Recent developments call attention to a number of questions related to gender in American political, economic, and cultural life.
According to exit polls conducted during the presidential election, 54 percent of women voted for Clinton but only 38 percent voted for Dole. Men, on the other hand, divided about equally between the two candidates. Why was that the case? Was it because the real interests of men and women are affected differently by government policies, or because they have different perceptions of the national interest?
The gap between the earnings of women and the earnings of men has narrowed greatly in the past 20 years. In 1993, women aged 30 to 40 earned almost 80 percent as much as men of similar age, experience, education, and job characteristics–up from 60 percent 25 years earlier. For women aged 16 to 29, the ratio in 1993 was over 90 percent.
The educational attainment of women has also increased greatly. Today over half of all bachelor’s degrees and almost 40 percent of all medical degrees are awarded to women. Does this mean that the problem of discrimination against women in the economy and in education is over? Some who reject this idea point to the small number of women who hold high executive positions in business, which they attribute to the existence of a “glass ceiling.” Can we expect this ceiling to disappear as the number of women with long experience in jobs that qualify them for top positions increases?
Has the pursuit of equality led to the disregard of important, relevant differences? Some would say the requirement that Virginia Military Institute admit women is an example of this, as is the service of women on aircraft carriers.
The voters of California have just adopted an amendment to the state constitution that would prohibit discrimination or preferences in state employment, education, and contracting on the basis of gender. Similar legislation is under consideration in other states. Does such legislation threaten to set back the movement towards equal opportunity?
The percentage of married women who are in the labor force has risen from a little over 20 percent 50 years ago to over 60 percent today. Is this a wholesome development, reflecting liberation and the increase of women’s opportunities, or should it be regretted as a consequence of misplaced priorities and economic pressures?
Over 20 percent of all children are in families with a mother but no father present. Men obviously share the responsibility for this condition, but it is the women and children who bear the consequences. What to do about this condition is one of the most troublesome questions of social policy today, and dominates the debate over welfare.
Critics charge that millennia of male prejudice and domination have warped conventional understanding of history, the arts, and morality. Others respond that not only is this criticism unfounded, it also tends to undermine fundamental, human, gender-free values. What is to be made of this argument?