Growing up my parents were what they called “equal opportunity parents." Whatever opportunities my brother got, I got, too, and vice versa.
They were determined that we would both have the same advantages in life and cheered for us equally as we chased our dreams. It never even crossed my mind that being a girl could be a barrier to achieving anything I wanted because my parents refused to entertain that possibility.
Now, as the mother of a daughter and son of my own, what had felt like a simple question of fairness as a child feels like so much more. I want both my children to know that there is no one set way to be a woman or a man. Their future is theirs to create and their gender shouldn’t limit that in any way.
So, as a toddler, my son had both toy cars and baby dolls. My daughter can frequently be seen playing backyard baseball in a pink tutu. Fortunately, thanks to the many gains women have made over the last century, I can tell both my children with confidence that if they work hard enough they can be whatever they want.
But, as they set out in the world, I know that my daughter will still face challenges my son will not experience. Even though nearly 6 in 10 women now work outside the home and women nationally attain higher levels of education than men, the wage gap still exists.
According to a new report from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, women in North Carolina still make only 83 cents to a man’s dollar. When men and women at the same education level are compared, the gender wage gap is even greater. North Carolina women with at least a college degree earn more than $20,000 less per year than comparable men, a wage gap of 29 percent.
And while women’s earnings are increasingly important to families’ economic security, both women and men continue to struggle with the high cost of child care and the lack of workplace policies like paid sick days or paid family leave that allow us to meet both our work and family responsibilities.
This past Sunday, Aug. 26, was Women’s Equality Day, when we celebrate the passage of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution granting women the right to vote in 1920 and remember the struggle of many thousands of women and their allies whose decades of work led to that achievement.
Many of these women were beaten, jailed, and tortured for their efforts (if you haven’t seen "Iron Jawed Angels," I highly recommend it.) Winning the vote was a key victory on the way to many of the gains women enjoy today. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 66 percent of female citizens 18 and older reported voting in the 2008 presidential election, as compared to 62 percent of men in the same group. Additionally, 73 percent of female citizens reported being registered to vote.
We have come a long way in the last 92 years, but the struggle for full equality for our daughters and sons isn’t over. There is still a lot of work to be done and, as our great grandmothers knew, these changes can start with the vote.
This election year, I hope you’ll join me in making sure to vote yourself and inviting your friends to vote. When we do, we’ll be honoring the sacrifice of those who worked so hard for our equality while making the path ahead easier for our own children.
Your voice and your vote can make a difference!
Beth Messersmith is the NC Campaign Director for MomsRising.org and a Durham mother of two. She writes for Go Ask Mom monthly.