I wear a ring on my left hand next to my wedding ring every day. This ring was given to my grandmother by my great-grandmother, who was the first president of Rochester, New York’s Planned Parenthood chapter in the time of Susan B. Anthony. My grandmother remembers her mother standing tall in the face of priests banging loudly at the door of her house, protesting that my great-grandmother was teaching women about birth control in a time when only “people of ill repute” considered such a thing.
Then the ring was passed down from my grandmother, who later became president of the Rochester Planned Parenthood chapter, to my mother, who is a strong feminist in her own right. She worked for many years as a social worker for Prince George’s County Family Services in Maryland.
My mom passed the ring to me when I turned 16. For me, the ring is an ever-present historical anchor, reminding me that women in our nation only got the right to vote not so very long ago in 1920. Just 89 years ago.
The ring also reminds me every day that due to the hard work of the women before us, incredible battles have been won. One prime example is the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964, Title VII, which banned employment discrimination based on race, sex, religion, or national origin, and was a pivotal gain for women in the workplace.
Today, one of the greatest barriers to gender equality is smack dab in the center of motherhood—the “maternal wall.” A little known fact is that many women never even get to the glass ceiling because the maternal wall is standing in the way of ever reaching any rooms with glass in the first place. The maternal wall stands tall for the majority of women in our nation since more than 80 percent of women in the United States have children by the time they are 44.1
Here’s what that maternal wall looks like: Women without children make about 90 cents to a man’s dollar, which is outrageous enough, but mothers make only 73 cents to a man’s dollar, and single moms make only about 60 cents per man’s dollar.2 To make matters worse, a recent study found that given equal resumes, women with children are 79 percent less likely to be hired than women without children.3
Many women never even get to the glass ceiling because
the maternal wall is standing in the way of ever reaching
any rooms with glass in the first place.
Women are now nearly half the entire paid labor force in our nation, and three-quarters of mothers are in the modern labor force, yet American workplaces are still stuck in the 1950s. Studies show that enacting family economic security policies such as paid family leave, health care, and access to early child care can help lower the gender wage gap and bring down the maternal wall.
Wearing my ring each day, I’m reminded that the work MomsRising.org does, and the successes we’ve had thus far helping to pass laws such as the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, are the result of a continuum of work done both by those who are now fighting for women’s rights, as well as by those whose shoulders we all stand upon.
Looking at my son and daughter (who is already lobbying to wear the ring at 10 years old), I’m inspired to continue the fight.
- Jane Lawler Dye, “Fertility of American Women: 2006” (Washington: Department of the Census, 2008), available at http://www.census.gov/prod/2008pubs/p20-558.pdf.
- Jane Waldfogel, “Understanding the ‘Family Gap’ in Pay for Women with Children,” Journal of Economic Perspectives 12 (1) (1998): 137–156.
- Shelley J. Correll, Stephen Benard, and In Paik, “Getting a Job: Is There a Motherhood Penalty?” American Journal of Sociology 112 (5) (2007): 1297-1338.