The State of American Women Project

Women are constantly redefining themselves and changing the social and cultural notions of gender roles. In this space we share the issues related to women -- in the many stages of their lives, and the many roles that they personify.


Welcome to the blog for The State of American Women Project. In this space, the Global Women's Caucus shares articles and issues related to women living in America. New articles are posted monthly.

Initiatives:
Women's Economic Wellness and Leadership
Motherhood: Forgotten Labor and Leadership


Gender Neutral Parenting

“Ever since its conception, gender neutral parenting has engrossed society and divided opinions by challenging [the] traditional dichotomous approach to child rearing which has been used by families in most cultures for hundreds of years” (Wharton, 2012; as cited in Watkins, 2016)

Gender plays a salient role in a child’s development, aiding in a child’s identity formation, preferences, and providing information to them about others (Shutts, Kenward, Falk, Ivegran, & Fawcett, 2015). However, the underlying question to many who study gender is just how much does an individual’s gender impact their behavior. Western cultures still maintain a sense of gender disparity when it comes to such things as how to dress a child or what toys the child has access to, as well as considerations about a child’s activity level and emotional expression (Siegler, Saffran, Eisenberg, DeLoache, & Gershoff, 2017).

In response to mid-20th century notions of gender roles, second wave feminism evolved to widen the confines of how girls, specifically, were being socialized (Martin, 2005). The movement drew support from research in Social Learning Theory that emphasized society’s and the environment’s influence on the socialization and development of an individual (Martin, 2005). Specifically, Social Cognitive Theory, as developed by Bussey & Bandura (1999/2004, as cited in Siegler et al., 2017), posited that notions about gender develop through tuition (teaching), enactive experience (rewards), and observational learning (Siegler et al., 2017). Consider the common concept of a father teaching his son how to play soccer, the positive reaction a girl may receive when she dances in a party dress, or a child observing women going to nail and hair salons. Just by living as a member in a society, children are encoding gendered behaviors generally accepted by our culture on a day-to-day basis. Thus, gender-neutral parenting developed as a way to challenge cultural norms based on expected gender behaviors that, as many believe, interfere with the child’s developmental potential (Watkins, 2016).

A study comparing the behaviors of children in a gender-neutral preschool with those of a normal preschool found that gender-neutral pedagogy had moderate effects on who and what the children played with (Shutts et al., 2015). Specifically, children in the gender-neutral preschool were more apt to play with unfamiliar other-gendered children (Shutts et al., 2015). So, whereas children in the preschool age are more commonly found playing with peers of the same gender, this study found that children in the gender-neutral preschool had mixed gender peer groups. Interestingly, there were no differences in how children coded others’ genders (Shutts et al., 2015), highlighting that gender identification is still important at this age for identity development and classification, and cannot be completely ignored. Weisman, Johnson, and Shutts (2015) note that automatic gender coding (using gender to gain information about someone else) is important because of its perceptible dimension. Specifically, children use gender and race to direct them in social contexts (Weisman, Johnson, & Shutts, 2014). That withstanding, Shutts et al. (2015) were able to demonstrate that although children encode gender automatically, and use gender in guiding social preferences and inferences, challenging cultural-conscripted gender norms aids in breaking down stereotypes, and, this article argues, mitigating bullying. Homosexuality remains, at least in the United States, stigmatized (Martin, 2005), and gender-neutral rearing, particularly for boys, may put them more at risk for bullying in social settings. It is important, then, that the home environment remains a secure place for children who are victims of bullying, specifically because it is through a child’s interactions and environment that they develop either a secure or insecure concept of self (Siegler et al., 2017).

Providing children with more gender-neutral environments and expression of emotions has support in psychological literature (Watkins, 2016). For one, Martin and Fabes (2001) note that preschool children who “favor same-gender playmates develop more extreme gender-typed interests and behaviors over time” (as cited in Shutts et al., 2015, p. 14). As children get older, their gender in-group preferences and gender stereotyping strengthen; a more open and flexible notion of gender norms early on may promote a more inclusive perspective of gender behavior. Furthermore, Watkins (2016) highlights that gender-neutral parenting may better aid in the child’s freedom to develop “authentically,” and instills children with notions of gender equality. Thus, being able to code gender holds valuable information for children in social contexts, however a more neutral attitude of gender roles may alleviate many inequities and roadblocks children encounter in their development to healthy adults.

