By: Mira F
Girls who drop out, especially teen mothers, may never overcome discrimination. This situation is particularly unfair to females of color, who must deal with dual pressures of sex/gender and race. They are marginalized on two fronts, the one that favors whites and the one that favors males. Females lose out financially because jobs typical for low-income or poorly-educated women do not pay nearly as much as men’s low-income or low-education jobs. You may have noticed that construction workers are almost always all males, and that nannies are almost always female. Though this is just one example, if you start to notice the pattern you will see that the construction workers are paid far more and have greater benefits than the nannies. This is sometimes excused by the sexist and outdated assertion that men are paid more because “they have families to care for.” But women have families to care for too, and millions are single parents, what about that? Women are locked out, pulled in opposite directions, to either stand up to stereotyping or to play the game. Whichever they choose is going to be a very hard road to walk.
A key recommendation by the National Women’s Law Center encourages girls to pursue careers in fields non-typical for women because “male” jobs pay better, and generally have better benefits (maybe part of the good ole head-of-household myth). But here’s a critical question: Is this really the only solution? This approach reinforces the stereotype that to be successful, you have to be like a man. What we also need to do is pressure our communities to value traditionally-women’s jobs more, so that critical work in child care as well as hospital and home health care, among other areas, are not disregarded as unimportant, and punished for a lack of prestige or maleness with very low wages and poor benefits.
Our schools are not willing to accept the reality they are creating for so many Americans, and the fate they consign our students to by continuing to pretend their support is sufficient. It is not sufficient. More must be done. We are losing too many minds, too many hearts to the static lives of the under-educated, under-paid and ignored. Education is a long-term solution to unemployment rates and cruel job markets. It can empower the disenfranchised and disadvantaged and transform society.
We need to start expecting our schools to support us, and holding them accountable when they fail us. We need to have a greater voice in our education system, in the decisions made on our behalf, and we need to demand this, because students have traditionally had very little say in their school systems. We’ve got to protect the resources we have, because they are vanishing these days. That means telling our lawmakers that education is important to us, and that the best way to recover as a nation is not to create jobs temporarily or exclusively for adults, but to invest in long-term solutions: making our high schools better places for all people, not just for the students most likely to succeed, and investing in community and state colleges and universities so that females have a path to enrich their lives and the lives of their community through higher education. In the words of Chilean author Isabel Allende, “Empowering them will change everything — more than technology and design and entertainment. I can promise you that women working together–linked, informed and educated–can bring peace and prosperity to this forsaken planet.”