There it was: the umpteenth TV commercial featuring a woman doing the housework. You fill in the brand: PAM, Tide, McCormick’s, or even hip Target — all relegate women to that subsidiary role of “happy homemaker.” You would think the Renaissance thinkers in advertising could come up with something more enlightening.
That enlightenment might include reviewing “A Woman’s Nation” — a recent report authored by Maria Shriver and the Center for American Progress, whose first paragraph is telling:
“Earlier this year, the Center for American Progress decided to closely examine the consequences of what we thought was a major tipping point in our nation’s social and economic history: the emergence of working women as primary breadwinners for millions of families at the same time that their presence on America’s payrolls grew to comprise fully half the nation’s workforce.”
This whirlwind of change is being propelled by the growing power of women, which traces its roots to the first women’s rights convention in Seneca Falls, N.Y. in 1848, but which got a big shot in the arm when Lucy Stone became the first woman to keep her own name after marriage in 1855 (see Timeline at end of story).
That the role of women has changed materially since the days so well-portrayed in such movies as Revolutionary Road is crystal clear. Yet, as The Shriver report duly notes, “What today’s 8-to-19-year-olds are taking in about the role of men and women in the workplace and society through the lens of various media…could affect the life and career choices of our next generation.”
Those career choices are multiplying daily. In India, the navy has now stationed its first female airborne tacticians, a move that places women squarely in combat roles. In the U.S., Kayla Kelly wants to be among the first women to serve on a U.S. Navy submarine.
The rising clout of the female gender is being propelled by an Ubertrend we’ve dubbed the “Woman’s Acceptance’s Factor” — a play on “WAF” — a 90s online phenomenon that’s a subtrend of this female uprising. The Woman’s Acceptance Factor is reshaping society in a number of ways:
- Education — For the first time, American women passed men in gaining advanced college degrees as well as bachelor’s degrees, part of a trend that is helping redefine who goes off to work and who stays home with the kids. At colleges nationwide, women are walking off with a disproportionate share of honors degrees. That’s due to the fact that women now make up 58% of those enrolled in two- and four-year colleges and are, overall, the majority in graduate schools and professional schools too. Moreover, in two national studies, college men reported they studied less and socialized more than their female classmates. As a result, women now receive 52% of all high school diplomas, 62% of associate’s degrees, 57% of bachelor’s degrees and 50% of doctoral degrees and professional degrees.
- Workforce — Women, for the first time, make up half (49.9% as of July 2009) of all workers on U.S. payrolls, reports The Shriver Report. This is a major shift from just over a generation ago. In 1969, women made up only a third of the workforce (35.3%), based on Bureau of Labor Statistics data.
- Breadwinners — Only one in five families with children (21%) is made up of a traditional male breadwinner and female homemaker, compared to 45% in 1975, according to U.S. Census Bureau data. In 1975, four in 10 mothers with a child under age 6 (40%) worked outside the home, but by 2008, that share had risen to two-thirds (64%), according to an analysis by the Minnesota Population Center. A study, released in 2006, suggests that a full-time stay-at-home mother would earn $134,121 a year if paid for all her work.
- Work equality — While the typical full-time woman worker brings home 77 cents on the dollar compared to male colleagues, the gender gap has narrowed – it was 59 cents on the dollar in the early 70s. Yet according a 2008 census by Catalyst, only 16% of Fortune 500 officers and 15% of directors were women. Unfortunately, the rising power of women has also fostered a negative side effect. Fully 40% of workplace bullies are now women, according to the Workplace Bullying Institute. And while male bullies intimidate men and women equally, women choose other women as targets more than 70% of the time. Meanwhile, in Hollywood, the ascendance of the likes of Kathryn Bigelow have ruffled a lot of male feathers.
- Home life — Nearly all U.S. women, or 94%, are satisfied with their lives and ability to balance multiple roles and responsibilities, but only half of married/partnered women, or 51%, are satisfied with their sex lives, while 49% are satisfied with the division of labor at home, according to a Meredith/NBC Universal survey.
- Politics — When they are all sworn into office in January 2013, New Hampshire became the first state in the U.S. history to send an all-female delegation to Washington.
