Tuesday, March 8, 2011

International Women's Day

Today is International Women’s Day.  This event has been celebrated every year since the early 20th century.  The themes of the event have changed with time, but the overall goal of the day is to celebrate the various achievements of women.

The U.N. recognizes that the role of women in society indicates various levels of development.  Specifically, in their International Human Development Index, they provide five specific gender related indicators:  maternal mortality, adolescent fertility rate, male/female labor force participation rate, male/female parliamentary seats, and secondary education of women.  When looking only at these indicators and giving them equal weights, one finds that the top ten countries are:  Sweden, Iceland, Finland, Norway, Netherlands, Denmark, Rwanda, Belgium, Germany and New Zealand.  The U.S. is ranked 45th.

When combining gender with a variety of other indictors, such as education, gross national product per capita, and life expectancy, one gets very different results.  Using this broader scale, the UN ranks the US as #4 (after Norway, Australia, and New Zealand).  Clearly, the gender rankings are not given a high weight using the UN system.  You can build your own index on their website.

My Grandmother
In my own family, four generations of women provide a glimpse into the changing world of gender in the United States.  My Grandmother, Felicia Josephine, was born in Poland and came to the U.S. early in the 20th Century.  She gave birth to a number of children and lived in Milwaukee, Wisconsin with her husband and children.  She did not work outside of the home, but instead focused her attention on her family.

My Mother
My mother, Evelyn, shown here on her wedding day, the same day in which the picture of my grandmother was taken, lived with my father and their 6 children (me included) in a small town outside of Milwaukee.  In many ways, they were amongst the first suburbanites who fled the city to live in a small town environment.  My father commuted into Milwaukee to work as an engineer for Allis Chalmers.  My mother worked for a short time after she graduated from high school, but she did not work after marriage and instead focused her attention on her home, her children, and her garden. 

My Sister Sharon
My Sister Patty
Her daughter, my sister Patty, like the rest of my siblings, went immediately to college after high school.  She was the first woman in my immediate family to go to college and she earned a degree in Library Science and education.  She was my Junior High English and French teacher!  Her picture here is one of her school pictures taken when she was a teacher in the 1970s.  She was a successful teacher at Fox River School until her retirement.

My sister Sharon also went directly to college. She and her husband had two children and she eventually earned a masters degree.  Like many families today, she has a higher level of education than her husband.  In this blog is her high school photo.  She has a successful career and is the first woman in my immediate family to earn a masters degree.

My Niece Adriane
My Niece Michelle with Mario and Me
Her daughters Michelle and Adriane have college degrees.  Michelle has two stepchildren and Adriane does not have any children at this point.  Both Michelle and Adriane have moved away from southeastern Wisconsin where their female ancestors lived for three generations.  They have led interesting lives (not that their ancestors didn't) and made choices different from their mother, grandmother, and great grandmother.

The decisions of women in my family mirror those of other women in our society within their generation.  As educational and career opportunities increase for women, they have fewer children.  In addition, women are much more mobile now and are not as closely tied to extended families.

I know that as the youngest of 6 children, I am delighted that I was born!  But, I wonder what my family would have been like if there were more opportunities for my mother and my grandmother?  They were both rather bright women who were rather interesting.  Did having so many children limit their opportunities?  I believe that they were quite content with their choices.  They were part of the broader culture of the early and mid 20th century.  But, what will the future hold for the next generation of women?

Happy International Women’s Day to the women in my family.

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