Time: 'State Of the American Woman' Is Peachy KeenS

Time Magazine's new " The State of the American Woman" special is really an update to an article series that was published back in 1972. In it, writers reflect on the past before joyfully declaring that things now are just swell.

After all, look at how bad it used to be!

Now, I have to admit, the piece gave me a bit of pause. In the intro article, the writers explain:

So it's worth stopping to look at what happened while we were busy ending the Cold War and building a multicultural society and enjoying the longest economic expansion in history.

Umm. Yeah. That's not quite how I'd describe the last thirty years, though many of these goals are works in progress. While reading through the fifteen segments that compose Time's series, I kept thinking of a phrase I hear often in anti-racist circles when discussing the realities of racism. The phrase (which adapts a bit depending on the speaker) is that whites like to measure progress by how far we've come; minorities like to measure progress based on how far we have left to go. This article is definitely taking the "how far we've come" view.

Much of the article frames gender issues as small matters, individual squabbles between couples, instead of systemic issues. However, it also does a bit of reframing, pushing the idea that women are the cause of their own problems:

This is not to say there's nothing left to argue about. More than two-thirds of women still think men resent powerful women, yet women are more likely than men to say female bosses are harder to work for than male ones. Men are much more likely to say there are no longer any barriers to female advancement, while a majority of women say men still have it better in life. People are evenly split over whether the "mommy wars" between working and nonworking mothers are finally over.

And the tenuous idea of happiness resurfaced:

Among the most confounding changes of all is the evidence, tracked by numerous surveys, that as women have gained more freedom, more education and more economic power, they have become less happy. No tidy theory explains the trend, notes University of Pennsylvania economist Justin Wolfers, a co-author of The Paradox of Declining Female Happiness. "We looked across all sectors - young vs. old, kids or no kids, married or not married, education, no education, working or not working - and it stayed the same," he says of the data. "But there are a few ways to look at it," he adds. "As Susan Faludi said, the women's movement wasn't about happiness." It may be that women have become more honest about what ails them. Or that they are now free to wrestle with the same pressures and conflicts that once accounted for greater male unhappiness. Or that modern life in a global economy is simply more stressful for everyone but especially for women, who are working longer hours while playing quarterback at home. "Some of the other social changes that have happened over the last 35 years - changes in family, in the workplace - may have affected men differently than women," Wolfers says. "So maybe we're not learning about changes due to the women's movement but changes in society."

And of course, there is the idea that inequality can be completely resolved in the span of forty years, and suddenly men will be the ones with a systemic disadvantage:

If male jobs keep vanishing, if physical strength loses its workplace value, if the premium shifts ever more to education, in which achievement is increasingly female, then we will soon be having parallel conversations: What needs to be done to free American men to realize their full potential? You can imagine the whole conversation flipping in a single generation.

It's no longer a man's world. Nor is it a woman's nation. It's a cooperative, with bylaws under constant negotiation and expectations that profits be equally shared.

Journalist and First Lady of California, Maria Shriver, writes an ode to her recently departed mother, Eunice, but also goes into a discussion of shifting gender roles and confusion. However, I appreciate how she still reframes the argument to look at the inequalities that have not been resolved:

Men are feeling out of sorts and stressed out as well. Wherever I went, I was surprised at how open men were to sharing their bafflement about what women want - and their insecurities about what's expected of them. "All of us grew up thinking this was a man's world, that doors were just gonna open to us because we had a Y chromosome," a Seattle man told me. "And suddenly we have to adjust to the fact that that's not the case. And the recession has made it even more intense for us. So every family is trying to figure out what does it mean that we're both working, or that I'm laid off and you're working? We haven't thrown some switch to go from a man's world to a woman's world. It's more like we're finally, for the first time, in a position where it's no longer only a man's world. Now what does that mean?"

While there's much to cheer about these days on the equality front, we still have a long way to go. Women still don't make as much as men do for the same jobs. The U.S. still is the only industrialized nation without a child-care policy. Women are still being punished by a tax code designed when men were the sole breadwinners and women the sole caregivers. Sexual violence against women still is a huge issue. Women still are disproportionately affected by a lack of health-care services. And lesbian couples and older women are among the poorest segments of our society.

What I find most interesting in the series are the discussions and breakdowns by race. While there is quite a bit of consensus, it's interesting to look at just how different opinions can be along racial lines.

Take "The Argument About Women Working is Over," a segment exploring breakdowns by race, asking respondents if having women in the workplace was "a positive change":

[T]hat view holds regardless of age, race or political ideology: 81% of African Americans view it as a positive change, along with 84% of Latinos, 88% of Democrats and 68% of Republicans.

And I would love some more analysis on racial/gender attitudes toward marriage:

Being married is very important to 58% of men vs. 53% of women. Only 38% of men strongly agree that a woman can have a fulfilling life without marriage, compared with 54% of women. Both white women and highly educated women (61%) strongly agree vs. 37% of Latino women. Of both black and Latino men, only 35% strongly agree.

Also, although one section is titled "Working mothers are broadly accepted..." the actual statistics show that race does influence overall attitudes:

Seventy-four percent of men and 84% of women say women with children are just as committed to their jobs as women without children. Seventy-two percent of black women strongly agree vs. 57% of Latino women and 55% of white women.

I am in favor of looking at racial analysis alongside of gender analysis because the lives of black, Latina, indigenous, and Asian women to differ a bit from the white norm. I was at a feminist conference earlier this year, and one of my co-panelists was trying to nail home the fact that women should be grateful that we have so much power and visibility. She, an older feminist, noted that many of these advances would have been unthinkable 40 years ago, and she feels that the situation and potential for women was wonderful. She began naming successful women in Hollywood, and continued to do so until I pointed out that not a single one of the women she held up as proof women had broken through all the old barriers was a woman of color. Sometimes, our gender struggles look a little different through a racial lens, and- as the stats above demonstrate - it's important to remember that the term '"women" encompasses a large and diverse group.

The Time piece concludes by following up with some of the women profiled in the magazine's 1972 feature "Where She Is and Where She's Going." The women profiled all saw their lives changed, as some worked outside of the home in the years following the article. Other women said in 1972, they felt fine with their lives and placing others first, but also felt grateful their daughters had more opportunities. Interestingly, the original article also wondered why women were not happy, when they had so much more than women of previous generations.

I will admit one thing though - the Time article certainly has me reflecting on where I am and where I would live to be in terms of gender equality. Readers, how does "The State of the American Woman" look from where you sit?

The State of the American Woman [Time Magazine]
Where She Is and Where She's Going [Time Magazine]