March 8, 2021
Kayla Brennan and Sarah Keeling, Ph.D., NACA Education & Research Team
In order to “broadcast women’s historical achievements,” a small group of women in California started the National Women’s History Project in 1980 (National Women’s History Alliance, 2019). Now called the National Women’s History Alliance, the group led efforts to establish a Women’s History Month every March and sets a theme for the month-long celebration each year. 2021’s theme, Valiant Women of the Vote: Refusing to Be Silenced, extends from the 2020 centennial celebration of women’s suffrage.
In the face of everything over the last year, women have truly embodied the word “valiance” as 2020 and 2021 continue to exacerbate the already wide financial and rights gaps between men and women, between white women and BIPOC women, and between cis women and trans women.
Prior to the pandemic, the U.S. was already tough for women in the workplace. In 2018, “nearly half of all working women – 46% or 28 million – worked in jobs paying low wages, with median earnings of only $10.93 per hour” (Bateman & Ross, 2020). Because of the structural racism that is built into our country, the share of workers earning low wages is higher among Black and Latina women than among white women (Bateman & Ross, 2020). Then, when COVID-19 hit, there was an exodus of women from the workforce. Compared to the 216,000 men that left the workforce between August and September of 2020, 865,000 women left in that same time period (Gershon, 2020). This loss can be contributed to factors such as lack of childcare, the fact that layoffs and furloughs were largely in industries with higher numbers of women like hospitality and education, and, in heterosexual couples, women earning less than their male partners. And BIPOC women have again been disproportionately affected, with Latina and Black women making up 324,000 (37.5%) and 58,000 (6.7%), respectively, of the 865,000 total (Gershon, 2020).
Transgender women’s rights continue to be attacked, as two dozen state legislatures will work this year to push through bills banning trans girls from participating and competing in girls’ sports teams at public high schools (Crary & Whitehurst, 2021). The invasive questioning and exams that would likely stem from the passing of such bans is yet another example of controlling and legislating women’s bodies.
But, despite all of this, women continue to show up, to persist. Women have traditionally turned out to vote in greater numbers than men since 1980, and women – especially Black and suburban women – are largely responsible for electing the first female Vice-President to office last year (Noveck, 2020). The 2020 election saw huge strides for women’s representation in government, including the first trans woman senator and more women and women of color in congress than ever before.
As the world discusses returning to “normal” following the pandemic, we argue that it’s time for a new normal. Where childcare costs don’t take someone’s entire paycheck; where folks don’t have to work multiple jobs to make ends meet; where women, regardless of race or identity, are paid equally for their work; and where women of all shapes, sizes, and color are celebrated and respected.
Bateman, N., & Ross, M. (2020, October).
Why has COVID-19 been especially harmful for working women?
Crary, D., & Whitehurst, L. (2021, March 4).
Lawmakers can't cite local examples of trans girls in sports.
Gershon, L. (2020, October 19).
COVID-19’s impact on working women is an unprecedented disaster.
National Women’s History Alliance. (2019).
Noveck, J. (2020, November 16).
Women crucial to Biden’s win, even as gender gap held steady.
Kayla Brennan serves as the Education & Research Manager for the National Association for Campus Activities. She has been with NACA for over five years, supporting the Association's educational, inclusion, and research initiatives. Kayla holds degrees in psychology and sociology from Clemson University.
Sarah Keeling, Ph.D. serves as director of Education & Research for the National Association for Campus Activities and has over 20 years of higher education experience. Her Ph.D. in higher education administration is from the University of South Carolina.