Question: A new U.S. Census Bureau report shows women outpacing men in terms of graduating high school and college. Are some conservative women right in saying that feminists' calls for women's progress have hurt men?
Bonnie Erbe: The news from the Census Bureau is cause for celebration: 29.3 percent of women and 26.3 percent of men in the 25-to-29 age group completed college or graduate school as of last year. That was up from 28.2 percent for women and 26.1 percent for men in 1996.Remember that until this decade, men had been more likely to earn BAs. But women have been edging steadily upward as more educational and financial opportunities have been opened up for them. Now that the gender barrier to higher education seems to have been erased, the next step is to increase accessibility to a college degree for all Americans.
What's troubling, however, is that some conservative women have taken women's recent progress in educational and financial arenas as a quiver full of arrows to point and shoot at feminists. While I part company on several fronts with feminists, I know that I owe my access to a great education and exciting career to women who came before me and fought gender discrimination; i.e., feminists. Now a cottage industry of anti-feminists has sprung up; women making careers out of tearing down the work of women who came before them.
One example out of many is Christina Sommers at the American Enterprise Institute. She currently is researching the question whether feminists' emphasis on girls' needs has hurt boys. There's nothing wrong with pointing out that boys are in trouble. But why blame feminists for trying to advance women's rights? It need not be an either/or situation.
We can help build girls' self-esteem, educational levels and women's career advancement even as we improve boys' educational opportunities and men's workplace rights at the same time. Pitting groups against each other just means more internecine warfare and less progress. Feminism isn't perfect. Neither is conservatism. Let's take the best ideas of both and keep the attacks on people to a minimum.
Josette Shiner: This news is, as my colleague says, cause for celebration. But it is simply not true that conservative women are taking aim at women's progress. Most just want to be sure that women are honored for whatever choice they make in life - be it in the home or in the boardroom.
Recently there has been additional evidence of women's advances. Less than a year ago, the Census Bureau reported that the earnings gap between men and women was the narrowest ever recorded. The survey reported that in 1997, median earnings for women increased 2.4 percent, while men's earnings declined slightly by 1 percent. Whatever their party or political affiliation, Americans should be proud of the strides made by American women who are working by choice or necessity.
An interesting, frequently overlooked question is whether feminist activists or the free market are most responsible for women's advances.