Honey, We Forgot to Ratify Equality for Women

By Erin Matson, NOW Action Vice President

A few days ago, the New York Times published a piece called What Is It About 20-Somethings? In this piece we hear sociologists and researchers wax on young people taking longer to achieve the five milestones associated with adulthood (namely, completing school; leaving home; becoming financially independent; marrying; and having a child).

We have gone through this cycle one time before. In the ’90s and early 2000s, Generation Xers were labeled too “lazy,” “self-indulgent” or struck by ennui to go to school, get out of the basement, grab a subprime mortgage, throw on a wedding ring and breed.

With more time, a younger generation, widely applauded (as in standing ovations lasting far later than Cinderella would ever keep her shoes), has demonstrated that a failure of self-expectation may not be what is causing this delay into so-called “adulthood.”

The Times piece makes attempts not to be classist with a few throw-away mentions of young people moving home not to be supported by their parents, but to help support their economically struggling parents, but overall the piece fails to address what I see as the root societal issue underpinning these shifts: the failure of society to finish the work begun by the ’70s feminist movement.

That movement enforced the radical ideas that education should be accessible to everyone, and that work should be allocated on the basis of merit rather than boxers, briefs or Spanx. This is good for men, too.

But we have stalled on producing so-called self-sufficient adults because we have not addressed the overtones of white supremacy and heterosexual male dominance embedded in all five so-called markers of what that means.

I humbly suggest that parents who are helping out their children (or being supported by their children) get together and have a talk that starts with: Honey, we failed to ratify equality for women.

The Equal Rights Amendment, which simply states that constitutional protections should not be abridged or denied on the basis of sex, remains unratified as women are expected to have putative equality in the world.

However, women are not going to be able to achieve meaningful equality by simply pulling up the ankle straps on their kitten heels.

Expecting young adults — women and men — to simply grow up into the model of Betty and Don Draper ain’t gonna cut it in 2010. The white heterosexual male breadwinner, female caregiver model only applies to a small sliver of the wealthiest in this country. This opportunity is no longer available as a realistic model of growing up, and if you want someone to blame, it’s not the feminists. It’s the model of working for lower wages and fewer benefits, while a vocal minority clamors for the government to reduce social benefits to scary skinny proportions.

Without constitutional equality, meaningful opportunities to access education remain in limbo, particularly for people of color. It’s likely we need something like Title IX, which has often been successful in promoting educational equity for girls, for children of color.

Without constitutional equality, the opportunity to become financially independent is severely curtailed for both women and men. Women are paid, on average, only 77 cents to the dollar paid to white men; for African American women the wage gap is at 68 cents; and for Latinas it is at 58 cents. Nearly half of single African-American women and Latinas approach retirement with a negative net worth. Excluding women from financial gain also impacts men, both those who partner with women, and those who work for companies that exclude women from the upper echelons of decision-making power (it has been shown that having women at the top generally improves corporate financial performance).

Without constitutional equality, how the hell is anyone supposed to afford a child? To this day leave to take care of newborns remains unguaranteed for large segments of the population, and unpaid for the vast majority. Child care can cost more per year than a year’s tuition at college.

Without constitutional equality, where are marriage rights for much of our population? Lesbian couples are permitted to marry in only five states and the District of Columbia, and even when married are barred by the federal Defense of Marriage Act from more than a thousand benefits enjoyed by heterosexual married partners.

The idea that families should break apart from each other upon adulthood implies that white preferences reflect everyone’s preferences — that should be reexamined. In addition, nobody should need to get married or have kids to prove they are an adult.

Those concerned about the plight of youngsters who appear to be stalled would do well to embrace the cause of equality.

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