The old stories had women as helpless damsels in distress and the property of men, valued for their roles as mothers, daughters, housekeepers, cooks, and sex objects. This paradigm has been slowly changing across the globe for many years and is now gaining real momentum. In most countries—rich and developing—women are going to school more, living longer, getting better jobs, and acquiring legal rights and protections.
The first woman in the U.S. Senate was Rebecca Latimer Felton, in 1922, when she was appointed to representing Georgia for a single day after the death of the previous senator. In 1932 Hattie Caraway became the first woman to win election to the Senate (Arkansas). In 1991, there were still only two women senators, so the following year, when four women were elected, the press described the occurrence as "The Year of the Woman." In response, Senator Barbara Ann Mikulski of Maryland said, "Calling 1992 the Year of the Woman makes it sound like the Year of the Caribou or the Year of the Asparagus. We're not a fad, a fancy, or a year." In January of 2018, the number of women in the US Senate rose to 23.
We see the same trend in movies and TV. In the late 1980s, Joss Whedon wanted to subvert the horror genre. “I had seen a lot of horror movies, which I love very much, with blond girls getting killed in dark alleys, and I just germinated this idea about how much I would like to see a blond girl go into a dark alley, get attacked by a monster and then kill it.” This was a novel idea at the time. While it was not at first a hit, Buffy The Vampire Slayer has become the subject of both a cult following, and surprisingly, academics. The trend of increasingly powerful women in movies can be seen in TV and movie characters like Katniss Everdeen (The Hunger Games, 2012 - 2015), Imperator Furiosa (Mad Max: Fury Road, 2015), Selina Meyer (VEEP, 2012 - 2018), and Rey filling the role of The Hero (traditionally a male role) in the current Star Wars trilogy.
The increasing power of women isn't just good for women, it is good for entire communities. Studies by the Council on Foreign Relations show that in the developing world, for every year a girl stays in school her income increases exponentially; studies from the World Bank, among many others, have shown that when women can earn a living they reinvest 80-90% of their incomes back into their communities and into productive uses for their families. This is why many organizations that provide microloans only provide them to women.
As women are increasingly liberated, so are men. According to a Pew Research Center estimate, the number of men in the United States who are full-time, stay-at-home parents roughly doubled between 1984 and 2014, to approximately 2 million. According to Brad Harrington of the Boston College Center for Work & Family, more men would stay at home if the income inequality between men and women wasn't still so large.
While we are seeing women in increasingly powerful roles in many countries of the world, some of the least affluent places are still lagging way behind, particularly when it comes to domestic violence. "Honor Killings" are still common practice in rural parts of Kyrgyzstan and Pakistan among other places. Increases in the practice were actually reported recently in Abkhazia (a territory between Russia and Georgia), but where light is brought upon these crimes against young women by humanitarian groups, a few of those responsible are finally being held accountable.
Articles and Reports
- Female Power: Women in the workplace, The Economist (December 2009) Across the rich world more women are working than ever before. Coping with this change will be one of the great challenges of the coming decades.
- The Rise of Buffy Studies, The Atlantic (October 2015)
- Stay-At-Home Dads Still Struggle With Diapers, Drool, Stigma And Isolation, NPR (June 2018)
- Kyrgyz Police Officers Punished Over Deadly Bride Kidnapping, Radio Free Europe (June 2018)
- Empowering Women Is Smart Economics, International Monetary Fund (March 2012)
- Why This Startup Only Provides Microloans to Women-Led Businesses Worldwide, HuffPost (June 2017)
- Barbara Hertz and Gene B. Sperling, What Works in Girls’ Education, Council on Foreign Relations (2004) (pdf)
The Women's March Organizers, The Condé Nast, Together We Rise: Behind the Scenes at the Protest Heard Around the World, Harper Collins (2018)