- Purchase influence — Boston Consulting Group estimates that women control $4.3 trillion of the $5.9 trillion in U.S. consumer spending, or 73% of household spending. In his book “Re-imagine!” Tom Peters suggests that U.S. women also control about $1.5 trillion more in business outlays. And that influence extends substantially outside of traditional “housekeeping” items, judging from the number of “WAF” online discussion threads. WAF was popularized by the Home Theater Spot, which provided men with a discussion forum for obtaining advice on how to obtain their better half’s approval before, or heaven forbid after, acquiring new gear. Humorously entitled “The Wife Acceptance Factor — Not in my house,” these online discussions provide an unusually intimate glimpse into the changing consumer landscape. The WAF phenomenon cogently illustrates just how much decision-making power women have gained at home.
- Women only — From beaches in the South of France (top image) to hotels to travel organizations, women-only services are popping up worldwide.
The Woman’s Acceptance’s Factor is spreading globally. NPR reports that in many Asian countries husbands hand their earnings to women who give them a small allowance. The phenomenon even has its own saying: “A woman is a slave before marriage, but a general after.”
Yet the world of TV commercials, and Hollywood movies to a lesser extent, continue to subjugate women as “housekeepers.” Never mind that the new president of Chile is Michelle Bachelet, or that Oprah is media’s most powerful figure, or that female high-school teachers are zeroing in on their young, male targets with a zeal characteristic of men. And what about the parallel “cougar” trend?
The media frenzy accompanying the cougar phenomenon, which is a role reversal of sorts that has older women chasing younger men, has significantly reshaped the opinions of the sexuality of older women in society. Why there’s even a Cougar Convention planned for the fourth quarter of 2010 in Las Vegas.
From the look of things, the Woman’s Acceptance Factor is truly shattering the glass ceiling. Now if only Madison Avenue would revisit this shifting landscape and begin casting men in home-keeping roles, we could all enjoy more pleasurable pursuits.
Woman’s Acceptance Factor Trend Gallery
Below are more phenomena that emanate from the WAF Ubertrend.
Woman’s Acceptance Factor Time Line
|1848||First women’s rights convention held in Seneca Falls, NY.|
|1855||Lucy Stone is first woman to keep her own name after marriage.|
|1878||Susan B. Anthony amendment to grant women the vote is introduced in Congress.|
|1900||5.3 million U.S. working women.|
|1915||40,000 march in New York City suffrage parade, the largest ever in that city.|
|1917||Jeannette Rankin of Montana is first woman elected to U.S. Congress.|
|1920||19th Amendment is ratified, guaranteeing American women citizens right to vote.|
|1941||7 million women take jobs during war, including 2 million “Rosie the Riveters.”|
|1950||18.4 million U.S. working women.|
|1955||Daughters of Bilitis, first lesbian organization, founded in San Francisco.|
|1960||FDA approves birth control pills.|
|1967||Chicago Women’s Liberation Group organizes — first to use term “liberation.”|
|1969||California becomes first state to adopt “no fault” divorce law.|
|1970||Equal Rights Amendment is reintroduced into Congress.|
|1971||Ms. magazine first appears as an insert in New York magazine.|
|1973||Billie Jean King beats Bobby Riggs.|
|1973||In Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court establishes a woman’s right to abortion.|
|1974||Ella Grasso is first governor elected without husband’s incumbency benefit.|
|1981||Sandra Day O’Connor becomes first woman appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court.|
|1985||Wilma Mankiller becomes first woman chief of Cherokee Nation.|
|1990||Darlene Iskra is first woman to take command of a U.S. Navy ship.|
|2001||66 million U.S. working women.|
|2003||The first 3 Minute Dating cruise sets sail from Port Canaveral, FL.|
|2005||Women-owned businesses are fastest-growing segment of small business sector.|
|2006||Michelle Bachelet elected president of Chile.|
|2007||11-year-old girl leads police on a car chase at speeds of up to 100 mph.|
|2008||Hillary Clinton collects 18 million votes in U.S. presidential race.|
|2009||A young woman killed, called Neda, becomes the face of Iran’s revolution.|
|2009||Number of working women reaches 71 million, or 49.9% of total employed.|
|2010||Kathryn Bigelow becomes first woman to win Oscar for best director in Academy Award’s 82-year history.|
|2011||American women pass men in obtaining advanced college degrees.|
|2013||Women make up 20% of Senate and 18% of the House, records for Washington.|
|Source: January 22, 2013 Social Revolution|