Traditionally, Thanksgiving means work for women. Dressing the turkey, setting the table, ensuring every family member’s favorite dessert is on hand — sometimes it seems like a holiday where men do the thanking and women do the giving.
Nonetheless, American women should be thankful that they live in a time and place where women are thriving. By virtually every measure, American women are succeeding as never before. Women account for 56 percent of bachelor’s degrees and master’s degrees, and 40 percent of doctoral degrees. They also earn 41 percent of degrees in medicine and 44 percent of law degrees — prestigious fields that, just a generation ago, were almost exclusively the province of men.
Women are entering the workplace in record numbers — 60 percent of women are in the formal workforce today compared to just 43 percent in 1970 — and are becoming leaders in the new economy. Standouts include Meg Whitman, president and CEO of eBay Technologies, and Carly Fiorina, president and CEO of Hewlett-Packard, ranked 13th on the Fortune 500. In total, there are more than 8.5 million women-owned businesses in the United States.
The future for American women looks even brighter. Telecommuting and innovative new work arrangements, such as job sharing and flextime, promise to replace the once stark choice between working and parenting with the ability to strike a balance that achieves both.
Despite the good news, groups that claim to represent women often fixate on — and overstate — old grievances that are anachronistic in our modern world. The National Organization for (some) Women, for example, continues to call for government action to remedy gender disparities in paychecks. They claim that, on average, women make 73 cents for each man’s dollar. In doing so, they ignore evidence that this disparity virtually vanishes when variables like education, occupation, age, and years of experience are taken into account. Women generally take about a decade off to care for children or elderly parents. Those men — and women — who work continuously are justly compensated for their extra knowledge and experience. That’s not sexism; it’s common sense.
There are still obstacles for American women to overcome. Confiscatory tax rates discourage married women from entering the workforce; at the same time, they push women who would rather stay home with children to work in order to pay the bills. Our health-care system remains biased in favor of employer-provided health insurance, raising costs and making it harder for women who move in and out of the workplace to obtain coverage. Burdensome regulations on business stifle job creation, and hinder flexible work arrangements that suit women’s dual roles as mothers and employees. America’s outdated Social Security system often shortchanges working, married women, and denies all workers the opportunity to build real wealth for retirement. Social Security reform is particularly important to women because they are less likely than men to work in jobs that offer retirement savings plans.
Still, this is not 1950. Women today enjoy choice and opportunity, both in and out of the home. Feminist organizations should stop fighting the last war; they should refocus their energies on reforming policies that limit flexibility and stifle economic progress. And they might focus more attention on our sisters overseas, in places like the Middle East, Asia, and Africa.
The millions of women languishing in these regions are living testaments to how much American women have to be thankful for. In Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, for instance, men who killed female relatives for the “defense of family honor” were spared prosecution and punishment. In China, women are required to use specific birth control measures and can face significant penalties when they fail to abide by birth limits. These policies have encouraged abortions, especially of female fetuses; for second births, China’s ratio was 151.9 males per 100 females. In African countries like Nigeria, women found guilty of adultery may face death by stoning. Such brutality against women should remind American women that we are uncommonly fortunate in the freedoms that we enjoy.
Thanksgiving is a time for all Americans to recognize the blessings in their lives. For American women — even if many will be hitting the kitchen while their husbands, brothers, and fathers hit the couch — those blessings are plentiful indeed.