How Did Women Advance in the Oughties?

Katha Pollitt, The Nation columnist and author of a new book of poetry, The Mind Body Problem asked a great question today on a media listserv we’re both on. She wanted to know what we thought were the places where women and/or feminism made advances, went backward, or were treading water.

How do you think women advanced during the last decade? (We can deal with the backward steps in another post…at the beginning of a new year and new decade, let’s start with a nod to the advances.)

Here are my two top-of-mind, unfiltered answers that I sent to Katha, mostly to the positive.

1. The rise of social media has given women the opportunity for a much bigger voice individually and collectively. The asynchronous, information-rich technology and the ability to create “rooms of one’s own” appeal to women who have for so long been overtalked by louder male voices. As a result women are over 50% of bloggers and 57% of the people on Facebook and Twitter. Social media offer a way to connect, share, find support systems, and organize. Women tend to isolate and think they have to solve their problems–often problems caused by systemic barriers–alone. But with social media, they can find answers to their questions and if they choose they can organize to solve problems whether in the private sector or politically. Having been recognized by advertisers as the purchasers of  over 80% of all consumer goods, women could also use their online and social media presence to reshape the consumer economy.

The bad news is that this power remains largely in the potential category because women have not used it strategically to mass their voices.  Power unused is power useless. This is the name of a chapter in the book I’m writing now and I am sad to say I have all too many examples.

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2. Reproductive health advanced despite George W. Bush. A few of my personal fave highlights:

a) Mifepristone, the early abortion pill, was approved by the FDA in 2000 just before Bush was sworn in. This was an important political victory as well as giving women an option for very early pregnancy termination without surgery. Ostensibly Mifepristone would make abortion access more widespread, and it probably has but it definitely has not been the panacea some people assumed it would be. For the most part, it is only administered by doctors who were already performing abortions because its medical protocol requires that surgical abortion be available as a backup in case of an incomplete abortion via Mifepristone. Of course, anti-choice harassment and intimidation of doctors has also played a part in limiting access.

b) Plan B emergency contraception was FDA approved for over-the-counter use for women 18 and over in 2006. Increasing public knowledge about EC and easier access to it have been instrumental in lowering the rate of unintended pregnancy and abortion. Restrictions on over-the-counter EC for teens 17 and under are unnecessary, according to medical experts including the FDA’s own scientific advisory committees.

c) there have been a number of additions to the variety of birth control methods available to women and tweaks to older methods aimed at making them more palatable or effective.

d) Following on initiatives started in 1998 to get insurance plans to cover contraception, during the early “oughties”, the number of states requiring such coverage rose to 27. With that, plus the requirement that Federal employees’ insurance plans cover contraception starting in 1998 and several successful lawsuits challenging exceptions to contraceptive coverage within large self-insured company plans, contraceptive coverage went from rare to routine.

OK, your turn. Let’s talk about what you think the advances have been.


  1. Gloria Feldt on January 4, 2010 at 1:27 pm

    Facebook comments:

    Sue Katz
    Hate to be a bummer, but I think I’ll await your call for steps backward before I add my 2 cents worth. I feel like the past decade has been a disaster for women, not the least the economic mess which has been a fundamental redistribution of wealth – and not generally in our direction.

    John S Martinson
    I call it the uhoh’s…

    Pat Elliott
    Advance? Hardly.

    John S Martinson
    slowly but surely. In our company, for example, Ms. Rommie Flammer became President 4 years ago and is doing an extraordinary job. She overseas an older man who is V.P. of Sales and a warehouse manager who both see her leadership as exemplary. In our industry, she is held in high regard by our distributors, bankers, customers and competitors who … See Moreare primarily male. My sister is President of a mutual fund company and is also highly regarded by peers as are many women with whom I grew up. Progress is a lot of singles, not a lot of home runs. I think President Obama’s signing of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act is an example of legislative progress. One needs, though, to see cultural trends such as increased respect for women’s leadership, not individual women, as progress. As Gen X moves into industry and government, this progress will be more evident.

  2. G Marino on January 4, 2010 at 1:27 pm

    Well, women are doing better in terms of the unemployment rate anway. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in October 2009 the unemployment rate for males over 16 years old in the US is at 11.4 %. For women, unemployment in the same age range is 8.8%, for a 2.6 percent difference in favor of women. But that is probably offset by the fact that women are often paid less than men.

  3. Gloria Feldt on January 5, 2010 at 1:28 pm

    G, thanks for that data.
    It does seem to be true that the good news for women is offset by the fact that they are paid less therefore are less likely to lose their jobs. And also more women are entering the workforce because they have to add to the family income.

  4. Gloria Feldt on January 5, 2010 at 1:29 pm

    Check out this post on RHRealitycheck via the International Women’s Health Coalition for the “Top 10 Wins for Women” globally in the last decade:

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