A New Equality?

In Ellen Goodman’s 2/12/09 column, “A Dubious Equality,” she points out that women are actually faring better than men in this economy: with eight out of ten men losing their jobs, and fewer (although not much fewer) women losing theirs, women are making up an almost equal percentage of the American work force. Not only that, but when the male breadwinners become unemployed, women are stepping up to the plate and taking their places.

The big problem with this picture is that women cannot in most cases make up the difference: they don’t usually earn as much as their husbands did. Their jobs are concentrated in the “helping” professions, like education and health services, which are traditionally seen as women’s jobs and do not pay as well as “men’s jobs. ” And that doesn’t even take into account all the promotions that women are denied because they’re not considered “reliable” (what with all the time off they want to have to have and take care of families).

One of two things could start happening in this economic atmosphere: women could start demanding what they deserve because they’re the only ones working, and/or men could start infiltrating women’s jobs, much like when the men came back from WWII and took over the jobs women had been filling while they were gone. If the latter happens, what we could very well see is that they will be paid more than the women had been paid for the same jobs. Employers will be slow to compensate women “because they’re supporting a family,” because it’s not seen as natural or proper. It will also be seen as temporary: as soon as the man goes back to work, the woman will quit, or start wanting time off again.

The only thing women have going for them is that men often don’t want to take jobs that are beneath them, so women have these lower-status jobs to themselves. Not only that, but a man might be turned down for a job because he’s “over-qualified.” Employers rarely see women as over-qualified; they’re automatically not considered to be as qualified just because they’re women. Women will get these less-desirable jobs because they’re considered to be less-desirable employees. Since these are the jobs that are “safe” these days, women can expect a certain amount of job security.

Lucky us.