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Living Life: Stories of Women, Men and Changing Roles in the 20th Century
A new book and website on gender equity in education
Developed by Education Development Center, Inc., and funded by the Ford Foundation

Overview :: About the Project :: Our Perspective :: You Can Help :: Project Staff :: Advisors ::  Selected Quotes> :: Other Resources

Selected Quotes

Women and men today: A “conversation” across the country
Here’s a small sample of quotes from our survey to give you a sense of how different women and men think. This “dialogue” is in response to two questions. Later on, we’ll add a sampling of responses to other questions. If you haven’t yet added your thoughts on gender equity, please visit our

survey site now, and we’ll include your comments as we go along.

Thinking about life today, how would you describe the lives and accomplishments of women today?
Overall, there is a general agreement that women today have accomplished a lot, like the woman who said, my life is way better than the Virginia slims commercial. Several others repeated the "we've come a long way" phrase. Women and men agree, there are significant and positive changes in the lives of women. For example, they said:

Compared to when I was a child, during the 1950s and 1960s, women have accomplished wondrous things. I had few and in my personal life, no role models for women to be anything other than wives, mothers, teachers, nurses, or secretaries. I think of all the role models girls growing up today have and how wondrous it is that they need not feel the same limitations and constrictions that we felt.
-European/Caucasian woman, 56
As an African American woman I stand on the shoulders of my foremothers who illuminated the way for me. Women can choose anything now.
-African American woman, 53
I will only talk about my own experience as to avoid summing up the experience of all women. As a first generation Mexican American who was born in the 70's, I have had the great pleasure of being an absolute leader in my own life. Essentially, I have tried to let my voice be heard, albeit without attempts to silence me, but I have had the luxury of being opinionated and making my own choices, such as leaving a very unhealthy marriage, attending a prestigious university and continuing to be a student without feeling so much pressure to have a family. I feel that I do not have a pathology if I choose not to be a mother, and consider myself a whole and fulfilled being.
-Hispanic American woman, 32

Optimism is tempered by a sense of how far there is to go, about the lack of respect for women's contributions, about the continuing but more subtle discrimination. Men and women both recognize that for all the advances, women of color are still less advantaged than white women. They also point out that the struggle for work/family balance is one of the foremost issues today-women deal with having to be a "super multi-tasker", while the role of men within the home hasn't changed as much. For example, they said:

