Interesting debate amongst women about whether there is progress or back-sliding on the status of women in the US. The timing of this article was particularly apt for me as I had given one of my female students some friendly teasing yesterday for referring to an adult women as a girl. I informed her that I was educated at Oberlin long ago that women are women and girls are girls, that she would not use boy to describe a man. Her comeback is that adult males are guys and that the parallel term to guy is girl. Um. Okay.
Of course, I just complained that people focused on the gender composition of Obama's basketball games were over-reacting. So, does any of this symbolic stuff matter a great deal?
As prospect theorists would argue, it really depends on your basis of comparison. In a conversation with my daughter about Mad Men, she was surprised to hear that date rape was not really a crime back in the early 1960's (I am skeptical of the view of divorce laws presented in the latest episode, but the legal status of women was atrocious until fairly recently). Similarly, the roles of girls and boys in schools have been significantly reversed, where there is now a "crisis" since boys are falling farther and farther behind.
In terms of political science, there has also been a sea change. When I started out, nearly all of the young women at the conferences were the book reps, not advanced grad students or junior profs. Not anymore. Indeed, my speaker series this fall accidentally became quite female-dominated, as I was choosing speakers based on who was doing interesting work, especially in International Security. Of course, there is still a lag, as there are far fewer women at the higher ranks, and the rumor blogs tend to blame affirmative action when women get interviews and get hired, rather than the quality of their work. Indeed, as the Salon piece indicates, the internet allows the worst form of sexist rants to proliferate.
So, is the glass half-full or half-empty? Again, it depends on the basis of comparison, but, at least in my profession, women are better off now they they were when I started in the early 1990s.
[update] See here for latest stats on women in the workplace.