Moving one step closer to gender equality

Renee James Contributor
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A couple of weeks ago, I treated myself to reading a little report about today’s mom. This study was developed in order to “explore what multiple generations of American women want when it comes to family, work and life in the 21st century, decades after the women’s liberation movement.” It took place in July 2009, and surveyed two groups of mothers, one between the ages of 18-29, the other between 30-44.

Finally! I’ve had a bone to pick with Betty, Gloria and everyone else that convinced us that men and women were identical creatures who wanted identical things and would achieve them by following identical paths. For years, I claimed that despite their pronouncements, not one thing had changed. That younger women were dealing with the same inequities—particularly those having to do with scrubbing bubbles and sponge mopping—that I had planned to march against in 1976. All I needed was a significant, detailed study to prove me wrong.

Turns out, I was right. The introduction to the report states: “Today’s women are still the chief operating officer of the home.” Even there, we don’t get be chief executive. We’re the chief of operations, to make sure everything runs smoothly.

How can that be? What about Ms. magazine? What about the Chippendale’s? What about cosmopolitans, Sandra Day O’Connor and Sally Ride? How can 40 years of solidarity and sisterhood have come to nothing? I have no idea but this survey seems to indicate we didn’t abandon our fuzzy mules as we took those strides toward equality, at least at home. And sure, maybe we cracked some glass ceilings over the years, but that could mean only one thing: we had to sweep up the shards left behind.

Couple of key indicators you may be surprised to learn. (I wish I had been.) The household chores or responsibilities most often handled by women (working or stay-at-home moms) include: cleaning the bathroom, doing the laundry, taking care of sick children, planning birthday parties, making the appointments and then taking children to the doctor and helping children with homework. Men take out the trash, mow the lawn and do other yard work. The couple shares bill-paying and grocery shopping.

Ready for more good news? In their study titled “The Paradox of Declining Female Happiness,” Wharton Business School Economists Betsey Stephenson and Justin Wolfers demonstrated that women are less happy today than they were 35 years ago. Great. That means I’ve spent my entire adult life getting crankier.

Let’s sum up. Young women still do most of the housework and child care; and almost half of them work outside the home as well. Men cut lawns, take out trash and clip hedges, not one of which is a daily task. And men are happier than women these days. Go figure.

Believe it or not, I found something that portends change, in the most unlikely place: the New York Times Sunday style section in an article titled “Masculinity in a Spray Can.” The fragrance market has infiltrated middle school as younger boys now buy and use colognes and body sprays in record numbers.

The reasons for their purchases and the marketing campaigns behind these products are many. Want an identity? Some of the more popular options include Energy, Spirit, Strength and Courage from Anthony’s Body essentials. Abercrombie will sell you Fierce. Even Old Spice is in the game, with Swagger from LL Cool J.

Now boys can buy self-esteem in a bottle, too. Just like girls have for a thousand years.

But here’s the good news. The NPD Group surveyed boys between the ages of 8-18 and learned this: 41 percent said one of their best friends was a girl. That’s almost as ‘equal’ as you can get. It has to be good news for girls between the ages of 8-18. Maybe we should stop counting the number of women in med school, law school or business school and keep an eye on this percentage for the next decade or so. If 41percent of today’s young men grow up seeing girls as equal enough to be their “best friends,” maybe it will be harder to see them scrub their toilets one day. And maybe it will be equally hard for the girls to imagine doing it.

We may be one generation away from truly shared marital partnership. It will either be a spectacular success 50 years in the making or a dusty, grimy, disorganized, overgrown mess.

Renee A. James is a freelance writer who lives in Allentown, Pa. Her e-mail address is raaj3@msn.com and her blog is “It’s not me, it’s you,” found at http:// reneeaj.blogspot.com