Women are achieving, working in most fields, have accomplished much in education, business, most areas. Many women are freer to try new endeavors, to travel, to control their money. There is still a "ceiling" for most women.
-European/Caucasian woman, 80
Women, in the developing world, have progressed substantially over the last 100 years. In the first half of the 20th century, they moved out of "slave" status -- without the right to vote, hold financial instruments, own land, etc. They emerged into another period in which their values were primarily pursuing the values of men -- money, power, and titles. As we enter the 21st century, they are finally emerging into being true leaders of their own lives in many spheres. Given our instantaneous communications abilities, they are also realizing that many women in the world have not walked over this bridge.
-American woman, 60
Women of color lag behind white women in career accomplishments. Women continue to earn less than men for equal work. Women continue to hit a glass ceiling and are not promoted to high level management positions.
-African American woman, 58
Overall, and in the aggregate, (women are) much more involved in all facets of society at all levels. However, progress, involvement and opportunities for women of color have been, and continue to be, limited.
--Hispanic American man, 57
"We've come a long way, baby!" Society is beginning to capitalize on our unique talents. Thought is being given that there is more than one way to get the job done/look at things. But, there is still much to be done, traditions and stereotypes to be broken, and yet, another generation of young ladies to encourage and support. They will see farther because they stand on our shoulders.
-African American woman, 53
A mixed bag. I think, generally, women make better leaders (I know they tend to be better students). But they are still not given enough opportunities to lead. That hurts all of us.
-European/Caucasian man, 42
Uneven and diverse. Accomplishments are many; even more have gone unrecognized, and still are! Roles are equally diverse and women argue about what their priorities are.
-Asian woman, 45
Things have changed dramatically for Hispanic women. We Hispanic women have been able to do so much more professionally, and be recognized for it. It's gratifying to encounter so many smart, accomplished women like myself in my everyday life. But amazingly, even now I encounter resistance to what I see as my role as an equal partner to men, 'though mostly in my personal life. I wish that I wasn't still judged by whether or not I can make tortillas from scratch, or how well I keep my man fed... It's tiresome to have to justify myself and my choices.
-Hispanic American woman, 40s
While many important strides have been made, there is still such a long way to go before we approach gender equity on most fronts. It's a very sad fact that the only industry where women make more money than men is in pornography. We need a woman to become President. We need more women in the senate, the house, more women as university presidents, CEOs, etc.
-Hispanic American man, 37
Although women's roles are more flexible than they used to be and women have a lot more freedom to develop and pursue their professional dreams, there will not be true gender equity until men's roles also become more flexible (i.e., there should be more acceptance of men staying home with children). Women who work outside the home are still expected to take more responsibility for childcare and housework than their husbands. Equity in the workplace needs to be complemented by equity at home - otherwise equity is just a myth.
-European/Caucasian woman, 32
Women have made a lot of strides. My grandmother did not complete high school due to financial constraints and/or rural transportation issues. My mother completed high school but did not attend college. She had 5 children, stayed at home for 10 years while we lived in rural Illinois and then took a job as a secretary when we moved to the city. I have a graduate degree from Harvard, and am completing my MFA from the University of Virginia. I have received several substantial grants and have some publications, though I am still trying to publish my first book. However, the prospect of having children has always loomed large in my mind. I am a fairly family oriented person. My husband and I both have large families which require a certain amount of "work." I wonder what will happen to my "career" when I have children in a few years. I would like to keep working, but am not interested in having a life so overloaded with obligations that I am unable to enjoy it. I also think the demands placed on many working professionals make having any kind of outside life difficult, particularly for women. So in many ways, in spite of all my degrees and accomplishments, I am uncertain about what will happen to me in the next few years. Perhaps my life path will not look that different from women who historically had fewer choices. It begs the question of what "choice" means in this scenario; being conscripted to work 50-60 hours a week for an institution at the expense of family life doesn't seem like a choice. It also seems unlikely to lead to a true improvement in the quality of life for people.
-Native American/Caucasian woman, 30
Today, the roles of women (those with families) must juggle the task of being a homemaker and maintaining a successful career. This makes the women's role more difficult and more complex. Now, we must feed, raise, install good morals, in our children, and also serve as a good role model in our career choices.
-African American woman, 28
Women in the US today have more opportunities then ever before to choose their own roles in society. Women now occupy some of the most powerful positions in American society.
- Multi-racial man, 27
We have come a long way. Women are accomplishing a lot in the country and have significant roles but there is still inequality in the mindset people have about gender roles in society. Women can have their cake, but have to eat it too and work full time. but still take care of the home.
- African American woman, 21
I think that there have been many women that have paved the way for my generation. Women now are more likely to have a career and be able to pursue a higher education. I still think that there are limitations on how high of a position or what wages a woman makes because she is just that, a woman.
- European/Caucasian woman, 20
Many women have achieved great things. Women can do anything they want these days. Although women don't have many positions in the top echelons of government and the corporate world, it is only a matter of time.
- European/Caucasian woman, 20
Historically, they [women] seem to have played more of a background/support role. The women that go out and do stuff on their own have been hailed as pioneers, not just in their field, but For Women specifically (as if they represent all of that gender).
- Asian American woman, 19

Thinking about life today, how would you describe the lives and accomplishments of men today? The group agrees that men, especially European American men, as a group continue to hold most power, but that women are making progress. As with women of color, they felt that men of color also do not have opportunities to participate fully.

