Continuing Challenges for Women
There is no doubt that women have made great progress since the Seneca Falls Convention. Today, more women than men attend college, and they are more likely than men to graduate.
Women are represented in all the professions, and approximately half of all law and medical school students are women.
Women have held Cabinet positions and have been elected to Congress. They have run for president and vice president, and three female justices currently serve on the Supreme Court. Women are also represented in all branches of the military and can serve in combat. As a result of the 1973 Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade, women now have legal access to abortion.
Nevertheless, women are still underrepresented in some jobs and are less likely to hold executive positions than are men. Many believe the glass ceiling, an invisible barrier caused by discrimination, prevents women from rising to the highest levels of American organizations, including corporations, governments, academic institutions, and religious groups. Women earn less money than men for the same work. As of 2014, fully employed women earned seventy-nine cents for every dollar earned by a fully employed man. Women are also more likely to be single parents than are men.
As a result, more women live below the poverty line than do men, and, as of 2012, households headed by single women are twice as likely to live below the poverty line than those headed by single men.
Women remain underrepresented in elective offices. They currently hold only about 20 percent of seats in Congress and only about 25 percent of seats in state legislatures.
Women remain subject to sexual harassment in the workplace and are more likely than men to be the victims of domestic violence. Approximately one-third of all women have experienced domestic violence; one in five women is assaulted during her college years.
Many in the United States continue to call for a ban on abortion, and states have attempted to restrict women’s access to the procedure. For example, many states have required abortion clinics to meet the same standards set for hospitals, such as corridor size and parking lot capacity, despite lack of evidence regarding the benefits of such standards. Abortion clinics, which are smaller than hospitals, often cannot meet such standards. Other restrictions include mandated counseling before the procedure and the need for minors to secure parental permission.
Furthermore, the federal government will not pay for abortions for low-income women except in cases of rape or incest or in situations in which carrying the fetus to term would endanger the life of the mother.
To address these issues, many have called for additional protections for women. These include laws mandating equal pay for equal work. According to the doctrine of comparable worth, people should be compensated equally for work requiring comparable skills, responsibilities, and effort. Thus, even though women are underrepresented in certain fields, they should receive the same wages as men if performing jobs requiring the same level of accountability, knowledge, skills, and/or working conditions, even though the specific job may be different.
For example, garbage collectors are largely male. The chief job requirements are the ability to drive a sanitation truck and to lift heavy bins and toss their contents into the back of truck. The average wage for a garbage collector is $15.34 an hour. Daycare workers are largely female, and the average pay is $9.12 an hour.
However, the work arguably requires more skills and is a more responsible position. Daycare workers must be able to feed, clean, and dress small children; prepare meals for them; entertain them; give them medicine if required; and teach them basic skills. They must be educated in first aid and assume responsibility for the children’s safety. In terms of the skills and physical activity required and the associated level of responsibility of the job, daycare workers should be paid at least as much as garbage collectors and perhaps more. Women’s rights advocates also call for stricter enforcement of laws prohibiting sexual harassment, and for harsher punishment, such as mandatory arrest, for perpetrators of domestic violence.
Harry Burn and the Tennessee General Assembly
In 1918, the proposed Nineteenth Amendment to the Constitution, extending the right to vote to all adult female citizens of the United States, was passed by both houses of Congress and sent to the states for ratification. Thirty-six votes were needed. Throughout 1918 and 1919, the Amendment dragged through legislature after legislature as pro- and anti-suffrage advocates made their arguments. By the summer of 1920, only one more state had to ratify it before it became law. The Amendment passed through Tennessee’s state Senate and went to its House of Representatives. Arguments were bitter and intense. Pro-suffrage advocates argued that the amendment would reward women for their service to the nation during World War I and that women’s supposedly greater morality would help to clean up politics. Those opposed claimed women would be degraded by entrance into the political arena and that their interests were already represented by their male relatives. On August 18, the amendment was brought for a vote before the House. The vote was closely divided, and it seemed unlikely it would pass. But as a young anti-suffrage representative waited for his vote to be counted, he remembered a note he had received from his mother that day. In it, she urged him, “Hurrah and vote for suffrage!” At the last minute, Harry Burn abruptly changed his ballot. The amendment passed the House by one vote, and eight days later, the Nineteenth Amendment was added to the Constitution.
How are women perceived in politics today compared to the 1910s? What were the competing arguments for Harry Burn’s vote?
At the time of the Revolution and for many decades following it, married women had no right to control their own property, vote, or run for public office. Beginning in the 1840s, a women’s movement began among women who were active in the abolition and temperance movements. Although some of their goals, such as achieving property rights for married women, were reached early on, their biggest goal—winning the right to vote—required the 1920 passage of the Nineteenth Amendment. Women secured more rights in the 1960s and 1970s, such as reproductive rights and the right not to be discriminated against in employment or education. Women continue to face many challenges: they are still paid less than men and are underrepresented in executive positions and elected office.