and commit to reading all 15 pages, author Hanna Rosin makes some very compelling points.  Allow me to summarize some of those points for you here, through 6 direct quotes from The End of Men:

  • As thinking and communicating have come to eclipse physical strength and stamina as the keys to economic success, those societies that take advantage of the talents of all their adults, not just half of them, have pulled away from the rest.
  • The attributes that are most valuable today—social intelligence, open communication, the ability to sit still and focus—are, at a minimum, not predominantly male.
  • Men dominate just two of the 15 job categories projected to grow the most over the next decade: janitor and computer engineer. Women have everything else—nursing, home health assistance, child care, food preparation. … Theoretically, there is no reason men should not be qualified. But they have proved remarkably unable to adapt.
  • But women are also starting to dominate middle management, and a surprising number of professional careers as well. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, women now hold 51.4 percent of managerial and professional jobs—up from 26.1 percent in 1980. … A white-collar economy values raw intellectual horsepower, which men and women have in equal amounts. It also requires communication skills and social intelligence, areas in which women, according to many studies, have a slight edge. Perhaps most important—for better or worse—it increasingly requires formal education credentials, which women are more prone to acquire, particularly early in adulthood.
  • This is the first time that the cohort of Americans ages 30 to 44 has more college-educated women than college-educated men, and the effects are upsetting the traditional Cleaver-family dynamics. In 1970, women contributed 2 to 6 percent of the family income. Now the typical working wife brings home 42.2 percent, and four in 10 mothers—many of them single mothers—are the primary breadwinners in their families.
  • Dozens of college women I interviewed for this story assumed that they very well might be the ones working while their husbands stayed at home, either looking for work or minding the children.

I realize the statistics are US-centric, and in other countries the trend may be moving faster, slower, or not at all. I also recognize that there are many, many men out there who exhibit “social intelligence, open communication, the ability to sit still and focus.”

And yet I like what this article has to say.  I began my career in the mid-1980s.  I’ve worried about whether my reputation was appropriately masculine (assertive, but not aggressive).  I’ve participated in diversity workshops designed to educate men and women on “style differences.”  I’ve worried about having “a seat at the table,” and about male co-workers stealing a woman’s ideas and making them their own.

But you know, I haven’t worried about that stuff in a while.  And when I read articles like The End of Men, I feel just a wee bit optimistic about the future.  I think we’re seeing the early stages of a world economy that capitalizes on strengths that women bring to the table.

So now let me turn it over to you.  I know that most of my readers are women, and your ages span several decades.  If you’re in your 20s or 30s, you’re on the early end of this change — to what degree do gender differences play a role in your day-to-day life?  If you’re, erm, older, do you feel a change in the air?

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2 thoughts on “Midweek @ Musings: A Change in the Air for Women

  1. Fascinating post, Laura! I’ve always worked in jobs where there have been signficantly more women than men, but that’s because I work in the non proft/arts sector, that tends to attract more women than men. As such I have never felt that I had limited career opportunities, as I’ve always worked with female managers. However, I do get frustrated when people say I’ve chosen a ‘feminine’ profession, as if it’s a weaker, less demanding choice. I do think casual sexism is still rife and personally I won’t be happy until it becomes equally as acceptable for men to stay home with children and be allowed paternity leave and associated benefits. So many women are forced into dead end jobs and positions they are overqualified for because they have no choice but to leave the workforce when they have kids and are discriminated against for it. So many men are forced to work all the hours God sends in jobs they don’t enjoy to support their families, because the structure and support and acceptance isn’t there for them to work part time or give up work altogether to look after their children. I think to have a world where women are treated equally, I think we also need to address the social stereotypes of men’s traditional roles and give them the opportunity to make flexible lifestyle and career choices the way women are able to.

    • Thanks Rachel … while I was heartened by some of the statistics in the article, I agree there are still important issues to be addressed — you have cited many of them! I appreciate your comments.

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