For the most part, they were doing many of the same things and taking their roles for granted, long before I did them.
- European/Caucasian woman, 74
Men, as a group, continue to assume that they are entitled to rule, to control, to hold, to dominate. It is still a shock to some to discover a woman in charge. The best clue to this is the absolute refusal of men's athletic programs to hire women as coaches. There must be women golfers, tennis players, swimmers, runners, soccer players, basketball players, competent to coach high school and college males. Most of these assumptions are held unconsciously, and only come to view when the man is taken by surprise. On the other hand, many in the younger generations expect to have women friends, to marry equals, to vote for women candidates. I do have hope for future equality.
- European/Caucasian woman, 63
White males dominate in income, politics, education, medicine.
- African American woman, 58
European American males continue to dominate positions of power, leadership and influence. However, progress, involvement and opportunities for men of color have been, and continue to be, limited.
-Hispanic American man, 57
Hispanic men have also made great strides professionally.
- Hispanic American woman, 57
Men have benefited from women's increased role possibilities but many have not expanded their roles to include home and childcare as women have expanded into the workplace. In general, most men in my world are much more aware of these responsibilities than my father was, but my world isn't the whole world.
- Native American woman, 54
Men continue to dominate positions of leadership, although women are making progress. Women's roles have changed more so than men's roles in the past 30 years, although men are adjusting.
- Asian American man, 51
Well, men still run the world. They seem to be doing it poorly.
- European/Caucasian woman, 44
To be honest, I don't think much about the roles and accomplishments of men. Based on the data that I have seen, it appears that they are doing as well as ever, with the exception of men of color, particularly African American men who continue to experience discrimination and a lower quality of life.
- Asian American woman, 43
Limited by gender-role expectations, on one hand, but absolutely privileged by sexism. It'd be better for everybody if men's socially sanctioned gender roles weren't so narrow, and that might ameliorate sexism. But so long as we still run the world, we've got problems.
- European/Caucasian man, 42
This is hard to answer and never thought about the accomplishments of men. Good, I suppose. But also given too much credit at times.
- Hispanic American man, 37
The roles of men have pretty much stayed the same compared to my father's generation. Men are still expected to be the bread-winners, to be "manly".
- Hispanic American woman, 37
I think the roles for men have not changed much over time (at least regarding work). There is still a lot of pressure on men to succeed by having or striving for a high-paying, prestigious career/job.
- Asian American woman, 27
The role of men has perhaps changed less in the past several decades than has the role of women. While women now (arguably) have more economic and social freedom than ever before, men appear to remain locked in relatively inflexible roles as breadwinners and providers.
- Multi-racial man, 27
They have the same privileges they have always had for the last 100 years
- African American woman, 21
Not colored by the fact that they're male. Alexander Graham Bell advanced telecommunications; we don't make a fuss over the fact that he was a guy, we just go "Man, wasn't he a wonderful scientist?"
- Asian American woman, 19

When it comes to changing roles, a sense of identity as a man, to changes in families and relationships, there seems to be dismay that little has changed for men. At the same time, many felt there are indications of positive changes that help men-and women.

The roles of men have changed as women work outside of the home. They take on more responsibility with children and home duties....sometimes kicking and screaming.
- European/Caucasian man, 57
More are now willing to stay home and take over that responsibility.
- Asian American woman, 57
I think it is a good thing that men have more choices in terms of seeking balance in their lives. For example, family-friendly workplace policies allow men to participate in family caregiving more just as they permit women to have families and careers. On the other hand, more flexible roles for men have not been embraced by society fully, which has limited the extent to which they are realized. European/Caucasian woman, 54
Some men have made the commitment to gender equity and live it.
- African American woman, 54
Men are still given much of the credit and earn more, dollar for dollar. However, the wisest among them have learned to share the credit and the wealth. And because of this, they are better professionals and better people for having done so.
- African American woman, 53
Men are worried and confused.
-European/Caucasian woman, 52
Some men (White males) have been given an "entitlement" that opens doors for them more quickly than the rest of us. I think men are confused in their roles as women have moved into "their" arena. I deal with many young men with confused identities in understanding relationships and what is "equal." I think men are often misunderstood if they are the ones working for and supporting empowerment of women. I don't think it is easy to stand with "us" in some situations. Men need and deserve recognition for their accomplishments just as women do.
- European Caucasian/Native American woman, 51
The roles of men especially as fathers have come a long way.
- European/Caucasian woman, 47
A man's role has changed in the home and, to some degree, in society. Men are no longer automatically the primary breadwinners in a home. In fact, more men are staying at home raising children than ever before. That is an accomplishment!
- Native American woman, 35
I think we are seeing more egalitarian roles in, for example, heterosexual marriages whereas there are two individuals who are working outside the home and therefore men are willing to take on more domestic responsibilities.
- Hispanic American woman, 32
Much less ambivalent, but also changing, very slowly, to becoming more flexible. Men however are punished for non-traditional behavior as well (even by women, for being "too sensitive", "not a real man", etc.)
-European Caucasian woman, 27
I usually view the roles and accomplishments of men as the benchmark against which women's progress is measured. However, I am happy to say that I believe we are seeing more stay-at-home dads now than we ever have in American history, and I think this is a great improvement. The idea that men can stay at home while women work is revolutionary in bringing about equality both for women at work and for men at home. Why should mothers always be the primary caregivers?
- European/Caucasian woman, 24
In regards to attitudes toward women, I believe some men have come a long way from previous generations. I look at my own relationship with my boyfriend who prefers to clean, is a much better cook than I could ever be and can't stand watching sports. Some men have come to an understanding that women are their equals. However, some are still stuck in an idea of inequality of roles and abilities between men and women. Men are raised to be tough, emotionless and sport loving. It takes a strong man to cry, clean a house, cook for a woman, and see her intellectually as an equal. I have known some very strong men and I admire their overcoming of the male ideal. It is ironic that women are trying to prove their strength in order to be seen as equals and men have to weaken (according to societal standards) in order to become equals.
-European Caucasian woman, 23

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