This Mother’s Day, Americans showed their love straight from the wallet, spending $20.7 billion on iPads, jewelry, roses, and chocolate. Millennials changed their Facebook profile pictures to a shot with mom and “Happy Mother’s Day” was trending on Twitter. However, amidst the discussions of “leaning in” and “having it all,” there is clearly still unfinished business in the feminist movement. As mothers, as professionals, as voters, as beings with uteri, women continue to face distinct challenges, many of which have plagued us for decades.
Now is not the time for complacency; our mothers tirelessly fought for their rights and we must pay it forward. The next generation has arrived and the socialization has begun. Now is the time to tell young women that their value is independent of their appearance, to validate and nourish their dreams, and to empower all children to not be restricted or confined by gendered expectations. Here are some of the things our mothers fought for that we have today.
1. Fair and Living Wages
This one goes out to all women, but especially the mothers. A woman earns 77 cents to a man’s dollar, and according to a recent investigation by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, of over 534 occupations examined, women earn more than men in seven positions. Those positions account for three percent of full-time female employees. The remaining 97% of women earn less than their male co-workers.
Minimum wage is not a living wage; at the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour, a full time employee earns $14,500 annually, which is $4,000 below the poverty line for a household of three. Women work nearly 2/3 of minimum wage jobs, and thus women and families are heavily affected, as over 60% of mothers are breadwinners (39.3%) or co-breadwinners (24%). As feminist blogger Laurie Penny noted, “While we all worry about the glass ceiling, there are millions of women standing in the basement- and the basement is flooding.” Living wage is a feminist issue.
2. Support for Working Mothers
Childrearing exacerbates wage inequality. After the first child, a woman’s chance of being hired decreases by 44%, and her pay by 11%.
We need to support working parents by providing adequate maternity and paternity leave and childcare. The United States is one of three nations- alongside Papua New Guinea and Swaziland- to not guarantee mothers paid leave at the time of childbirth, and is far behind on paternity leave as well (see image above). For families with children under 5, 10.1% of household income is spent on childcare, and for low-income families earning less than $1,500 a month, the cost is 52.7% of household income.
Employers, however, aren’t the only culprits; 85% of women report responsibility for domestic responsibilities, leaving mothers “overworked, overextended, and overstressed.”
3. Access to the Top
The United States ranks 78th globally for women’s political participation, putting us just above the United Arab Emirates at 79 and Morocco at 81, and just below Indonesia and Kenya at 76 and Tajikistan at 73.
Women receive significantly less encouragement from parents, colleagues, and peers to engage in politics, which is a major predictor of political ambition. According to a recent report titled Men Rule: The Continued Under-Representation of Women in U.S. Politics, women are less likely to consider themselves qualified to run for office and more likely to perceive gender bias in politics. Women leaders are also treated and covered in distinct ways, which serves a further detriment to their careers. Media coverage of a woman’s appearance, whether negative of positive, has a detrimental effect on her candidacy; voters rank such candidates lower on a number of traits including “being in touch, likable, confident, effective and qualified.”
Additionally, women account for 16.6% of board members at Fortune 500 companies, despite growing evidence that companies with higher representation of women at the top outperform their counterparts. We need an appreciation of women’s leadership styles, while acknowledging that gender isn’t the only determinant of leadership style. Women also need cross-gendered mentoring opportunities, and appropriate accommodations for their work-life balance. We simultaneously need to enable women to rise to leadership positions by altering the professional context, while empowering women to “lean in” or “break the glass ceiling.” As Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg explained:
"Go to a playground: Little girls get called 'bossy' all the time, a word that's almost never used for boys. And that leads directly to the problems women face in the workforce. When a man does a good job, everyone says, 'That's great.' When a woman does that same thing, she'll get feedback that says things like, 'Your results are good, but your peers just don't like you as much' or 'maybe you were a little aggressive.'”
4. Autonomy Over Their Own Bodies
Women should be able to decide if they want to have children, and if so, when and how many. End of story. Before the Affordable Care Act’s birth control benefit, women were paying up to $600 annually on birth control. For many, that is a luxury. Not to mention, it was easier to get insurance coverage for Viagra than birth control. While nearly one in three American women will have an abortion, abortion access has become heavily restricted since Roe v. Wade. Oregon is the only state without any abortion restrictions. Current restrictions include limited or no insurance coverage, a scarcity of abortion providers, ultrasound, physician, or hospital requirements, and restrictions based on progression of pregnancy or age of mother.
5. Freedom From Violence
We must end the pandemic of sexual and intimate partner violence, and this mandate begins at home. We need to teach our children to ask for consent, and empower them to have a sense of ownership over their own bodies. We need to stop victim blaming and slut-shaming and instead demand accountability, none of this “boys will be boys” nonsense. And we need to challenge rape culture, or the pervasive aspects of our society that perpetuate and normalize rape, invalidate the stories of survivors of sexual violence, and excuse or justify the actions of perpetrators.