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American Women Still Face Problems, Limitations

Much of the world sees American women as feminists who have cast aside traditional gender roles. There is also the image of tough-minded, high-powered business executives climbing the corporate ladder. While women in the United States certainly have many opportunities today in employment, education and other areas, they still face problems and limitations, and the "average" American woman hardly fits the usual stereotype.

Cool, elegant, no-nonsense, in command - that is how Condoleezza Rice is often described. She has the president's ear and some are even speculating she could run for the White House in the 2008 elections.

She's seen as a woman at the top, but hardly the norm. The world of the average American woman can be very different.

Meet Jessica - wife, mother and one of the breadwinners for her family.

Jessica wants only her first name used. She works full time at a large medical laboratory in Washington. Her husband is an auto mechanic. Their three children are 15, nine and one.

"I get up about quarter to five in the morning," she said. "I work 6:00 to 2:30 so I can pick my daughter up from school at 3:05. We come home. First thing, we do homework, get a snack. She can watch TV or play in her free time. Then, I get ready for dinner. Then we have to give the baby a bath, make sure my daughter gets a bath. I take a shower. We go to bed and do it again the next morning."

Even though Jessica and her husband take turns transporting the kids to and from school and day care, juggling careers and the family duties is the daily routine for many American women.

According to statistics from the U.S. Labor Department, some 60 percent of American women work and they hold half of all managerial and professional type jobs. Women outnumber men in college enrollment and they are continuing to close a long-standing gap in earnings with their male counterparts.

Sociology Professor Robert Jackson of New York University has written extensively on women's issues. He says improvements in women's legal status and opportunities have risen steadily from the late 19th Century onward. But more rapid advances took place in the 1960's.

"By the 1960s the gradual movement of women into the labor force, the gradual rise of women's education had reached a point where there were a large number of women from affluent backgrounds, well educated women, who were in the labor force, but who were unable to meet their aspirations and expectations," he said.

Professor Jackson says the frustration over such inequities led many of these women to become social and political activists and push for greater women's rights and opportunities.

While women have made great strides and enjoy greater opportunities than ever before, they still face hurdles and discrimination.

Melody Drnach of the National Organization for Women says too few American women have risen to the very top and too many remain stuck at the bottom.

"We still have a long way to go at the jobs at the higher end," she noted. "We also still have a long way to go if you look at the lowest paying jobs in our country and the fact that the majority of the people working in the lowest wage jobs is predominantly women."

A closer look at the Labor Department statistics reveals that while women hold half of all professional or managerial positions. These tend to be in certain, traditionally female, sectors - such as in personnel management, health care and education.

And there is still a gap in earnings between men and women to be fully overcome.

Melody Drnach says future improvements are dependant on greater commitment by employers and government to provide access and opportunities, including childcare for working mothers.

Professor Jackson believes that pressure from increasingly better educated and skilled women will eventually force future changes.