The ascent of women in American society is among the past half century's most significant developments, with implications that reach beyond US borders.
The statistics themselves are stunning. From veterinary medicine to industrial engineering to the clergy, women are starting to claim an ever-larger share of professions that were once male bastions (see story, page 1). Just as significant, women are dominating college enrollments, filling 56 percent of current undergraduate slots in US colleges and universities (see recent Monitor series, "The gender equation," May 22 and 29).
If, for example, women now fill 37 percent of the top jobs in public administration, what will the picture be a decade or more down the line, as today's outstanding high school and college students, largely female, move even more quickly into such fields?
What will be the impact on society as more posts of power and influence are filled by women?
There may be a distinct perspective that women bring to key professions such as law, medicine, and business. But the biggest gain from the advance of women is simply the fuller realization of individual human potential as gender barriers fall.
Challenges come in the wake of progress. Many colleges in the US are worried about declining numbers of male students. Certainly, efforts to encourage young intellects need to focus on both genders. And there's the perennial question of professional ambitions versus family.
Also, progress can be very slow in some arenas. Take politics. Women hold few leadership posts in Congress.
But, overall, the changes in America are adding to a move toward greater opportunity for women in many countries.
(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor