How Women’s Inequality Powered My Career

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How Women’s Inequality Powered My Career

If there were no “women’s issues” to write about, I’d have had to take up knitting

By Lesley Jane Seymour

My parents divorced when I was 12.

That’s when the family split into two different socioeconomic classes: My father’s side became upper middle class — jetting off to Europe to ski, buying upscale cars — and my mother, my sister, and I barely scraped by on her skimpy alimony. My mother, who was just 40 at the time, spiraled downward because she had no financial support and felt like she was too old to control her fate or find another guy. Though she worked on and off as a teacher and social worker, she never had a serious career. As a result, she never made any real money or created enough security for any of us.

Like Scarlett O’Hara, I vowed that my mother’s fate would not be mine. I set my sights on becoming a career girl — just like Peggy in Mad Men. I wouldn’t rely on anyone for my financial fate or security.

Though I started my career in newspapers, after a few years, I found my way into women’s magazines. I always believed that I’d backed into that profession “by accident.” But I was damn good at it. After 40 (yes, 40!) years of writing about women’s issues, of championing women’s causes, of trying to inspire women to take charge of their lives and live them as they saw fit (and not as the world wanted), it became clear that I didn’t just “fall into” writing about women.

It had been my calling since that fateful day in 1969 when I realized that women were not safe just relying on men. I’ve always been on a deep and sincere mission to make sure women have the same opportunities, the same resources, the same respect, and courage as the <cough> smaller half of the human race.

It was only practical.

It was common sense.

And so, it was with some pride that I jetted to New York last week to pick up The SeeHer award from the Association of National Advertisers (ANA). (America Ferrera won one at the Critics Choice Awards for her amazing speech about women in the Barbie film.)

The event highlighted three “real women” fighters for gender equality, one of which was me. I was deeply honored to be included with Diana Flores, captain and quarterback of Mexico’s World Champion National Flag Football team, and Geena Rocero, an award-winning producer, author, and transgender rights activist. 

One of the last questions we were asked was, “Why is gender equality important to you?”

I told the story of my mother, but I added a few more details that all of us women need to know:

• Women currently comprise more than half (50.49%) of the population.Yet, as of 2022, according to Pew Research, we still only make 82 cents for every male dollar. The pay gap is worse for women of color, with Black women earning just 70 cents on every white male dollar, and Hispanic women making even less at 65 cents.

• Women take care of children for more years than men and are more likely than their brothers to handle elder care.

• We live longer: as of November 2023, men clock in at 73.2 years while women hit 79.1.

And in the last two years, we’ve been seeing a portion of the American populace try to push women further backward into economic instability by taking away control of our reproductive rights — which allows us to plan a family so it can be financially stable.  

Does any of this make sense?

So it was during that discussion when it occurred to me that gender INEQUITY was actually what drove and funded my career. If women had not been struggling with these issues and a false minority status (remember, it’s not like we’re 10% of the population), I would have had to content myself with running magazines about food or pets. (Alas, I love food, and pets, but those topics are not so urgent.)

And here’s the tell: While there is a whole genre of reporting on “women’s issues,” there is no comparable reporting on “men’s issues.” Maybe I would have ended up as a hard-hitting investigative reporter in some male-dominated area like finance or construction.

So, I have to thank gender inequality for teaching me how to fight for women’s rights for the past 40 years.

Though, to tell you the truth, I would gladly give it all up in a heartbeat for the kind of equality that makes my mother’s story part of ancient history.

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