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Cook: Seriously, women have made progress

CHAPEL HILL ó If I had fallen asleep at my graduation from the University of North Carolina in 1977 and awakened last Sunday in the Dean Dome, I would have been confused.
First came the dance team of spritely young women in slim pants, sequined tops and bare midriffs, gyrating in a way not seen in public 34 years ago.
Wait, wait! Back in the í70s, werenít women supposed to be making progress toward equality ó toward being taken seriously?
But then, during a timeout in the menís basketball game, members of the womenís lacrosse team lined up on the gym floor to be cheered for ranking No. 3 in the nation.
OK. Weíre on the right track after all.
College life sure has changed for young women. In addition to cheerleaders, we now have dancers at games. And female athletes have more options and recognition for their skills than anyone dreamed of pre-Title IX.
To each her own.
Thatis progress, when you think about it. In the 1970s, the feminist movement encouraged us to worry less about being pretty and entertaining for men and more about being smart for ourselves ó so we could get good jobs, have careers, change the world. We were leaving behind the days of being called ěcoedsî and watching top scholarships like the Morehead go only to men.
So many more doors are open to young women today. The choices are endless, including the option of not working outside the home. But while progress toward better jobs and pay for women has continued ó in fact, the recession hit men harder ó our culture has hardly left femininity behind. Beauty and grace are still appreciated. So young women who want to dance on the sidelines are free to do so, if they can make the cut. You can be a serious student and wear sequins, too.

When it was nearly time for the menís basketball game to begin, the arena went dark and the spotlight illuminated the UNC players as they were introduced to thunderous applause.
I can see how athletes might be tempted to think they are more than mere mortals. They had me in awe, too.
Will female athletes ever get the same star treatment, draw the same level of fan support and generate the same kind of revenue?
Weíre not there. In revenue, weíre not even close. How many people get as psyched about a UNC-Duke womenís basketball match-up as about last nightís game between the menís teams? I donít. Is that sexism or merely tradition ó or are they one in the same?
Jean Kennedy of the Rowan-Salisbury Board of Education asked me last week when girlsí sports would get the same coverage as boysí sports in the Post.
I think our Sports department does well by our girlsí teams, but I understood where Kennedy was coming from.
Which comes first, the fans or the media coverage? The more fans a team has, the more attention it gets from the media, which then brings more fans and then more media attention. Thatís a fact of sports life.
Coincidentally, the day after Kennedy raised her question, the Salisbury High girls basketball team had the lead spot on the front of our Sports section after beating Bandys High to advance to last nightís regional final.

Aside from sports, how is equality working out? This is Womenís History Month, something I should pay more homage to. But Iím more concerned with our present and future. Slowly but surely, women have been chipping away at the glass ceiling.
The wage gap persists, with women making 77 cents for every dollar paid to men, according to a recent report from the National Economic Council.
Yet the report found that women are in a position to drive the 21st century economy in this country.
The majority of college graduates are women, and we make up 47 percent ó nearly half ó of the workforce. Women comprise 51.4 percent of all managers.
An increasing number of women are breadwinners for their families ó either the primary breadwinner or a co-breadwinner in nearly two-thirds of U.S. households led by single mothers or two parents.
Thereís some fear now that weíre going from a ěmancessionî to largely male recovery. Women make up 60 percent of government workers, and now that sector faces job cuts. Talk about equal opportunity.

My mother chose not to work. My father wanted her to stay home with the kids, and Iím pretty sure thatís what she wanted, too.
Determined to do things differently, I went to college with the intention of having a journalism career and stuck with the plan.
Batter up ó our three daughters, the people who taught me opposites can come in threes. Theyíre in their 20s, college degrees in hand. Who knows what choices they will make as they build careers and raise families? Iím glad they have that freedom. Itís not a guarantee of success, just of the ability to try. We take such freedom for granted now ó a sign of how far women have come.

Elizabeth Cook is editor of the Salisbury Post.

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