For parents out there wondering what small gestures they may offer to their children this month to celebrate PRIDE, perhaps think about some gender-neutral play; if you haven’t already, introduce your son to dolls and dress-up and your daughters to sports and trains. Most importantly, emotions are not gendered. Psychological research is unanimous that children should feel free to experience a wide array of emotions.

References:

Martin, K. A. (2005). William wants a doll. Can he have one? Feminists, child care advisors, and gender-neutral child rearing. Gender and Society, 19(4), 456-479.

Shutts, K., Kenward, B., Falk, H., Ivegran, A., & Fawcett, C. (2015). Early preschool environments and gender: Effects of gender pedagogy in Sweden. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 162, 1-17.

Siegler, R., Saffran, J. R., Eisenberg, N., DeLoache, J., & Gershoff, E. (2017). How children develop (5th ed.). New York, NY: Worth Publishers.

Watkins, O. (2016). Development of the authentic self: An exploration of gender neutral parenting. Journal of Undergraduate Research, 1, 21-30.

Weisman, K., Johnson, M. V., & Shutts, K. (2014). Young children’s automatic encoding of social categories. Developmental Science, 18(6), 1036-1043.


Hidden Figures and Forgotten Facts

Amanda Frost on YouTube

Two Global Women’s Caucus events in April and May shed more light on the situation of American women, past and present. Facts and factoids, heroines and victims that somehow slip through the cracks in our telling of the story of women in our history books.

Linda Scott, professor emeritus of entrepreneurship and innovation at the University of Oxford, talks about including women in the world economy in her book The Double X Economy.  With hard data that is easy to read, she describes barriers that have kept and keep women down, through history and still now. Fathers buying and selling daughters (do dowries still exist?) against their will; husbands burning brides whose dowries run out (yes!); men appropriating women’s earnings; banks discriminating against women applying for loans; corporations paying women less than men (we all know that one); depriving women affordable child care…and on and on.

But The Double X Economy is not only a diatribe of miseries.  Happily there are solutions and Linda Scott lines them up is a way that gives hope for the future, encouraging for those of us who believe in political action.  And don’t we all?

Amanda Frost, in her stupendous work You Are Not American: Citizenship Stripping from Dred Scott to the Dreamers asks these questions:

What if…

  • you applied to vote and were told “no” just because your spouse was a foreigner?
  • you came back from visiting family members overseas and were refused re-entry to the US, despite having been born on American soil?
  • your US passport renewal was denied because you were born at home, not in a hospital?
  • you were under investigation by the Dept. of Justice, simply because you were born near the US-Mexican border?
  • US Immigration demanded documented proof of your US citizenship, what do you possess that can accurately prove this

The loss of citizenship over the past two centuries has been reflected in many of the United States’ most gripping political struggles and much has been directed against women and minorities—over slavery and women’s suffrage, but also communism, immigration and world wars.

Once again unsung heroines and heroes rise up from the pages and smack us face on with the need to repair injustices through political action.

And while we’re at it….

Books Abroad, our feminist reading group has read two blockbuster books that look at two issues that provide a revisionist version of US history that concern both women and race.  The first is Caste, The Origins of Our Discontents by Isabel Wilkerson and the second is Wayward Lives Beautiful Experiments by Saidiya Hartman,  Both books look at history from a personal point of view, examining narratives and stories of real people. Wayward Lives gives new meaning to feminism, following the lives of black women born after the slave emancipation who emigrated north and pursued their liberation in a particular way.  The second wave of feminism has been seen generally as a movement of white women.  But before that came black women whose struggles had been overlooked until now in the movement.  Both books dovetail and intersect and discover important details that might have escaped us.




Lost Labor and Leadership

 

As a researcher concerned with child development and family policy, I wasn’t surprised when news of the burden that parents, specifically mothers, have carried during this pandemic started to ripple out of news sources. In fact, I was pleased, not because mothers are drowning in the overwhelm of working, caretaking, and dealing with the worries and stresses of a pandemic, but because I felt that finally parenting was getting some well- deserved attention. These stories continue to proliferate our news feeds, and it looks as though policy will finally begin to address the enormous burdens and pressure put on mothers. However, one main point keeps me from  getting out the streamers for celebration. As the Biden-Harris administration and a handful of bills begin to address such things as family leave, childcare, and reproductive healthcare, there is still a looming problem: motherhood and parenting remain outside our traditional view of labor and leadership.

