By Jazelle Hunt
WASHINGTON (NNPA) – The Civil Rights Act of 1964 outlawed race- and gender-based discrimination. Now, 50 years later, Black women still suffer under the double-whammy of race and gender.
Stephanie Coontz, co-chair of Council on Contemporary Families (CCF) and director of Research and Public Education, made that point at a symposium sponsored by the CCF, a nonprofit nonpartisan family research think-tank.
“One of the things we see with African American women is that they’ve actually made bigger gains in terms of their representation in college, in educational gains, and in professional work. The pay gap is lower between Black women and Black men than between White women and White men. All of these are certain kinds of gains,” Coontz explains. “But the other side of it is that the combination of Black womanhood leads to tremendous stereotypes. So there are ways in which Black women have gained in relation to men, but there are ways in which they go through life with the combination of difficulties that are caused by race, but that play out in their gender.”
To use the subject of wages, for example, Black women earn 10 percent less than African American males, and 36 percent less than White men, according to another CCF symposium. (In general, a quarter of the gains made in the wage gap are attributable to a decline in men’s wages rather than an increase in women’s income, according to one of the papers’ authors). At the same time, African American women’s professional success is on the rise, as Coontz points out. Still, these gains are accompanied by drastic losses among African American men.
“…Black and Hispanic men earn so much less than white men that the lower gender gap for Black women and Latinas does not produce economic security,” one paper finds. “Many of the gains that women have made are not as impressive as they seem at first sight. This is especially true for Black Americans, as low-income Black men in impoverished communities have not only experienced dramatic losses in real wages and job security but tremendous increases in incarceration rates.”
The CCF Civil Rights Online Symposium presents a collection of white papers from researchers across the country that examines America’s progress (or lack thereof) on religion-, race-, and gender-based discrimination since the Civil Rights Act.
Discrimination also manifests in a unique way for high-status African American women, says Joan C. Williams, a distinguished professor of law and at the University of California and one of the symposium’s featured researchers. She points out that Black women tend to lose workplace discrimination cases because of their blended experience of gender- and race-based discrimination. (According to Williams, it is difficult to bolster and win a discrimination case involving both race and gender).
“It appears that the experience of gender bias is really quite different as a Black woman,” says Williams, whose paper for the symposium is based on her co-authored book, What Works for Women at Work: Four Patterns Working Women Need to Know. Williams identifies four overall patterns of gender bias that high-achieving career women face. The first is dubbed “prove-it-again” bias, in which women are required to show more evidence of competence than men. Unlike the other women in Williams’ research, Black women often attributed this type bias to their race, as opposed to their gender.
There’s also “the tightrope” bias, which Williams describes as the balance between being feminine, attractive and well-liked, versus being masculine and respected, but disliked. Both hinder advancement in different ways. However, Black women involved in Williams’ research had less of a tightrope to walk. This dovetailed with another finding.
“[The Black women in the study] thought the option of being pretty, but not respected, was not an offer for Black women. So their only choice was to be respected,” Williams explains. “If you think about it, that fits…with data that suggests Black women are allowed to behave more dominant, so in a sense they have a little more room. Of course, there’s a sharp limit where, at a certain point, some will say, ‘Oh, you’re an angry Black woman.’ And then God help you.”
One area of discrimination that binds women across class and race is what’s known as the maternity wall. A 1978 amendment to the Civil Rights Act made it illegal for employers to exclude pregnancy and childbirth from sick leave and health benefits. There’s also the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993, which gives employees 12 weeks per year of paid leave for the birth or foster placement of a child, among other circumstances. But such protections haven’t stopped wage discrimination against mothers.
“The United States is still the only industrialized country that does not guarantee subsidized, job-protected leave for new mothers. As a result, many women are forced to quit or cut back on work when they give birth, creating a lifetime earnings penalty,” Coontz writes. “Even mothers who do not cut back are regarded with suspicion by employers, who are less likely to hire such women, and, if they do, offer them lower wages than other employees.”
Interestingly, new data indicates that men who request or take time to cater to their families face their own professional penalties. One paper suggests that caregiver status may become a new area of anti-discriminatory legislation.
“In government, academia, finances, medicine, law, and many other realms, issues of access and unequal treatment still prevail,” another researcher concludes. “The Civil Rights Act has helped women make many impressive gains, but further changes in policy and attitudes are needed to address these remaining inequalities.”
The issue of inequality affects all women, not just Blacks.
A mid-1960s Gallup poll found that only 55 percent of Americans would vote for a qualified woman president; today, that figure has risen to 95 percent. In 1960, mothers were the breadwinners in just 3.5 percent of homes with children. By 2011, that number had more than quadrupled to 15 percent.
Although women with degrees out earn men without them (which was not the case 50 years ago), women still earn less than their equally qualified male counterparts, despite the Equal Pay Act of 1963 and Civil Rights Act of 1964. In fact, the first bill President Barack Obama signed into law was an amendment to the Civil Rights Act, which revised the statute of limitations for pay discrimination lawsuits.
Until passage of this law, claimants had 180 days from the initial wage decision to discover the discrimination and file a suit. The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act resets that 180 days with each discriminatory paycheck.
“It‘s appropriate that we turn last to how women have fared since passage of the Civil Rights Act, because the addition of the word ‘sex’ was a last minute addition to the bill,” Stephanie Coontz of Research and Public Education writes in one introduction. “Women have also made impressive progress in entering high-status fields formerly dominated by men…. But women have not shattered the glass ceiling.”
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