The overturning of Roe v. Wade has heightened awareness of some of the broader issues the feminist movement and other allies for women’s rights have long championed, particularly advancing gender equality and economic well-being in societies around the globe.
Stanford scholars have studied some of the difficulties of reaching those goals and the many obstacles women face, whether it is at work, in the classroom and education, or as leaders. They have examined how gendered biases are perpetuated, why gender diversity and inclusion are imperative, and what can lead to prejudiced attitudes, assumptions, and adversities ultimately changing.
From the fields of business, social sciences, the humanities, law, education, health, and medicine, here are what Stanford researchers have to say about the evolution of women’s rights and the obstacles to advancing gender equity.
Impacts of overturning Roe v. Wade, and the U.S. Supreme Court
The decision by the U.S Supreme Court to overrule Roe v. Wade in the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health case will carry many wide-reaching and serious consequences for women, say Stanford professors. By ending the constitutional right to abortion, a protection women have had for nearly 50 years, it will now be up to states to decide what reproductive choices are available for women – regardless of the circumstance.
“No matter the reason a woman seeks to terminate a pregnancy – including because her health is jeopardized, because she was raped, because the fetus has a condition making death likely shortly after birth – a majority of state legislators may usurp that deeply personal decision,” said Stanford law Professor Jane S. Schacter in the wake of the decision.
Here, Stanford professors shed light on the ramifications the reversal will have, as well as research on the divergence between the justices’ positioning versus public opinion, which the Roe v. Wade overruling highlighted.
The pandemic’s effect on women
While the overturning of Roe v. Wade has sent shockwaves across the country, the global pandemic continues to be problematic, particularly among women and people of color. According to Stanford sociologist Shelley Correll, the pandemic alone may set gender equality back a generation as women take on an unfair burden of job losses and child care.
“Feelings of burnout have increased over the last year for both men and women, but more so for women,” Correll said, noting how mental health challenges and the lack of reliable child care continue to be problematic. “My big concern, in terms of gender equality, is that this high level of burnout is going to either drive women out of the paid workforce entirely or cause them to dial back their careers to something that is more manageable.”
Over the coming months, it will be increasingly clear what the ramifications of both the end of Roe v. Wade and the pandemic will have. But what is already apparent is the urgent need to ensure access to health care, child care, and education, Stanford scholars say. Here is some of that research.
Feminism and overcoming gender discrimination across history
For feminists, choice over reproductive health symbolized the human right to self-determination, said Estelle Freedman in her seminal book, No Turning Back: The History of Feminism and the Future of Work (Ballantine Books, 2003).
As Freedman explains, “Feminists have increasingly insisted that women’s health and children’s welfare must be central to international reproductive policies. In this way, reproductive choice can help alleviate economic injustice as well as extend human rights to women.”
Freedman, along with other Stanford scholars, has studied the evolution of feminist movements and women’s rights across history and the fight for economic justice and human rights in America and across the globe. Some have also examined these movements’ flaws, including historically overlooking people of color and people with a disability. Here are some of their findings.
Roadblocks in the workplace
In 2020, women earned 83 cents to every dollar men earned, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau. While the wage gap has narrowed over time, it still persists. Is it because of discrimination? Occupational differences? Workforce participation?
Scholars at the Stanford Graduate School of Business have tried to answer questions like these, including Stanford labor economist and Professor Emerita Myra Strober, who has dedicated her career to examining sexism across society, including the workplace.
“The American way, if you will, is to reward people who are valuable by paying them more. What’s not fair is rewarding them because you think they’re going to be more valuable before the game even starts. Managers should take people in entry-level positions and try to groom them all to see who turn out to be best,” Strober said in a 2016 interview. Strober suggests companies ought to examine salary disparities, offer paid parental leave and subsidize or offer childcare, and encourage workplace flexibility as ways to diversify and equalize the workplace.
Here is that interview, along with other research from scholars affiliated with the GSB who have examined gender differences and biases in the workplace and in leadership.
Making research, education more inclusive
In academic research, particularly the sciences, a gendered perspective has historically been overlooked, says Stanford historian Londa Schiebinger.
Such an oversight has come at a cost: For example, in clinical drug trials, women have been excluded on the grounds of reproductive safety – meaning that when drugs hit market, doses may not be suited for female bodies.
“Integrating sex and gender as variables in research, where relevant, enhances excellence in science and engineering,” said Schiebinger, who is the John L. Hinds Professor in the History of Science in Stanford’s School of Humanities and Sciences. “The operative question is how can we harness the creative power of sex and gender analysis for discovery and innovation? Does considering gender add a valuable dimension to research? Does it take research in new directions?”
Schiebinger has spent her career finding creative ways to make science more inclusive. Here is some of that work, and work by others – including research showing the barriers women have faced as students in K-12 and at the PhD level.