Last month LinkedIn made headlines when they announced that they were adding “stay-at-home mom” and “stay-at-home dad” to job titles, as well as not requiring a job description for “self-employed.” The new measures are an attempt to combat the work gaps many women are experiencing due to the pandemic. However, it is also the single first step that actually places parenting within the realm of jobs, and the job market. Rather than a gap in employment, some economists are suggesting we look at stay-at-home caretaking as a long- term investment, one that could very well surpass the economic short- term gains in labor force production.

Bailey et al. (2019) conducted longitudinal research on the effects of the 2004 California Paid Family Leave Act (PFLA) on women’s careers. Contrary to what feminists and many economists would like to believe, the PFLA didn’t act as an incentive for mothers to return to work, nor did it provide evidence that it aided in closing wage gaps or boosting women to leadership positions. In fact, taking up PFLA ended up reducing employment by 7 percent and lowering annual wages by 8 percent for new mothers up to 10 years after giving birth. This wage loss translated to a cumulative $24,000 10-year loss for new mothers with access to paid leave. Astonishing, to say the least, this result is a blow in the face of new policies like the FAMILY Act, and not the kind of results that proponents of women’s equality want to see. However, it shows a fundamental misperception of what parenting and labor-supply are, mainly that parenting is a field outside of labor requiring necessary compensation and prestige.

Bailey and her colleagues contend that by shifting the economic perspective on family leave, from demand-labor to supply-labor, the results of the finding overwhelmingly speak to the benefits of paid leave legislation. They write, “If the supply-side model holds, paid leave legislation could be responsible for an increase in investment of $24,000 worth of mother’s time in children.” California’s PFLA increased the time mothers spend breastfeeding and the time they spent with their children after returning to work. It also increased paternal involvement and parental mental health. Factors that seem redundant to economic analyses of family leave policy, because they don’t contribute to the focus of gender equality in the labor market or economic growth, are actually high contributors to societal well-being, parental well-being, and the well-being of our children, which in turn has huge long-term economic benefits.

The PFLA displayed that when mothers are compensated by way of recognizing the labor of parenting, and when that compensation is delivered on the sentiment that motherhood is leadership, mothers perform better and produce better products. This is the investment of our future, and this should be the focus of paid family leave policy, not the short-term effects of wages and employer loyalty. When parenting begins to be viewed as necessary labor and leadership, mothers (and fathers) will finally have the fundamental support they need, and like all long-term investments, we will see the benefits pay off.


Women’s Economic Wellbeing and Leadership Initiative

We are pleased to announce the launch of the Women’s Economic Wellbeing and Leadership Initiative in conjunction with Democrats Abroad, State of American Women Project.

Expanding leadership and economic opportunities for women, across race and geography, and rooting out systemic biases that shut women out, is a priority for the Global Women’s Caucus and Democrats Abroad overall. Important policy recommendations to address these systemic inequities can be found throughout the 2020 Democrats Abroad Platform from, taxation to wage equality to education.

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Work-related security for women gets a boost with renewed labor initiatives

A number of legislative and labor initiatives are underway to improve work-related security for American women. While some broadly support all workers – and may in the short-term address issues brought on by the pandemic – they are especially critical for women, and have long-term potential to significantly reduce the earning gap, increase bargaining power and improve the ability for women to stay in the workforce longer. Last month, we focused on the movement to increase the minimum wage. Now we look at how a renaissance in the labor movement is increasing the ability for labor unions to represent the interests of women. 

Labor Unions as part of the women’s equality movement

Under President Biden, labor unions are receiving much needed support. For Secretary of Labor, the president chose Marty Walsh, the first secretary since the 1970s with a labor union background. In his first major interview after being sworn in as secretary, Walsh made clear that inequality would be his focus in the department: “We have a unique opportunity when we talk about recovering from covid-19 to be able to really focus on the issue of systemic racism, also inequality, gender inequality and all kinds of other types of inequality.” 

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Democrats Tackle the Pandemic’s Devastating Economic Impact on Women

The devastating economic hit taken by working women during the Covid recession (hence the new term: “she-session”) is severe. Female participation in the U.S. workforce has dropped to 57%, the lowest level in 30 years. Over 4 million women have left the labor force, disproportionately represented in the hardest-hit industries: hospitality and leisure, education and health service.  

Many of those still working have faced reduced income since women working part-time are more likely to have shorter hours or be on zero-hour contracts. In addition women bear an increased burden of care for children, exacerbated by school closures, and for family members falling ill. Restrictions of movement have resulted in increased incidents of domestic violence and has limited access to reproductive healthcare.  Academics estimate women have lost years of progress in the workforce in the last 12 months.   

