This paper reflects the research and thoughts of a student at the time the paper was written for a course at Bryn Mawr College. Like other materials on Serendip, it is not intended to be "authoritative" but rather to help others further develop their own explorations. Web links were active as of the time the paper was posted but are not updated.
Knowing the Body
2004 Second Web Report
On April 25, 2004, over a million people of every gender, sex, race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, class, and age participated in the March for Women's Lives in Washington, D.C. Examining the sea of people, I initially did not understand why such a great number of middle aged and older women were so angry. They were reaching the age where reproductive rights were becoming less of an issue for them personally, but I realized my naïveté on two counts: one, they were not just marching for themselves and two, they were fighting to save the laws which they had changed to protect themselves over thirty years ago. They were marching for their daughters and granddaughters and nieces and goddaughters and students whose futures were being threatened just as their futures had been under attack when they were younger. Despite the movement for change of these Second Wave Feminists, legislation has been directed at the cause of gender inequities in the United States but gender equality has not been an effect of the legislation.
In the late sixties and early seventies, the women of the Second Wave of Feminism created a social campaign for gender equality primarily in terms of economics. As Virginia Woolf points out in Three Guineas, women remain in the power of men so long as they are financially dependent upon them. (Virginia Woolf, Three Guineas, p. 132) Housing and food are required for survival and money is required for the attainment of both. Given their history of working in the home and caring for children, American society divided itself up into breadwinners and homemakers: men won the bread and women made the home. Consequently, women have had far fewer opportunities than men to earn money because girls were not raised with the idea that they would someday receive a paycheck with their name on it. Books such as Betty Friedan's The Feminine Mystique challenged society to think that women should have a choice about joining the work force outside the home. It is important to note that low income women had been compelled to garnish wages for centuries before suburban housewives dared to aspire to any role model other than June Cleaver. Friedan's work sparked the notion that all women everywhere might not be happy with housework and childrearing—women are women and are not only mothers and wives just as men are not only husbands and fathers.
But in order to explore to realize their potential outside the home and establish financial independence, women had to be qualified to work. The United States Census Bureau shows that in general people with lower levels of education consistently earn less money than those who have attained more education, regardless of gender. (4). One of the largest gaps is between those who have received their high school diploma or equivalent (G.E.D.) and those people who have earned their bachelor's degree at a college or university, and "until the 1970's a great many of the nation's colleges and universities—private and public—simply excluded women." (5). Without the opportunity to earn a degree, women were not considered for the majority of higher paying jobs in the country. They were indirectly restricted from earning a moderate to high income independently of their husbands or fathers.
The angry women I saw parading about the streets of D.C. were responsible for inciting lawmakers to write the Title IX Education Amendment of 1972 which states: "No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance." All public institutions of higher learning were ordered by law to provide the same opportunities to women as to men in terms of academic and extracurricular activities. Title IX is most often used in reference to gender equity in sports because it prohibited universities from recruiting and offering athletic scholarships to male athletes and not to female athletes, not to mention Title IX required public universities to create sports teams for women. The excitement over sports participation eclipsed the fact that women were now allowed to enroll in the institutions and take classes towards earning a higher degree.
Title IX would not have been possible without the dedication of those involved in supporting the Second Wave of Feminism. Such individuals challenged traditional stereotypes of the "proper place" of women and the capabilities of the marginalized sex. Title IX was indeed one of the largest victories of the Second Wave of Feminism because it put into law the changing social attitudes toward gender inequity, and my generation has since reaped the benefits of their work. In 1994, 63% of female high school graduates were enrolled in college—up from 43% in 1972 (6). As of the year 2000 in the United States, women comprised 56% of the university students in the nation. (Seager, Joni. The Penguin Atlas of Women in the World. p. 119)
It is no grave injustice that more college students are women than men because the population of the United States is also tipped in favor of women according to the 2000 Census. Many universities have set criteria which every applicant must meet in order to be admitted, and an increased applicant pool of women will result in increased enrollment of women.
In addition to bachelor's degrees, women have more access to graduate and post-doctoral degree programs. The U.S. Department of Education recorded that rates have significantly improved for women earning professional degrees especially in fields of law, medicine, and dentistry. (8). The success of Title IX can also be measured in the fact that "between 1977 and 1994 the number of U.S. women earning doctoral degrees almost doubled"—clearly women have been taking advantage of the right afforded under Title IX. (8). In numbers, the educational opportunity gap between women and men has shrunk since this legislative turning point. Although it may not be reflected by the agenda of the current administration, social attitudes have shifted to include support for gender equality and the legislation reflects this change.
However, Title IX has not solved the problem of gender discrimination; otherwise the nation's capitol might have been quiet on that day in April. For all the equity which has been achieved in the attainment of degrees, there has not been corresponding improvement in equality in the work force. More women are earning their own income, but "they do so under quite different circumstances . . . women are typically paid less than men for their labor": in the United States overall as of the late 1990s, full-time women workers earned seventy-seven cents for every dollar earned by full-time men workers. (Seager, pp. 62-63) Women were over 70% of the service sector work force in the late 1990s, but women are the anomaly in the high powered corporate world: "In the 500 largest corporations, women held 11% of corporate office positions and only 5% of the most senior positions." (Seager, pp. 64-66) In the field of higher education, one study found that women were far less likely than men to secure tenure at the University of California at Berkley, an institution celebrated for its liberal environment and history of social awareness. Tenure is essential for job security and consequently financial security for professors, and women do not gain this status at a rate equal to men. In 2002, women comprised only 14% of the elected officials in the government of the United States; this percentage is entirely unrepresentative of the make up of the U.S. population. (Seager, p. 119) The women of the workforce in the past several decades are the college students of the seventies who were provided equal educational opportunities by Title IX. Yet these women of the Second Wave of Feminism do not enjoy equal opportunity in the arena most imperative for their financial independence—the workplace.
Women are earning their degrees and working, but something is holding them back from succeeding in the same way as men. Maybe a woman's success is measured by the happiness of her children and husband as proclaimed by some conservatives. Only a generation and a half of women have been able to enjoy the advances gained during the Second Wave of Feminism, and society may need more time to develop the attitudes necessary to create legislation for workplace equality. Perhaps it is not the quantity of women in education but rather the quality of the education which they receive. Currently legislation does not control how students, male or female, are influenced by teachers and administration to pursue certain fields over others. If more boys than girls take chemistry and biology classes of their own volition, then more boys will be inclined to pursue the high paying field of medicine. Schools may not exclude girls from activities, but schools might need to pursue methods to include girls.
1. Friedan, Betty. The Feminine Mystique. (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.,
2. Seager, Joni. The Penguin Atlas of Women in the World. (New York: The Penguin Group, 2003)
3. Woolf, Virginia. Three Guineas. (New York: Harcourt Brace & Company, 1938)
4)U.S. Census Bureau Website
5)National Coalition for Women and Girls in Education Website
6)The Women's Educational Equity Act (WEEA) Equity Resource Center Website
7)U.S. Census Bureau Website
8)U.S. Department of Education Website
| Course Home Page |Course Syllabus | Feminist and Gender Studies Program
| Other Undergraduate Courses on Serendip |Serendip Home |