An open access publication of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences

One hundred years ago, the United States ratified the Nineteenth Amendment, granting women the right to vote. The publication of the Winter 2020 issue of DædalusWomen & Equality,” guest edited by Nannerl O. Keohane (Academy Member; Princeton University; Stanford University) and Frances McCall Rosenbluth (Academy Member; Yale University), at the centennial is a celebration of this victory for women’s rights. Yet while the inclusion of women in the electorate was a momentous occasion, it notably left behind most Black women, and while women have made incredible strides toward equality since, there is still a long way to go. This collection of essays, which is only the third to explore this topic in Dædalus’s sixty-five-year history, therefore is not only a celebration of the accomplishments of women around the world toward equality, it is also an invitation to further reflection and a call to action, assessing remaining obstacles and pointing a way toward workable solutions.

This issue of Dædalus is published open access with generous support from Mathea Falco.

Women & the Vote

There are four contexts in which women have won voting rights: as part of a universal reform for all citizens (15 percent of countries that granted women suffrage); imposed by a conqueror or colonial metropole (28 percent); gradually, after some men had been enfranchised (44 percent); or a hybrid category, often in the wake of re-democratization (14 percent). This essay outlines the global patterns of these reforms and argues that in a plurality of cases, where women’s suffrage was gradual, enfranchisement depended on an electoral logic. Politicians subject to competition who believed women would, on average, support their party, supported reform. The suffrage movement provided information, and a potential mobilization apparatus, for politicians to draw on after the vote was extended. Together, both activism and electoral incentives were imperative for reform, providing impor­tant lessons for feminist mobilization today.

Women’s Underrepresentation in the U.S. Congress

Women’s elective office-holding stands at an all-time high in the United States. Yet women are far from parity. This underrepresentation is surprising given that more women than men vote. Gender–as a feature of both society and politics–has always worked alongside race to determine which groups possess the formal and informal resources and opportunities critical for winning elective office. But how gender connects to office-holding is not fixed; instead, women’s access to office has been shaped by changes in law, policy, and social roles, as well as the activities and strategies of social movement actors, political parties, and organizations. In the contemporary period, data from the Center for American Women and Politics reveal that while women are a growing share of Democratic officeholders, they are a declining share of Republican officeholders. Thus, in an era of heightened partisan polarization, women’s situation as candidates increasingly depends on party.

Another Progressive’s Dilemma: Immigration, the Radical Right & Threats to Gender Equality

Immigration and the diversity it brings have led to the emergence of the “progressive’s dilemma” whereby open societies that take in immigrant outsiders may find it difficult to maintain the solidarity required to sustain the welfare state. In this essay, I address another progressive’s dilemma: Focusing on the case of Western Europe, I argue that when open borders give rise to radical-right parties, immigration can inadvertently also endanger progressive achievements in gender equality. Though xenophobic policies frequently constitute their core message and the primary source of their appeal, radical-right parties are also defenders of traditional family values and outspoken critics of measures that promote the economic and political advancement of women. Moreover, the composition of these parties, both in terms of voters and politicians, is disproportionately male. As a result, when radical-right, anti-immigrant parties enter national parliaments, the descriptive and substantive representation of women suffers, sometimes reversing long-held gains in gender equality.

Donald Trump’s Gift to Feminism: The Resistance

Donald Trump’s surprise win in 2016 galvanized once-politically quiescent women and jolted those who had believed second-wave feminist victories were enduring. This “resistance” drew on two potent forces: the passion of the newly awakened, primarily grassroots participants; and the organizing experience of professionals and institutions determined to channel that passion into sustainable electoral and policy gains. The movement expanded beyond the political to encompass the social and cultural spheres and gave women of color a place in the spotlight. As women ran for national, state, and local office in record numbers, the #MeToo movement toppled men who once harassed with impunity. Record numbers of women won in the 2018 midterms, retaking the U.S. House of Representatives for the Democrats, and six women declared their candidacy for president in 2020. But it remains unclear whether these gains will be lasting and overcome remaining ambivalence about women and power.

