Ode to My Single Mother
September 6, 2012
As you know from listening to the news, women’s issues have become a focal point of political rhetoric. While the attention being paid to women’s issues is well deserved, I am concerned about what is being said. I fear this rhetoric for the practical implications of what might be done and also for the damage these words can do for girls and women everywhere.
I stand before you, a group of young women who have chosen to attend a women’s college. As described in the book about women’s colleges, Taking Women Seriously: Lessons and Legacies for Educating the Majority, a women’s college is a place where: 1) women’s voices are heard—classrooms where women engage in discussion and where collaboration is the norm; 2) the success of women is the primary goal; 3) all roles (the athlete, the science genius, the class president, the poet, etc.) are filled by women classmates; 4) women are involved with women studying, participating in research, talking about their futures, and developing community; 5) faculty have high expectations and a strong belief in young women’s abilities.
My concern for you peaked when the Senate failed to pass the Fair Pay Check Act and when Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker repealed his state’s equal pay law because, in his words, “it was too expensive.” During discussions about the Fair Pay Check Act, congressional members would attribute the wage gap to women working fewer hours, working part time, or in lower paying jobs, knowing full well that the Act would have made it “illegal for employers to pay unequal wages to men and women who perform equal work.”
The wage gap is real. Research conducted in 2006 by economists Francine D. Blau and Lawrence M. Kahn (“Gender Differences in Pay,” J. Econ. Perspectives, 2006) shows that the gap has changed very little in recent years, from 73.8 cents to the dollar in 1996 to 77.4 cents today. More important, this research has shown that this gapcannot be explained by difference in occupations or factors such as education and skills. Other studies have shown that not only in professions such as law, engineering, and science, but also in traditionally female fields, like teaching and nursing, women make less than men even when they work the same number of hours, in the same job, with the same education or training.
Many senators who voted against the bill cited a possible increase in litigation. They suggest that there are better solutions to this problem, yet fail to offer any alternatives.
These discussions remind me that there are still those who cling to an outdated notion of who are the bread winners in today’s economy, and, sadly, they are not a small minority. The difference between their illusion and the American reality is staggering. Fewer than 20% of American children are raised by a stay-at-home mom and breadwinning dad. By contrast, 25.8 % of American children live with a single parent; 71% of them have single mothers, while only 8% have single fathers (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development). Thus, the majority of children in the U.S. depend on women’s wages, and women’s wages are of critical importance and cannot be dismissed.[vimeo 49249243 w=580]
The National Women’s Law Center reports that bridging the wage gap would “give the average full-time working woman’s family the money to pay for an additional four months’ supply of groceries, five months’ of childcare, three months’ rent and utilities, five months’ health insurance premiums, four months’ student loan payments and five tanks of gas” (“Women Cannot Afford Unfair Pay Today,” April 2012). These are staggering costs for the 72% of American families who rely on women’s wages.
I am the daughter of a single mother who instilled in me the confidence to do whatever I wanted. She was a strong role model who showed with her own life that she was worth more than many around her believed. It is this gift of confidence, which I received directly from my mother, that brought me here today: a woman in science, a chemistry professor, and a mother of three daughters. It is for those three girls and all young girls that I stand here today wanting to expose and argue against the obsolete and harmful normative values that continue to subjugate women.
It is here, and in places like Scripps College, where the fight for women’s equality must continue. You are not only the beneficiaries in this battle, but, more important, you are the agents of change. You are the ones who will show the world what bright, educated women are capable of doing. You are the ones with big dreams and even bigger potential, and you are not alone.
It is our job, the faculty, staff, and administration of Scripps College, to support you in achieving your goals and in honing your skills for the fight. It is because of you and your predecessors—previous Scripps students—that, despite the current rhetoric against women, I have confidence in the future for my daughters. I know that, in your capable hands, their future will be filled with the opportunity to chart their own lives and to join the community of strong and capable women such as yourselves.
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