2012 saw many steps forward, as well as some steps back, for both men and women. Trying to divide by gender the issues and actions that affect an entire population is a mistake that leads to assumptions that all things have uniquely male and female spins. For that reason, the gains and losses for women this year are garbled.
On the one hand, we women got more attention at the political conventions and from the presidential candidates, but the attention served to muddy the waters about what is important to all women and what women are doing to contribute to making change for everyone. Women were portrayed as simply not men, the bearers of children and the users of birth control, and issues were defined differently when referring to women.
For example, when women and health care were mentioned in the same sentence, it usually included "birth control," as if that affects a majority of the women in the United States, is solely the responsibility of women, and is a major health care issue. Less than half of the women in the United States are of child-bearing age and male contraceptives, condoms, cost pennies and are available for free in many clinics. The U.S. Census estimated that in 2011 there were 155,466,000 women in the United States, 50.78% of the population. Of those, 46.7% were ages 15-49. Of those in the child-bearing age group, how many really are concerned about the cost of birth control, currently available to all women and men at a very low cost?
Some good and bad things happened for, to and because of women this year. Here are some highlights.
Top 4 Biggest Gains
1. More women are (and will be) CEOs.
In 2012, women hold 19 of the Fortune 500 CEO positions (3.8%). In 2011, women held 18 of the top 500 positions (3.6%). More encouraging still is that two more women will become CEOs of Fortune 500 companies in January, 2013. With the addition of Marillyn Hewson as CEO of Lockheed Martin and Phebe Novakovic as CEO of General Dynamics on January 1, 2013 there will be 21 women (4.2%) in CEO positions in the Fortune 500 companies. Yahoo CEO, Marissa Mayer, a former Google executive, has received a great deal of attention for her turnaround of the company and recently introduced innovative changes to the mail product and mobile application.
2. Women dominated both political conventions.
At the GOP convention, there was significant female face time, but most of it focused on family and highlighting women in an effort to counter the "war on women" perception created by the media and the Democratic party. At the Democratic convention, women's "issues" were defined as "choice" and birth control and mentioned frequently by male and female speakers.
Sadly, neither convention focused on women's contributions toward solving the economic crisis in our country, filling leadership voids, or making our country more competitive in the sciences, innovation, and discovery. It was all political rhetoric and missed the mark on identifying and highlighting women's achievements in the areas where we have had so few.
3. Women won a record number of U.S. House and Senate races in 2012.
There will be more women in the 113th Congress than ever before. 20 women (five newcomers) will serve in the Senate, and 81 (19 freshmen) will serve in the House of Representatives in the 113th Congress beginning in January. New Hampshire has the distinction of electing the first all-women delegation including a female governor, Maggie Hassan.
Before his imminent death earlier this month, Hawaii's senior Senator Daniel Inouye asked Governor Neil Abercrombie to name Rep. Colleen Hanabusa to succeed him. This week, the governor announced that he instead has named his Lt. Governor Brian Schatz to fill the seat, eliminating speculation that the Senate might have 21 women in the coming congressional session.
4. Women went for the Olympic gold.
Bravo to the women athletes around the world and especially to the USA team at the 2012 London Summer Olympics! There were more women in the 2012 Summer Olympics than any previous. From more than 200 nations, nearly 5,000 women participated — about 44% of the total participants. The U.S. won 46 gold medals; 29 of them went to women. Of the 530 athletes representing the USA, 269 were women. Karen O'Connor, at 54, was the eldest of our athletes and Katie Ledecky, 15, was the youngest.
Top 4 Largest Losses
1. The percentage of births to unmarried women in the United States is growing.
Where it was once shameful to give birth outside of marriage, the trend is away from two-parent families. The birth rate for women under 30 is greater than 50% for single women. If the trend continues, more children will grow up in homes where there is only one parent, and where they are less likely to experience financial stability. Some startling facts:
Children born to unmarried mothers are more likely to grow up in a single-parent household, experience instability in living arrangements, live in poverty, and have socio-emotional problems.
Unmarried mothers generally have lower incomes, lower education levels, and are more likely to be dependent on welfare assistance compared with married mothers.
A majority of children born to unmarried mothers have cohabiting parents. Still, these children experience higher levels of socioeconomic disadvantage, and fare worse across a range of behavioral and emotional outcomes than those born to married parents.
2. Thanks to the 2012 elections, "women's issues" are more likely to be seen as those related to procreation.
Women voted for the candidates who support a woman's "right to choose" to abort a child and to depend on others to pay for contraception. This is a step down for us if our desire is to be seen as equals in the workplace, the boardroom and as decision makers. To be considered as equal or at least equally qualified, we must focus more on the issues that are important to all Americans, male and female, and work together to meet the challenges.
Instead, female voters focused more on the things that makes us objects rather than our desires for a better place to live and work.
3. Women are behind in careers in the sciences.
Gender bias, environmental factors and stereotypes blocking women's achievements in these areas are cited by a 2010 American Association of University Women study to examine reasons why so few women are scientists and engineers. No women won a Nobel Prize in 2012. (Only 14 women have won the Nobel Prize in this century compared to 138 men, and of the women winners in the 2000s, only 6 were in the sciences; 8 were for Peace or Literature.) More than twice as many men are employed in science and engineering occupations, and the percentage increases for occupations requiring advanced degrees.
On a more positive note, toys and games are being developed to help young girls develop their cognitive and scientific brains to help them think more like engineers. Check out these two cool items, new in 2012, that may be under a few Christmas trees this week:
A related loss this year was the death of Sally Ride, who in 1983 became the first female American astronaut in space, as well as the youngest American. She received her Ph.D. in physics at Stanford then answered a NASA ad seeking astronaut candidates. She served as a role model for many young women and founded Sally Ride Science to help bring science to life for 4th-8th graders.
4. Women will lose their U.S. Cabinet positions.
There have never been more than four women serving in a president's cabinet at the same time. For the first time in 16 years, a man is the president's choice as Secretary of State; Senator John Kerry has been nominated to replace Hillary Rodham Clinton, reducing the females in the Obama cabinet to three with her departure.
Three women served in then-President George Bush's first term and four in his second (Elaine Chao served both terms as Secretary of Labor). In then-President Bill Clinton's administration, three women served in his first term and four in his second (two of them served both terms). If President Obama is to keep pace with his immediate predecessors, he will need to appoint at least one additional women to his cabinet in his second term. The women currently serving in the Obama cabinet are Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis, Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius, and Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano.
These gains and losses aside, I hope we soon reach a place where gender is no longer the headline when a female is named CEO or a woman is elected to Congress. Women and men must work harder and agree together to legislative, parent, vote on issues, run companies, keep their loved ones safe, protect our country, pastor their congregations, engage others in their communities, teach their children, nurse the sick, discover cures for what ails us, govern, find jobs, exercise, lose weight, fix the economy, curtail unnecessary expenses, worship, and celebrate their accomplishments.