Author Susan Chira

The Dilemma of Gender Equality: How Labor Market Regulation Divides Women by Class

Women shoulder a heavier burden of family work than men in modern society, preventing them from matching male success in the external labor market. Limiting working hours is a plausible way to level the playing field by creating the possibility of less gendered roles for both sexes. But why then are heavily regulated European labor markets associated with a smaller share of women in top management positions compared with liberal market economies such as in the United States? We explain this puzzle with reference to the difficulty of ambitious women to signal their commitment to high-powered careers in regulated markets.

What’s Policy Got to Do with It? Race, Gender & Economic Inequality in the United States

In the United States, economic inequality is both racialized and gendered, with Black and Latina women consistently at the bottom of the economic hierarchy. Relative to men (across racial groups) and White women, Black and Latina women often have less-desirable jobs, lower earnings, and higher poverty rates. In this essay, we draw attention to the role of the state in structuring such inequality. Specifically, we examine how public policy is related to racial inequities in economic positions among women. Applying an intersectional lens to the contemporary landscape of economic inequality, we probe the associations between public policies and economic outcomes. We find that policies have unequal consequences across subgroups of women, providing prima facie evidence that state-level decisions about how and where to invest resources have differential implications based on women’s race and ethnicity. We encourage scholars to use aspects of our approach as springboards for better specifying and identifying the processes that account for heterogeneous policy effects across racial subgroups of women.

Kinship Structure & Women: Evidence from Economics

Economists are increasingly interested in understanding how culture shapes outcomes for women and the origins of these cultural practices. I review recent work in economics on how culture affects the well-being of women in developing countries, much of which is motivated by work in anthropology. I present evidence on the role of kinship structure, particularly matrilineal relative to patrilineal systems, for shaping women’s preferences, exposure to domestic violence, and the health and education of children. Additionally, I discuss research on the effects of cultural practices, such as bride-price, and how the organization of production affects gender norms. Economists, with a careful focus on causal identification, contribute to the evidence that culture is an important determinant of outcomes for women.

Author Sara Lowes

Gender Lens to the Future of Work

Acquiring new skills will be foundational to surviving in and leading in the workplace of the future. Organizations must make concerted efforts in upskilling women to maintain high levels of productivity and growth. This acquisition of new skills will help women make the transition into new jobs that will be necessary due to automation and today’s workplace realities. Without it, the workplace could become even more unbalanced than it is today. Further, today’s gaps need to be filled in a holistic manner to ensure that not only are tomorrow’s technologies created by a diverse group of people, but also that they are implemented in a human-centered manner that aligns with the original intention. The private sector has a vital role to play in preparing the workforce that it will need and should prototype holistic solutions to help respond to this critical need.

Fighting Violence Against Women: Laws, Norms & Challenges Ahead

In the 1990s and 2000s, pressure from feminist movements and allies succeeded in pushing scores of states to reform their laws to prevent and punish violence against women (VAW). Even in states with progressive legislation, however, activists face challenges to induce citizens to comply with the law, compel state authorities to enforce the law, and ensure the adequate allocation of resources for social support services. In this essay, we take stock of legislative developments related to VAW around the world, with a focus on the variation in approaches toward intimate partner violence and sexual harassment. We analyze efforts to align behavior with progressive legislation, and end with a discussion of the balance activists must strike between fighting VAW aggressively with the carceral and social support dimensions of state power, while exercising some restraint to avoid the potentially counterproductive effects of state action.

