The 21st century America is still lagging behind when it comes to gender issues. Women and girls perform relatively lower than men in numerous development indicators such as education, income, employment, political participation etc (Gaddis). For instance, in 2000, a survey on the earnings of bachelor degree holders in the U.S. revealed that women earned $35,408, compared to their male counterparts of the same educational level who earned $49,982. The United States was ranked number 31 in the Global Gender Gap Report in 2009, which placed it far below a majority of European and industrialized countries (World Economic Forum). It is a fact that gender iniquity still exists in the United States, and it is an issue that is hindering the development of the country (Gaddis). This paper presents an explanatory synthesis about the gender argument in 21st century America.
Just a few centuries ago, the typical family comprised of a husband who does full-time work and a full-time housewife who cares for the kids, and manages the domestic affairs of the home. Today, the American couple is a dual-earner, with the two partners working and sharing domestic responsibilities (Sweetman 30-35). The radical changes in the role of women have been brought about by the fact that they are now more educated compared to before; in fact in some countries, more women hold university degrees than men. Consequently, they have been able to access numerous job opportunities, encouraging them to work. In addition, the huge shift from manual to office work, which is less demanding physically, has encouraged women to go to work (Tembon 95-100). The increase in divorce rates, in the 21st century America, has also made women realize the need for being financially independent, thus encouraging them look for jobs. It is vital to mention that the daily life of a working female is far from a bed of roses, especially for those who have children; it is not easy to reconcile families and jobs. Even, though, fathers are now shouldering a greater share of domestic work and child care than before, women still do most of the work (Tembon 95-100). This is evident especially when the children are still extremely young and time-consuming, and child care is either difficult to find or costly. Consequently, women miss out on job promotions because they have to spend more time at home than work.
According to president of America’s National Council for Research on Women, Ms. Linda Bash, a supporter of working women in the 21st century, women are the drivers of innovation and economic growth (Sweetman 30-35). She argued that women belong to the workplace, and working is advantageous for them, their families, the economy and society at large. Most importantly, it helps them realize their full potentials as independent and productive individuals. She cited a report by the Institute for Fiscal Studies which revealed that the extensive entry of women into the workforce has significantly increased the living standards amongst lower and middle-income households in the last forty years (Sweetman 30-35). She was quick to mention that a majority of women work not because of choice but due to the economic necessity. Other supporters argue that women have demonstrated their capability in providing every physical, artistic and cognitive skill needed for all occupations from management, marketplaces, fields, to construction sites. Therefore, they should no longer be restrained by the traditional expectations and norms with regards to their roles and places at home, and in the workplaces, but instead, they should be given equal access the full range of economic activities as co-participants with their male counterparts (Sweetman 30-35).
There was a steady rise in the presence of women in the workplace, in America, from 33.9% in the 1950s to 46.8% in 2010, and women are increasingly becoming significant economic drivers (Sweetman 30-35). Research done by McKinsey & Company suggested that one fourth of the current GDP of America is attributed to the joining of labor force by women in the 1970s to date. Increasing women participation in labor force from the current 60% to 80% as in the case of Japan has the potential of increasing America’s GDP to up to 15 percent (Sweetman 30-35). Though critics have argued that the entry of women in the labor force has negatively affected the well-being of the family, evidence shows that working women not only earn higher income but also contribute substantially to the family decision-making, and children’s education (Sweetman 30-35).
According to a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, Ms. Christina Hoff Sommers, a critic of the working woman in the 21st century America, the gender disparities seen in workplaces are nearly exclusively the result of the diverse women’s preferences with regards to balancing their careers and homes (Tembon 95-100). Sommers argued that women should have the freedom of choosing whether to stay at home or go to work, and that it is totally alright for those who want to be full-time mothers. Her sentiments are seconded by other critics who argue that women have no assigned place in the society, and thus, they have the freedom to choose where they would want to be. About five million women in the United States stay at home as full-time mums, and critics of working mothers fully support them. According to a research done by Tembon (95-100) in 2009, 62% of working mothers preferred working part-time, while 79% of working fathers preferred working full-time; an indication of just how women would prefer to prioritize their families and homes when they have a choice (Tembon 95-100). This according to critics clearly indicates that women still come second to men. Critics have disagreed with the argument that some women have been forced into full-time motherhood because of the hostility that they experience at their workplaces, or the low wages they are paid. To them, these are myths that are yet to be proven. They claim that powerful feminist lobbies spend millions of dollars yearly, to paint a false picture of gender discrimination, as well as wage disparity at work places continuously, basing their agendas on incomplete studies, but the truth is that their pursuit is for personal gains (Tembon 95-100).
Supporters of gender equality have noted gender segregation in the 21st century workplace, in the United States, as well as, the gender pay gap, which have persisted at all levels from junior to senior management (Scott and Lyonette 3-8). However, critics argue that the occupational disparity is mainly because of the various life preferences between men and women for instance, the choice of courses they study in school. They argue that women tend to select relatively easy courses that land them in less-paying occupations such as education and health than men, who pursue more technologically-driven courses like engineering, construction, technology etc, which have a better pay. Their argument is supported by a 2009 analysis commissioned by the United States Department of Labor on the wage gap. The study examined over fifty peer reviewed papers on wage disparity between men and women. The study concluded that the wage disparity could be nearly totally the outcome of individual choices made by female and male workers (Scott and Lyonette 3-8).
In addition, workforce feminization of particular economic zones have also been witnessed in the 21st century America for instance, the export factories that mainly employ women as they are obtainable at low costs. The unemployment rate stands at 6.5% for women and 6.2% for men; an indication that more women are in need of jobs than men, and; therefore, they are prone to exploitation by employers (Scott and Lyonette 3-8). Following the global recession, numerous export factories have been common, and they hire such women at considerably extremely low wages. Besides, there is a gender leadership gap being witnessed currently, especially in top positions. Despite representing over 51.5% of managers in the U.S., women only constitute 15.7% of directors and 3.2% of CEOs in the Fortune 500 (Scott and Lyonette 3-8). Despite this disparity, research shows that women bring diverse risk-management, and decision-making approaches into companies that induce improved results i.e. firms with more women in leading management positions tend to surpass those with relatively lesser diversity (Scott and Lyonette 3-8).
In conclusion, the 21st century America has undergone significant changes with regard to the gender issue. In the past, a typical American family comprised of a husband who does full-time work and a wife, who stays at home, to look after the children and manage the domestic affairs of the home. Currently, the American couple is a dual-earner, with both parties working and sharing responsibilities. The radical changes in the role of women have been brought about by the fact that women are now more educated than before. One group maintains that work is a necessity for a woman rather than a choice, and working helps women to live healthy lives that are self-sufficient and productive, devoid of dependency on others. Another group, however argues that women should be given the liberty to choose whether to stay at home or go to work. It is, therefore, up to women to choose whether they want to work or not depending on their needs and what makes them happy.