By Vicki Hyatt The Mountaineer, Waynesville, N.C.
Speaking to a packed house in the John W. Bardo Fine and Performing Arts Center on Thursday, activist and women's rights leader Gloria Steinem told the crowd the quest for equality is not over, but much progress had been made.
Steinem was on the Western Carolina University campus as part of a program examining the lessons and legacies of the 1960s.
"All issues of the 1960s now really have the majority support," Steinem said. "The racial and ethnic composition of our country is changing dramatically, and women, though not equal in the labor force, are half of it. There have been enough changes so the handwriting is on the wall, so to say."
"Is the battle over?" she asked. "No, not by a long shot."
The soft-spoken Steinem said she wanted to create a conversational atmosphere, which is how she said the ideas of the '60s all began -- with people sitting in a circle and exchanging ideas.
After the hour-long speech, primarily focusing on equal pay for equal work for all, domestic violence and the role of women in society through the years, Steinem spent about 45 minutes listening to concerns of audience members and addressing their questions.
When the women's movement began, women were earning 59 cents on the dollar for doing the same type of work as men, she told the crowd. Now the ratio is 77 cents on the dollar. Women with a bachelor's degree will earn one-third less than their male counterpart, ticking off several examples.
"Women will earn $1 to $2 million less in their lifetime," she said. "The same is true for people of color. Equal pay for equal work would be the best economic stimulus there is for this country and it would reduce the tax burden because the money used for safety net programs would go down."
She suggested a simple action, one that would require a simple tax code change, not legislation, to place an economic value on work done in the home, would revolutionize society.
If caregiver work were assigned a value and either made tax deductible or tax refundable, it would change family incomes so that a caregiver wouldn't be punished for staying at home caring for children or elderly family members. At present, the price of a year of childcare equals the tuition price of a year at college.
"Now, staying at home is not even seen as work, it is not rewarded or even respected," she said.
U.S. residents now have the most obsessed work pace in the world, outpacing even Japan.
The women's movement has much to offer men, Steinem said, including a chance to spend less time at work and more time with children, and even have a longer life, as studies have shown that once the economic and other stressors are taken away, men will live four to five years longer, on average, than they do now.
Those who oppose the women's quest for equality either ridicule it or say change is "against God, Freud or somebody," she said.
"It penalizes everyone when one half of the human race is seen as subordinate to the other half."
Steinem warned that society is about to change dramatically, which explains the political backlash being seen across the nation. How that will play out is anybody's guess.
"Yes, we have the majority, but where is it written that the majority wins?" she asked. "I don't know how it will turn out. It depends on what we do every day."