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The wage gap and the segregation of women into low-paying jobs, together with the lack of affordable child care, take their greatest toll on unmarried women, particularly single mothers. Today more than 60% of adults below the federal poverty line are women, and, contrary to popular mythology, the majority are white. More than half the poor families in America are headed by single women. In the early '80s the "feminization of poverty" became an issue for the women's movement, but the situation has barely budged. High divorce rates have added to female destitution. In The Divorce Revolution (1985), sociologist Lenore Weitzman showed how no-fault divorce laws -- passed in 43 states, largely in response to feminist demand -- have benefited men and impoverished women. Weitzman found that as a result of these laws, which largely eliminated alimony and often forced the sale of the family home, women and their children typically suffer a 73% drop in their standard of living after a divorce while the ex-husband's living standard jumps 42%.
The Second Shift
Vernal Brown, 39, does what used to be a man's job: making front bumpers in a Ford auto plant in St. Louis. Though her paycheck was essential for paying the family's bills, she says, her husband "expected the same as if I was a housewife. He told me that if I couldn't take care of the needs at home and have his food ready, I should quit." Instead Brown quit her marriage. Among the upper middle class, male rhetoric may sound enlightened, but the bottom line is much the same. In The Second Shift, a study of 50 mostly middle-class, two-career couples published this year, Arlie Hochschild, a sociologist at the University of California, Berkeley, found that wives typically come home from work to another shift: doing 75% of the household tasks. "Men are trying to have it both ways," she charges. "They're trying to have their wives' salaries and still have the traditional roles at home."
) Mainstream feminist groups look at the long way to go and wonder how the troops could have grown so complacent. Some see hope of rekindling the flames in the resurgent abortion issue. Membership in NOW, which was down to 160,000 last year (from a peak of 220,000 in 1982), jumped almost 100,000 in the aftermath of Webster. Many of the hundreds of thousands who participated in pro-choice demonstrations on Nov. 12, organized by NOW and other groups, were marching for the first time in their lives. Among them was Emily Friedan, 33, a Buffalo pediatrician and Betty Friedan's daughter. "For 25 years I have rarely appeared with my mom. This April I marched with her because of the abortion issue," says Friedan, who has organized a local chapter of Physicians for Choice. The abortion issue has helped galvanize college-age women -- and men -- out of their political inertia. Alexandra Stanton, 20, took a year's leave from Cornell to launch Students Organizing Students, an activist group devoted to protecting reproductive rights. SOS has already launched chapters on 100 college campuses. Says NOW president Molly Yard: "Abortion has strengthened our abilities to campaign on many issues."