The New Competition in Multilateral Norm-Setting: Transnational Feminists & the Illiberal Backlash

Global norm-setting to advance women’s rights has historically been a fertile area for feminist activism. These efforts in multilateral institutions have also, however, attracted a transnationally coordinated backlash. Initially spearheaded by the Vatican, the right-wing backlash has consolidated into a curious coalition that now includes authoritarian and right-wing populist regimes and bridges significant differences of religious belief, regime type, and ideology. Hostility to feminism has proven to be a valuable point of connection between interests that otherwise have little in common. Some tensions between feminist groups have been exploited by right-wing interests, in particular over sex workers’ rights and the use of technology to alter the interpretation and experience of sexuality, reproduction, and gender (transgender issues, surrogacy, sex-selective abortion, and sexuality and disability). This essay reviews a recent instance of right-wing coordination, seen in the nearly successful effort to derail the 2019 meeting of the UN Commission on the Status of Women. It examines the strategic responses of transnational feminist movements to this backlash in multilateral institutions, including their exploration of new transnational policy issues and experimentation with hybrid transnational spaces.

Sexual Harassment of Women Leaders

Sexual harassment is more prevalent for women supervisors than for women employees. This pattern holds in the three countries we studied–the United States, Japan, and Sweden–where women supervisors are between 30 to 100 percent more likely to have been sexually harassed in the last twelve months. Among supervisors, the risk is larger in lower- and mid-level positions of leadership and when subordinates are mostly male. We also find that harassment of women supervisors happens despite their greater likelihood of taking action against the abuser, and that supervisors face more professional and social retaliation after their harassment experience. We conclude that sexual harassment is a workplace hazard that raises the costs for women to pursue leadership ambitions and, in turn, reinforces gender gaps in income, status, and voice.

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Cooperation & Conflict in the Patriarchal Labyrinth

This essay offers a new way of visualizing structures of collective power based on gender, emphasizing the role of social institutions in shaping women’s ability to bargain over the distribution of the gains from cooperation with men. It makes the case for an interdisciplinary conceptualization of bargaining power that emphasizes the role of imperfect information and inefficient outcomes, and explains important parallels between structures of collective power based on gender, age, and sexuality, and those based on other dimensions of socially assigned group membership such as race, ethnicity, citizenship, and class. Recognition of the importance of reproductive work helps advance the project of developing intersectional political economy.


The distinction between formal and substantive equality is theorized then illustrated by sexual harassment law in the United States and in international legal developments. The convergence of sexual harassment concepts with prostitution, hence of sex discrimination law with the Nordic/Equality Model, is explained and explored.

Good Fellows: Men’s Role & Reason in the Fight for Gender Equality

This essay attempts to make the case for including–even embracing–men in the fight for gender equality. I do not mean to argue that men should supplant women in this struggle, or that enlisting men implies dismissing or diminishing women. My aim instead is to make this fight less isolated and more practical, and to attack the so-called women’s problem with a broader, blunter tool. If men believe in equality, then expanding that belief to explicitly include women is not a leap of logic or act of charity. It is instead a basic extension of a truth already deemed self-evident, and a channel through which men can begin to redefine their own identities and interests. Men have been an obstacle to women’s equality for a very long time. Perhaps the moment has come to make them part of the solution as well.

Women, Power & Leadership

Many more women provide visible leadership today than ever before. Opening up higher education for women and winning the battle for suffrage brought new opportunities, along with widespread availability of labor-saving devices and the discovery and legalization of reliable, safe methods of birth control. Despite these developments, women ambitious for leadership still face formidable obstacles: primary if not sole responsibility for childcare and homemaking; the lack of family-friendly policies in most workplaces; gender stereotypes perpetuated in popular culture; and in some parts of the world, laws and practices that deny women education or opportunities outside the home. Some observers believe that only a few women want to hold significant, demanding leadership posts; but there is ample evidence on the other side of this debate, some of it documented in this volume. Historic tensions between feminism and power remain to be resolved by creative theorizing and shrewd, strategic activism. We cannot know whether women are “naturally” interested in top leadership posts until they can attain such positions without making personal and family sacrifices radically disproportionate to those faced by men.