How Long Till Equality?

American women take stock and step up the pace

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"self-realization" and "growth potential." The idea that a woman might also grow and realize herself through her children got short shrift; the notion that a man might experience the same satisfaction was either radical or sentimental and rated no attention. Fatherhood as fulfillment and as a responsibility, fulltime, is a concept that may be more popular in the '80s, when American families struggle to play catch-up with an inflationary economy and an increasingly competitive consumer society. For a woman, fulfillment may or may not remain a priority. Work has become a necessity.

Says Congresswoman Patricia Schroeder: "The primary reason women are entering the labor force in such unprecedented numbers is to maintain their family's standard of living." Statistics are the arithmetic of social revolution: from 1960 to 1980, one-earner households have declined from 49.6% to 22.4%, a staggering change. The percentage of married women in the staggering change. The percentage of married women in the work force during the same period has risen from 32% to 51%. The number of children with mothers who work (31.8 million) has become, for the first time, larger than the number of children with mothers at home (26.3 million).

"Even though a woman's paycheck is less than a man's, it keeps many an American family alive," says Betty Friedan. "Given the realities of human, family and national survival, there can't be any serious consideration that women will go home again." Elizabeth Hardwick puts it this way: "I certainly don't think the clock will be turned back, not because of any kindness on the part of society, but because it does not suit society for women to be in the home. It is not economically possible, it is not convenient, and it's not practical. The wife economy is as obsolete as the slave economy." At the very least, Hardwick's "wife economy" has mutated—out of the kitchen, into the office, onto the assembly line—even as the wages paid for the new-woman's work range significantly below the male median.

Traditionally, jobs are the tools of success. In America they have become something more. "We have learned that jobs do not simply earn money, they also create people," says Barry Stein,, president of Goodmeasure, a Cambridge, Mass., business consultancy. Jobs, we have on good authority from the forefathers, confer respect, status and community wellbeing. The foremothers were apparently not consulted on the subject. It is difficult for a woman to find status in a pay envelope that is substantively thinner than a male co-worker's.

Not only has the current Administration made little effort to redress the wage imbalance, in the eyes of many feminists it has set out to blunt the victories of the past ten years. Around the Women's Legal Defense Fund, President Reagan's popularity rating is about as high as the heels on a California rancher's boots. Among the grievances: Administration suspension of stronger affirmative-action regulations for businesses receiving Government contracts; withdrawal of wage-discrimination and sex-segregation guidelines for federal contractors; elimination of the $500 million set aside for child care in the federal budget.

Whether intended to do so or not, this has sent a clear message to

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