Friday, May 6, 2011

Take Your Daughter's To Work

I want to take a break from the deluge of Osama related news. For a change I want to write about something that I had been thinking for a very long time. I'd say this blog is for my daughter and for every girl child out there.

The last Thursday of April is observed as "Take your children to work day" in USA. It originally started in 1993 as 'Take your daughter's to work day". Gloria Steinem, the feminist, was the force behind this. Today companies organize events and really go all out to make the day enjoyable for children who accompany their parents to work. It is  to inculcate a spirit concerning work chiefly for girls. Women as a working force received big impetus during two pivotal wars in USA. The first was the Civil War and then World War II.

The idea behind this blog germinated when I was reading historian, now Harvard University Dean, Drew Gilpin Faust's "Mothers of Invention: Women of the slave holding South". Faust is considered one of the most pre-eminent historians of the Civil War. She later became the first woman dean of Harvard in 2007 amidst a furore. In 2008 she published another bestseller, "This Republic of Suffering:Death and American Civil War", this was Pulitzer finalist. Dr Faust draws attention to how Civil War reshaped the mores of America. US lost more men in Civil War than in any other since. This completely changed gender relations. With men away at battlefield women, especially in the conservative atavist South, stepped out of their traditional boundaries. Thus began a new era for women.

While their men folk went out to war the women ran the households, that includes doing chores that a 'lady' never did before. By the close of the war when the slaves were freed the women were compelled to do menial chores too. During the war women would knit socks for the men at the war front but when they ran out of cotton they had organize purchase of cotton. Simple but a landmark event in 1860's. Deprived of men to work women stepped into the professional arena. Chiefly, teaching and nursing. When women were sought to become teachers the society confronted an entrenched discrimination. Until then most schools for girls did not teach math and science like the boys were taught in their schools. By 1860's scientific discoveries, all by men, were shaking up the world chiefly in Europe. This discrimination formed the background for a controversy which enabled Faust to become Dean of Harvard.

During World War II women were recruited to do jobs that were usually the dominion of men and "Rosie the Riveter" as the poster campaign was known was born. The iconic poster was

Drew Faust's mother tersely told her, "It's a man's world, sweetie, and the sooner you learn that better off you will be". Faust, a rebellious daughter, did not pay heed. She went to Bryn Mawr and later to University of Pennsylvania to do her PhD. Princeton did not accept women graduates till 1960's. As PhD student, having completed her requisite coursework that required her to be at the University newly-married Faust asked her professor if she could complete the thesis from remote so she could accompany her husband. The professor jeered, "if you want to be with your husband why are you doing  PhD". This to a woman who as 9 year old wrote to then President Eisenhower decrying racial segregation.

When Hillary Clinton campaigned in 2008 in New Hampshire men holding T-shirts that said "go and do laundry" appeared at her rallies. A WSJ opinion poll stated that, in 2008, USA more ready to elect an Afro-American man than a woman. If Hillary's make up was not sharp the press read meanings into it. If her jacket had less than conservative neckline it was noted. Her pant suits were made fun of. An MSNBC commentator referring to Chelsea's lobbying of delegates remarked "they are pimping her out". A remark he would not have made if the child campaigning was male child. Hillary Clinton remains the ONLY presidential candidate to have ever won a primary election.

Women, an IBM study says, lose approximately 7 years in their career due to motherhood. Only recently Clinton signed the FMLA giving 12 weeks paid leave for maternity. Women are traditionally paid less for doing the same job as that of a man.

Larry Summers, former Secretary of Treasury, highly respected economist, commented during a conference that we should study as to why women are not adequately represented in science and math. Summers was already facing some opposition at Harvard as Dean and this controversy simply blew the lid. He was caricatured as a dinosaur and booted out. Then Harvard set about searching for a dean. They finally hired, for the first time in their history, a woman as dean. Faust was dean at Radcliffe at that time.

The 2009 Nobel Prizes were a windfall for women scientists. Other than Madame Curie and her daughter I cant remember any other woman Nobel laureate in the sciences. 2009 changed that. Check out . Women were introduced to the sciences only in 1860's, women enrollment in colleges, in Ivy League universities, did not become an accepted fact until the post-war period. Even today if we go to "Pottery Barn kids", an upscale shop for kids, we could see it divide in halves. The boys half, decorated in blue, would have toys of guns, cars, building kits etc. The girls half, in pink, would have kitchen sets, bedroom sets, make up kits etc.

But then things change. I am seeing change for the better in America as recent improvement suggest. Corporations now like to boast that they are rated high as work place of choice for mothers. Diversity, racial and gender wise, is a stated goal and companies do invest money to promote diversity. The wage gap is fast closing. Now, for the first time, women outnumber men in workforce. Woman CEO's are no longer eyebrow raising. A credit card company is now running an ad showing a young girl child as an entrepreneur.

When Faust was reminded about her being the first woman dean, she said "I am not the woman dean of Harvard, I am the dean of Harvard". Hillary conceding the nomination to Barack Obama referred to the votes she received as "18 million cracks in the glass ceiling". America redeemed itself with Obama's election. One more redemption is pending.

I started this blog referring to "Take your daughters to work day" only as I finish I realize that coming Sunday is "Mother's day". Three cheers to my mom and to my wife.

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