Labor Day was established as a federal holiday in 1894 with the purpose of celebrating both the social and economic contributions of those who work. Certainly every worker must be recognized for her or his contributions, but it is also a time to consider the undervalued work of women.
We all recognize the image of Rosie the Riveter, the US cultural icon representing women who took on factory work during WWII keeping the economy alive. Rosie inspired a social movement that helped the number of women substantially increase in numbers in the workforce and has become a feminist symbol of women’s economic power. Today, women are 50% of the workforce and a recent study shows that 4 in 10 mothers are the sole or primary breadwinners in their families.
This said, women continue to be underpaid and their work often goes unrecognized. Although the Equal Pay Act was passed 50 years ago, the gender wage gap continues. While Hilary Clinton did make 18 million cracks, women continue to face the glass ceiling. There is a serious gender leadership gap with women serving in only 14.3% of CEO positions in Fortune 500 companies in 2012.
Beyond the unjust treatment of women in relation to pay and leadership, there is also a serious gender gap in work division in the home. We generally refuse to acknowledge the work of women in the home as having any value and particularly ignore the role of woman as mother.
In The Feminine Economy and Economic Man, Burggraf questions whether women, any more than men, would sign on for the following job description:
Wanted: Parents willing to bear, rear, and educate children for the next generation of Social Security taxpayers, and to carry on the American culture of learning and progress. Quality children preferred. Large commitment of time required. At least one parent must work a double shift and/or sacrifice tenure and upward mobility in the job market. Salary: $0. Pension benefits: $0. Profits and dividends: $0.
Recent studies show that 75% of mothers have joined the workforce, and thus are pulling double duty; they not only sign on for no pay and no recognition for their gendered role in the home, they also participate in a workforce that undervalues their contributions. So, on Labor Day, when you are celebrating the contributions of all workers who allow us to flourish as a society, may I so humbly suggest that you also consider the undervalued work of women and the work that still needs to be done.
Gina Messina-Dysert, Ph.D. is Dean of Graduate and Professional Studies at Ursuline College and National Chair of Education for American Mothers, Inc.