It has been almost half a century since the Women’s Strike for Equality March. Forty-seven years ago, 50,000 women marched down Fifth Avenue in New York City, calling for equity in education and employment, the repeal of anti-abortion laws, and universal child care. This massive event sparked Congresswoman Bella Abzug to lead the charge in establishing Women’s Equality Day in 1971.
Women’s rights have come a long way since then. We can expect the Equal Protection Clause to apply to us. We can end marriages that don’t work for us, and pregnancies that we didn’t plan. We can’t be fired for getting pregnant, and we can apply for our own credit cards. We can refuse to have sex with our spouses, and buy contraception without being married. We can be astronauts, Supreme Court justices, four-star generals, and nominees for President of the United States.
It’s easy to point out all the broken glass ceilings as evidence of our equality. But it isn’t the full picture—not by a long shot.
Women’s earnings are still approximately 20 percent less than men’s. And the gender pay gap persists even though women are more likely to earn bachelor’s degrees than men, and do one and a half times as much unpaid care work.
Right now, women in our country are given unreasonable and unequal choices. Either put food on the table or care for your child. Find a new job or a second job to make ends meet. Grin and bear sexual harassment, unequal pay, and disrespect, or accept a reputation as a troublemaking bitch. Choose to be a good mom, a good daughter, or a good employee.
This is not the life I signed up for, and I doubt you did either. Yes, there are a handful of women who seem to have it all. They either came into this world with privilege, possess exceptional family supports, or won the boss lottery. But none of those bits of fortune are guaranteed—we can gain them through luck, lose them through misfortune, or never experience them at all. That’s why, until all women can slay, none of us really can.
As feminists, we have a long road ahead in the struggle for women achieving economic freedom. We need to root out sexism, racism, discrimination, ageism, and gender inequality across the board, but that’s not possible until all women acquire real economic power.
The women who make our country work ought to have a say in how that work gets done and who benefits from it. Our economic liberation requires freedom in our workplaces, in our health care decisions, in our homes, and in our communities. The long-term policy shifts to make that happen won’t take place overnight. Structural fixes aren’t easy or sexy, and can’t be summed up in a hashtag or on a t-shirt.
How many women do you know who are stressed out from juggling work and caring for their spouses, children, and aging parents because Congressional leaders refuse to implement a comprehensive paid family leave program? The care conundrum cuts across race and class, yet the women who work for low-wage employers are in the worst predicament, trying to balance the fear of losing their jobs or life savings while navigating a patchwork of insufficient fixes.
And how many still have to bear the brunt of sexual harassment, for fear of losing their jobs? The Huffington Post found that 1 in 3 women has been sexually harassed at work. Nearly half of all housekeepers in Chicagoland hotels had guests expose themselves, and 65 percent of casino cocktail servers had a guest grope or grab them.
But there are signs of progress, as women band together to reclaim our power. Around the country, women are winning campaigns for paid sick days, for consistent and dependable schedules, for equal pay, for ending the sexist and racist tipped subminimum wage, and for domestic workers to be included in basic wage and overtime protections that they have been barred from since the New Deal. Through these wins, women are taking the first steps at earning a fair return on their work so they can make smart choices for themselves and their families, and for the women who follow.
As feminists, we must combine the demands of the millions of women who came before us, of those fighting for their rights today, and of our daughters and granddaughters who have yet to grasp the full weight of living in an unequal world. If we do so, together we can rewrite the rules so that women from all walks of life are in the drivers’ seat, taking control of their lives and their economic well-being.