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Sexism in The Workplace: from 1960s to Modern Day

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Could you imagine being told that you do not qualify for a job solely because you are a woman? Excelling in college and being qualified yet cannot advance in the workforce? Or someone telling you that you have no right to be here because “it’s a man’s job”? These are realities women have faced in the workplace. Women were not allowed to work until 1960. This decade is where the idea of women in the workforce began to transform.

In 1960, there were defined roles in society. Women were housewives, they stayed home to cook, clean, and take care of the children. Men were the breadwinners and supported the family financially. It was an expectation that when then men came home after a long day, there would be dinner waiting on the table and the house would be spotless. This was a degrading role to women. It was also not an easy task as housework and childcare averaged 55 hours a week. During World War 2, women had to take over the jobs of men who went to war. Women entering the workforce during this time prompted the feminist movement. Women started to realize that they were more than a slave to their husband and in fact, an equal member of society. Although women could hold jobs in place of men, sexism was rampant. The structure of society prevented the majority of women from being able to reach their potential. For the few women who worked outside the home, commonly held positions were teachers, nurses, or secretaries. Occupations were clearly polarized as a “man’s job” or a “woman’s job”, with career options for women still leaning toward “caretaking” type jobs. Only three percent of lawyers and less than one percent of engineers in the U.S. were women. NASA began a change to this ideal when it opened its doors to mathematicians regardless of sex or race. Women like Katherine Johnson, Mary Jackson, and Dorothy Vaughan proved that women were just as intelligent as men and have equal potential. Finally, after women fight for three years to be recognized as equals, the first equal pay act was signed in 1963. This act forbid employers to pay different wages to men and women for doing the same job. Equality was slowly moving forward but the fight continued for many years.

In 1970, equal pay legislation was extended in order to close loopholes. Only 11 percent of women in 1970 had a college degree and in 1974, one in ten lawyers were women. Since it was the woman’s job to stay at home and raise the family, they could not have a career. Pregnancy and taking care of young children increases the difficulty of maintaining a job for a long period of time. This idea changed in 1978 when the Pregnancy Discrimination Act banned employment discrimination against pregnant women. This act made it possible for a woman to have a family and not lose their jobs because of pregnancy. Although there were more laws set to try to require and enforce equality in the workplace, there was still a lot of discrimination. For example, sexual discrimination was, and still is, a major form of discrimination in the workplace. With only 40 percent of women working, men controlled the workforce and felt power over women. When women are sexually harassed or discriminated against at work, they may feel devalued, suffer from stress and anxiety, and lose their motivation to work hard.

The feminist movement had tapered slightly after these laws were put into place, until the hit film “9 to 5” was released staring Dolly Parton in 1980. The movie used “humor to depict the systemic discrimination against women in the workplace” (Bravo, 2019). “9 to 5” brought attention to what was happening to women at work. Women were never looked at as being smart enough to have the position they earned, instead people wondered “why would they receive that job?”. This perspective was laid out in the movie. As Doralee states in the film, “So that’s why everyone around here treats me like some dime-store floozy. They all think I’m screwing the boss. And you just love it, don’t you? It gives you some kind of cheap thrill like knocking over pencils and picking up papers. I’ve put up with all of your pinching, poking, staring and chasing me around the desk because I need this job.” (Higgins, 1980) This brought to attention that premise that women earned their jobs and should not be treated any less than men. This also brought attention to the sexual harassment that was happening in the workplace. People would assume that a woman “slept her way to the top” or was given a job because of their appearance. The move “9 to 5” built momentum for the rising working women’s movement. This occurred during the same decade as the baby boomer generation. As the remainder of the baby boomers entered the work force, the women’s labor force continued to display impressive growth.

In the 1990s, equality laws continued to be passed. The Family Medical Leave Act supplied job protected leave to employees who needed time off to care for their families. This provided security to women. They can have a family and take care of their loved ones while knowing they can come back to a job. Women made up about 45 percent of the labor force and there were still jobs considered a “man’s job” and a “women’s job” (United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2007). With these stereotypes still perpetuating, the American Association of University Women argued that “Schools were more focused on educating boys than girls; Materials utilized in schools were more male-oriented; and girls were discouraged from taking advanced classes that would lead to significant economic mobility”. This would provide some explanation as to why women were still not breaking into male dominated professions. Girls were often led to believe that they couldn’t enter certain fields solely due to their gender. This provoked attention and directed congress to adopt the Gender Equity in Education Act in 1994 to train teachers in gender equity. It promoted math and science learning by girls, counseling to pregnant teens, and education to prevent sexual harassment. After this, woman began to integrate into engineering and medical careers. Even with further acceptance, the wage gap became the new problem. In 1995, women were receiving an average pay of $36,300 while men made and average of $47,100. Issues regarding sexual harassment were still prevalent during this decade. “De Coster, Estes, and Mueller (1999) find that females with greater tenure, independent of age, are more likely to view sexual harassment as a problem for them at work, concluding that the practice is used instrumentally against powerful females who encroach on male territory.” 

In the 2000s, women were beginning to be viewed more equally, but they were still treated with disrespect. Imagine having to work twice as hard as everyone because you are a woman. Women must fight this gender battle every day. Although sexual discrimination occurs often, women have been able to strengthen their position in the labor force by gains in labor force participation. Most of this is with the help of Generation Z. Generation Z is known as the “blurred gender roles” generation. When this group takes over the workforce, sexism is expected to diminish. Growth of women in the workforce stagnated and women made up a total of 47 percent of the labor force in 2000. But the wage gap remains the main issue. In 2000, women earned an average of $41,600 compared to the men’s $57,509 (Parker and Geiger, 2018). For the same job, why do men make so much more than women? The job is given to a person for their skill set; pay should not be determined by gender.

Today, the wage gap has decreased slightly. In 2018, women make 82 cents for every dollar earned by men. This is a gender wage gap of 18 percent. If women are accounting for at least half of the household income while making 18 percent less than their male partners, how much more time does a woman have to put in, in order to make the same amount of money as men? Solely because of gender. “Today, 31% of women who are married to or cohabiting with a male partner contribute at least half of the couple’s total earnings, up from just 13% in 1980”. If change continues at the same slow pace, it will take 40 years (until 2059) for women to reach full pay parity. Sexism in general has begun to decline. There is not as much sexual harassment and there is more recognition to women’s accomplishments. With more women in the workforce at management level positions, men do not feel they have as much power over women as they did in the past.

From 1960 to today, women have made tremendous strides by moving into occupations that were previously dominated exclusively by men. Although the wage gap is still an issue, strong employment and equality laws have strengthened women’s positions in the workforce. Women need to continue proving that they are just as capable as men and continue to advocate for equality protection legislation.

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