Women, Spirit & Money: Relationship Realities

Economic Equality for Women Strengthens Families, Addresses Pressing Social Issues

Dominant, traditional mythologies about sex and gender roles in relationships and families ceased to be true for women almost a century ago. Despite this fact, Western North Carolina women do not have economic equality if they choose the workplace over the kitchen.

Sherri L. McLendon

Sherri L. McLendon

Gender discrimination in matters of economics and the workplace are significantly at odds with the goal of crafting a professional presence reflective of our value and worth. This reality can take a toll on our self esteem and ability to fully answer our personal spiritual and vocational callings.

Anti-woman lobbyists will tell anyone who will listen that the birth control pill, introduced in 1960, and the increase of women in the workforce are responsible for the decline of society. Essentially, they would have us return collectively to the kitchen. The U.S. Supreme Court, with the notable exception of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, apparently agrees. Openly, Chief Justice Roberts has stated that gender discrimination is not illegal in this country, and Justice Alito agreed with his assessment, stating that the constitution does not prohibit sex discrimination.

All rights granted women, other than the express right to vote, are the provenance of each individual state. Historically, socially, and economically, women frequently continue to be seen as legal and social extensions of their fathers, husbands, and sons. For one, I no longer consent to this limiting role. In the country of my birth, all men and women should be treated equally as whole autonomous persons under the law.

A pressing need emerges to direct the attention of North Carolina legislators to the immediate improvement of women’s rights, and particularly women’s full participation in matters of economy and earning. Whether we like it or not, each woman must take a hard look at who it serves to openly legislate second-class status and the economic disenfranchisement of our gender, particularly during mid-career.

Arguably, women today are the economic drivers of the U.S. economy, constituting more than half the work force. Not ironically, we are also 52 percent of registered voters, making us a desirable “block” of skirts, I mean, votes, for political candidates to chase. Not ironically, when we consider that one in every three women in the nation lives in abject poverty, we have to wonder exactly who and what we’re voting for. Thirty-three percent of us rear our children in abject poverty, care for our aging parents in abject poverty, and then expect to retire in abject poverty. This poverty-ridden money story of many women’s lives is wished upon us by a series of predominantly white male legislative decision-makers who think they have the right to make our choices for us. Unfortunately, and for whatever reasons, up until now women in our state have consented to them having and holding that right.

In western North Carolina, like the state, 59% of women aged 16 or older are in the workforce or looking for work. In Asheville-Buncombe and Madison Counties, women earn 85 cents for every dollar earned by a man for the same work —a 15 percent deficit which over the course of a working life adds up to tens of thousands of dollars. Overall, 73 percent of women with dependent children work outside the home. One in four, or 25 percent, of the women in our area are also single heads of household, and 37 percent of our area’s children live in single parent households. In those households, 1 of every 3 parents lack secure employment. The 15 percent deficit costs women and their families way too much to be offset by the gain enjoyed by employers.

Gender-based wage inequity is arguably a significant factor in the lives of the 26 percent of the North Carolina children who live in poverty, and it’s getting worse. According to the “Kids Count Data Book,” the number of children living in poverty is up 5 percent from 2005. As we enter 2015, one in 30 North Carolina children is homeless.

Economic disenfranchisement under the law on the basis of gender is not a partisan issue, and it’s not a religious issue. A lot of good women of strong faith work hard their whole lives and deserve better than they’ve got. Frankly, we should be angry with shareholders using faith as a weapon to drive misinformation campaigns and anti-woman agendas. Gender discrimination is a civil and human rights issue with a real-life negative impact on women that is alarmingly measurable in matters of money.

As I write, the North Carolina General Assembly readies to go into session, during which the Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution is being submitted for ratification at the state level. I hope against hope it makes it to committee. Women voters must hold those state legislators accountable for passing and upholding bills into law which uphold equality and fair and living wages in the workplace. The ERA could ensure we have the leverage needed to be paid what we’ve earned.

My call to action, my appeal, directly to you, is to form is an active relationship with your elected officials. Pay attention to what he or she is doing in our names. As women and voters, we have the right to be heard and respected by our duly elected representatives. Thanks to our grandmothers’ efforts, our gender earned that right. But today, we are being called upon to find and use and raise our voices and share our experiences and demand our rights as full citizens. We must demonstrate that we are not a gender to be ignored or ridiculed on the basis of our biology or morality. We deserve the right to choose our own destinies. Our lack of equality economically and under the law is a severe oversight which must be corrected.

North Carolina’s approach to women’s rights is spurious at best and inflammatory at worst. Increasingly, I am aware that there is a connection between economic inequality, gender discrimination, and the numbers of women and children in our state and region who live with the reality of violence against their persons every single day. Violent crimes against women are not pursued with the strict scrutiny afforded violent crimes against men. Many women don’t have the resources or support to alter their circumstances as needed. The state can alter the legal circumstances which allow these inequities to occur.

Republican or Democrat, independent or indifferent, Baby Boomers or Millenials, as women each of us is subject to North Carolina’s codified legislative economic and legal discrimination on the basis of our gender. Therefore, women’s issues must find their way onto the state agenda, into committee, and onto the floor in the state house and senate. It’s time to put our elected officials on formal notice that legislative and economic equality for women in this state directly addresses pressing societal needs at the individual and family level, and we expect nothing less.

As women, we must cultivate our political awareness, then put our valuable insights and measured opinions in writing delivered by whatever means we choose to those closed doors inside the state capital, that those doors may open. Let us follow up with personal contact by phone, that our voices may be heard. These first steps are important ones each of us can take as often as monthly.

Isn’t it time we each own our value and worth as a full citizen deserving of economic freedom and personal self-determination? Please join women thought leaders at every level of society and government as we proceed in relationship toward the goal of full equality, strengthening the economic foundation of our families, and developing the resources and leverage needed to address the pressing social issues which derail our bright futures, and those of our children.

Sherri L. McLendon, M.A., is a recognized feminine business leader, marketing public relations practitioner and content strategist with Professional Moneta International, www.professionalmoneta.com. She is also 2015 president of the Asheville Chapter of the National Organization for Women.

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