I am strong because I can lift my own weight. I am smart not just because I get As. I am bold because I am not afraid to stick up for my rights.
The role of women in our society has changed significantly in the past three decades. Women and girls have many more opportunities and face different challenges. The playing field is not level, but neither is gender bias as institutionalized as it once was.
Women who have achieved great stature in government, industry, sports, and the media have become a familiar sight. And yet, it appears that there is no clear public understanding of the realities of women’s and girls’ lives in this country.
Participants appear to hold contradictory beliefs about many aspects of women’s and girls’ lives.
For instance, participants believe that fewer women work but more women head up households. While a majority (73%) of participants said that a smaller proportion of women was in the labor force (in 1997, 74% of all women between the ages of 25 and 54 were in the labor force), a majority (62%) also indicated that more households are headed by women (in 1997, 30% of households were headed by women).
Participants also seem to believe that fewer women and children live in poverty, in spite of also believing that women earn significantly less than men. Although nearly half (45%) of participants said that women earned less than three-fourth as much as men (in 1997, women’s weekly earnings were 75% of men’s), an overwhelming majority (79%) said that women and children accounted for a smaller fraction of people in poverty (in 1997, women and children represented 80% of the people living in poverty). More than half of participants (51%) also underestimated the rate of teen pregnancy in this country (in 1995, one in ten American girls between the ages of 15 and 19 became pregnant).
The results further suggest that the public perceives that women have advanced further professionally but does not recognize the extent of women’s educational achievements. More than half (52%) of participants answered that a smaller proportion of girls enrolled in college (in 1996, 70% of girls who graduated from high school enrolled in college the following fall), while 58% of participants indicated that women represented larger percentages of professionals and corporate executives (in 1997, 30% of doctors and lawyers and 10% of engineers and Fortune 500 officers were women).
In a similar vein, the participants indicated that more women are involved in government but are less involved as citizens. While 41% of the participants said that the proportion of women in the 106th Congress was higher (in 1999, women held 13% of the seats in the 535-member 106th Congress), 42% of participants answered that a smaller fraction of women voted (in 1992 and 1994, 80% of women registered to vote actually voted in the national elections).
Finally, 46% of participants underestimated girls’ involvement in sports (in 1997, 42% of high school girls participated in at least one school-sponsored sport).
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