In response to Connecticut’s budget crisis earlier this year, Governor M. Jodi Rell suggested cutting a number of social services to close the projected $6 billion gap. One of them was the Permanent Commission on the Status of Women (PCSW), a group established by the Connecticut state legislature in 1973 to eliminate sex discrimination in Connecticut. The PCSW’s Executive Director, Teresa Younger, decried such a proposal, stating that, “Eliminating groups like [PCSW] only silences the voices that most need to be heard and allows government to be even less accountable than it is now.”
The state’s final budget eventually salvaged Connecticut’s PCSW, but cut its budget a staggering 55 percent. As a result, the PCSW has reduced its staff from nine to six, and has less money to work with than at any time in the last decade. Nonetheless, the organization, in own words, remains “to study all matters concerning women, and we have no intention of diminishing our commitment to women’s economic security, health and safety, and the elimination of gender discrimination wherever it exists.”
While the state was ultimately able to retain the PCSW, the state’s critical look at state expenditures and social programs made me wonder if, in this day and age, a Permanent Commission on the Status of Women was really necessary. Do women still need specific advocates for their place in the labor force and at home?
As Yale celebrates its 40th year of coeducation, it is fitting to ask questions about the female experience at college and beyond. Numerous groups on campus have reported on what life was like for those brave transfer students in the fall of 1969, and how life is different now for the women who now make up more-than half of Yale College’s population. But while many have reported progress, it is clear there are still things to be done need to do to achieve complete gender parity.
For me, the best avenue to achieving this equality is creating communities of women that support and empower one another. While it may be trite to group them under the umbrella of an “Old Girls Network,” the group mentality such a term describes is certainly something that is missing — both at Yale and in the larger world.
Hilary Pennington ’77 SOM ’83 argued for this support structure in her 2004 speech at the Association of Yale Alumni’s 2004 conference, “In the Company of Scholars: Yale Women In A Changing World.” She explained the need to make women’s empowerment and success a collective rather than individual struggle or “a common cause that sees the challenges and the struggles and the opportunities that we have as ones that are about women as a class, and ones that are going to require changes in the society, and not just in our individual lives.”
Women have made enormous strides in breaking into traditionally male professions since 1969, and increasingly identify themselves in terms of their work, rather than simply their personal lives. These changes represent enormous success. But if women are going hold more than 20 percent of senior management positions at top companies or 16 percent of seats in Congress, we still must work to create an environment where women support and applaud one another’s ambitions.
Ambition, though, is a volatile word. Openly ambitious women both on campus and in the public eye often are castigated for wanting to be leaders and get ahead (Martha Stewart, anyone?). According to a recent report in Time Magazine, more than two-thirds of women think that men resent women in powerful positions (“What women want now – the state of the American woman,” Oct. 14). How do we prevent such resentment from being a factor in women’s career — or, perhaps more appropriately at Yale, academic and extracurricular — choices?
We do so by encouraging these female communities, whether informally within college suites or more formally through mentorship groups within organizations or majors. We continue to questions the status quo of women’s place within the workforce, within community groups and at home. We need still organizations — the Permanent Commission on the Status of Women among them — to continue advocating for all women seeking the same economic and social security as men.
Natalie Kotkin is a junior in Trumbull College and the Co-Chair of Conference for the Women’s Leadership Initiative at Yale.