There is good news since the election of President Biden and Vice-President Harris - beyond the vastly increased rate of vaccinations. Democrats have started taking action to reverse these negative trends for women, and Legislators in Congress and policy specialists in the White House have been working on several fronts:

  • President Biden nominated six women members to his Cabinet, including Janet Yellen, as the first woman Secretary of the Treasury and Marcia Fudge, the first Black woman Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. Academic research has shown women in leadership positions will bring priorities and issues to the discussion that have otherwise been ignored. As Senator Warren said, “If you don't have a seat at the table, you're probably on the menu.”  These senior appointments have demonstrated the importance this administration places on the principles of gender diversity and inclusion.
  • Through the economic impact payments and expansion of the Child Tax Credit, the American Rescue Act will immediately benefit women and their families. Of major importance for women, the bill includes significant funds to address the crisis in child care facilities around the country. And, as we all know, lack of adequate child care will present a major barrier to women returning to the workforce.
  • The American Rescue Plan provides about $15 billion which will be released by states’ block grants to support families and providers, while an additional $24 billion will go towards a stabilization fund for child care providers to cover a range of expenses.
    • Reliable child care provisions are finally being recognized as the critical part of American infrastructure that they are, freeing women to re-enter the workforce. This major investment also represents a significant step in bringing more equitable and affordable access to child care for families in poverty and communities of color.
  • On March 8, 2021, the Biden-Harris administration created a new government entity to advance women’s rights: the White House Gender Policy Council. It will establish a government-wide focus on “…gender equity and equal rights and opportunity for women and girls.” Unlike previous Democratic administrations, this Council will be well-staffed with the two co-chairs reporting directly to the President. Every Cabinet member will participate.  And a specific goal is “…Increasing economic security and opportunity by addressing the structural barriers to women’s participation in the labor force…”
  • In December, 2020,  the House Democratic Women’s Caucus wrote an 8-page letter to President-Elect Biden and Vice President-Elect Harris listing over 60 areas that executive actions could promote “…a transformative agenda for women and families…” and reverse the damage done by the outgoing administration. It sets a framework for an impressive range of actions to reverse the depredations of the Trump administration’s attack on federal support for a range of gender equity regulations. 

Here at Democrats Abroad, the Global Women’s Caucus is thrilled with the many steps Democrats are taking to advance the agenda of women’s economic well-being and reverse the impact of this pandemic. The DA 2020 Platform contains a range of similar economic policy recommendations to advance gender parity, and we look forward to engaging DA members to advance these policies over the coming months with our Democratic colleagues in Washington, DC. For more information on our initiative, visit: https://www.democratsabroad.org/wc_the_state_of_american_women_project


Raise the Wage Act

The State of American Women: The Impact of the Raise the Wage Act (Part I of a two-part series)
By: Rebecca Petras

When the at-work gender gap is discussed, the well-reported difference in pay between men and women is the most common reference. In 2018, women earned 81.1 cents on the dollar compared to men, according to US Census Bureau statistics.

The earning gap is a simple way to measure and communicate the glaring issues faced by women in the workforce. One of the main reasons for the gap is that women make up the majority of minimum wage earners. 

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Vaccination Hesitancy

Vaccination Hesitancy Remains for Certain Populations

By: Stayce Camparo, Communications Co-Chair, Global Women’s Caucus

On January 16th, 2021, a doctor by the name of Kimberly D. Manning prepared a vaccination station for Ms. Eloise, an elderly black woman who had come to the clinic to get her vaccine. Soon after Dr. Manning started preparing the syringe, Ms. Eloise started crying, confessing her doubt that she was doing the right thing. Dr. Manning paused the inoculation, and began to talk with her, gently asking her about her hesitations. Ms. Eloise explained that she didn’t want to go another year, not being able to hug her grandkids -- “I’m more scared of going another year not hugging my grands than I am of…whatever.”

“Ms. Eloise, I bet you’ve seen a lot of…whatever,” stated Dr. Manning. Ms. Eloise replied, “Yeah, I have.”

This excerpt was retrieved from the twitter account of Dr. Kimberly D. Manning, illuminating a conflict of trust that many Black Americans are confronted with when making healthcare decisions. Dr. Manning, also a Black woman, ended the post with #BlackWhysMatter, a directive to her followers to listen to the hesitancy of those who have historically been taken advantage of by the medical and healthcare communities.

