How Long Till Equality?

American women take stock and step up the pace

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And yet. All the gain is on the near side of that first simple word, all the distance lies right beyond the second.

There are more women working now than ever before, more women in politics, more teaching, more learning. And yet.

Most of the women hold down-scale jobs and draw salaries smaller than a man's for the same work; many live below the poverty line. The majority of American college students now are women, and yet the faculties instructing them are still mostly male. There are, all together, more women in state legislatures, more in the House and Senate than at any time in history. And yet. Neither these increasing numbers "of women politicians, nor their male colleagues could manage to get women something that once looked elementary, something that should have been so simple: a constitutional guarantee of equal rights under the law.

There are also the numbers, statistics like measured mile markers, flashing along a dawn drive toward a still distant reckoning. There were 301 women state legislators in 1969, 908 in 1981; 5,765 female elected officials in 1975,14,225 just four years later. And yet, those 908 legislators are only 12% of the members of state legislative bodies. Only 19 of the 435 members of the U.S. House of Representatives are women, only two of the 100 Senators.

The numbers mark distance traveled and distance yet to go. Eighty percent of all women who work hold down "pink-collar jobs" and get paid about 660 of a man's dollar. Seventy percent of all classroom teachers are women, yet for the same job, they make an average of $3,000 a year less than their male colleagues. More than a third of all candidates for M.B.A. degrees are women: the numbers encourage. Only 5% of the executives in the top 50 American companies are women: the numbers numb. Where once, even recently, there was nothing, all those statistics and all their corollaries now show there has been something: some progress forged for women over the past decade of challenge and confusion. Perhaps those numbers are really a crude scale for a new geography, exploring the wide gulf between something and satisfaction.

But when I began to consider the subject. . . I soon saw that it had one fatal drawback. I should never be able to . . . come to a conclusion. I should never be able to . . . hand you after an hour's discourse a nugget of pure truth to wrap up between the pages of your notebooks and keep on the mantelpiece for ever. All I could do was to offer you an opinion upon one minor point—a woman must have money and a room of her own.

Virginia Woolf published A Room of One's Own in 1929. It remains the best book about the situation of women, which says much for the perpetual pertinence of art, and little for the mutability of men and social politics. "There is no mark on the wall," she wrote, "to measure the precise height of women," and, in the absolute sense, she is still right. The deepest impact of the women's movement is intangible. Some of feminism's greatest advances are revealed in the everyday auguries of family, home and job; some of its greatest power has come in altering the cadences and the promises of a woman's daily life. In 1972 women wondered hard about the possibility of having a family and a career,

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