Ryan McConnell writes: If you’ve been reading the media reports lately, an overarching narrative is unmistakable: Women are in ascendance. Led by the likes of Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg and Yahoo’s Marissa Mayer, today’s women are taking charge, “leaning in” and, as the Pew Research Center recently reported, increasingly becoming the “breadwinner” of more and more families. Reading these reports, it’s perhaps tempting to believe that the most pressing question for women today is, “Can I have it all?”
The problem with this narrative, though, is that, like all great yarns, it overlooks critical nuances that complicate the storyline. Take coverage of the Pew study as an example. Is it true that women now are the “breadwinners” (a.k.a. the primary wage earners in a family) in 40% of all households? Yes, technically, and it’s a headline that was repeated by all of the major news sources across the USA (see here and here for examples). But the hype and headlines obscure the fact that, far from the take-no-prisoners image of women that the media is pushing, the vast majority of these “breadwinners” are bringing home crumbs rather than loaves. In fact, nearly two-thirds (63%) of these women are single mothers, a segment of the population with a median income ($23,000) barely above the poverty line.
It goes without saying that gender norms are shifting and women are, in many ways, leading the way to a freer and better world than the models of the past (see our Women in 2020 Futures Perspective for more on this topic). But before we proclaim the collective “End of Men” and trumpet the imminent triumph of the fairer sex, we should pause, take a breath and look beyond the headlines for the actual – and sometimes uncomfortable– story. Because in a country in which just 4.2% of women are CEOs, just 3.4% of stay-at-home parents are men and the gender wage gap remains stubbornly persistent, the appropriate question is not yet “Can I have it all?” It’s that decidedly second-wave feminist notion of “Can I just have my fair share?”
The image of Rosie the Riveter is from Zazzle, and it is used with thanks.