Among Black Americans, trust in vaccine safety is only 14%, and two in three people believe that the government should “rarely, or never, be trusted to look after their interests.” In Latinx communities, these statists are 34% and 43% respectively -- lower than what many health officials need for public health conformity, yet a bump up from reports by Black Americans, displaying a deep divide in opinion among two populations that have historically been marginalized. The efficacy of any vaccine to provide widespread protection lies within the population’s willingness to get it, and if certain groups are hesitant, then everyone is at risk. 

What Ms. Eloise and many others are afraid of, however, is not unjustified; throughout history, Black Americans have suffered from unspeakable tortures, prejudices, and disparities in medical research and healthcare. In 1932, the Tuskegee Institute, along with the Public Health Service, began to study the natural course of syphilis by recruiting 600 Black men, half with syphilis and half without, without their informed consent. In return for the study (originally supposed to last six months), the men received free regular medical exams, free meals, and free burial services. The study went on to last for 40 years, and in 1947, when penicillin became the chosen drug to cure syphilis, the men of the Tuskegee study were not offered it, with later investigations finding no evidence that the participants were even given a choice to quit the study. This incident sparked the establishment of the International Review Board,  and a strict code of ethics that is  rigorously analyzed for the use of human subjects in research.

Though the research community has taken strides to assure equality in experimentation and scientific study, we are far from rectifying the persistent systemic racism embedded in the American medical system; inequalities and prejudices still exist and are evident in the high mortality rates among Black mothers and infants, and in the striking disparities in Coronavirus cases among Black Americans. And to say that the problem is being confronted flies in the face of reports showing that race is not being adequately tracked in vaccination distribution. Moreover, the process for acquiring a vaccination appointment, even by those who are eager to get it, is displaying racial inequities, in terms of the time and resources needed to book such an appointment. If we are to take on the labor of Sisyphus and tackle the predominant vaccine hesitancy among Black Americans, then we must confront the bleak reality of medical racism, and learn more about the groups that are being targeted by disinformation campaigns looking to suppress and mislead. 

Unfortunately, women, particularly Black women, are one of the more vulnerable populations targeted by propaganda. Broken down only by gender, a recent National Geographic survey showed that 51% of women reported that they were likely to take the covid vaccine, compared with 69% of men. Some research shows that the anti-vaxxer movement, primarily made up of women, has infiltrated mainstream, predominantly female, domains, like wellness and cuisine. These campaigns are succeeding in spreading false information to a population that is chiefly responsible for making health decisions for their families. Furthermore, there is warranted hesitancy among Black women given the history of distressing medical outcomes during childbirth, compounded by a lack of medical research for this demographic. Though some policy leaders have considered targeting Black communities first with the vaccine, given that those communities have been hit the hardest by the pandemic, an established and reinforced distrust in healthcare and health professionals have left many Black women wary to be first in line.

Professionals and experts in the study of disinformation and inequality have a few suggestions to help everyone stay savvy to credible information and hopefully help increase willing participation in vaccination. For one, we need to listen to those who are hesitant because of a long-established system of medical racism. We also need to become informed consumers of accurate information, and use the tools available to us to call out and combat false messaging. Remember Occam’s razor? Some stories are just too convoluted to be true. Lastly, we need to get this vaccine. Though some experts theorize that hesitancy in women arises partly from research showing that women fare better than men when infected with the coronavirus, our physical health, mental health, and futures all depend on stepping up as a community and listening to science.

Ms. Eloise had a fear of being disconnected from the people she loved, and that fear ultimately helped erode the fears she harbored as a Black woman. Thank you, Ms. Eloise. Our neighbors and leaders must learn from your example, and from your #why.

Here are some resources about vaccination, and the different vaccines offered.


Keeping Up the Fight

We’re barely two weeks into October and have already heard enough to write a new verse of Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start the Fire”.  This year has had so much going on that it’s enough to fill more than the entire sad song. Every day it seems like we hear an overwhelming flood of more depressing news—Covid-19 cases rising, blatant white supremacy, Supreme Court fears and more. It’s hard to keep reacting to everything with the appropriate level of anger or outrage anymore—four years of listening to anything will numb you somewhat. But take a deep breath, and remember that all this isn’t normal. Luckily, we still live in a democracy, where the election of the people runs this government is your choice. 

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