Cosmopolitan Magazine
‘On My Mind’

Why Women’s Groups Are Bad News
They may seem to offer a hand up, but they're only holding us back,
says Kim Serafin

When President George W Bush decided to shut down the five-year-old White House Office for Women's Initiatives and Outreach, several women's groups became incensed, saying that it showed the President's disregard for females. But it didn't bother me at all. On the contrary, I saw it as a sign of progress and an indication that the President takes women very seriously. For me, the fact that Bush appointed women like Condoleeza Rice and Karen Hughes to influential positions in the White House was more inspiring than anything that the now-defunct office could ever accomplish. You see, I believe that women need to stop thinking of themselves as a special-interest group and should start thinking of themselves as individuals who are capable of limitless success.

When the women's movement first began with the suffragettes in the 19th century, women weren't looking for special treatment-they just wanted equal opportunity. Throughout the 1960s, the objective continued to be to level the playing field to that of our male counterparts. My mother was one of the first women to graduate from her pharmaceutical college and was the first female pharmacist at the drugstore where she worked. Millions of women like her were able to make strides in a world previously dominated by men. It was their struggle that empowered them - the knowledge that they achieved greatness on their own merit, not because they received extra help.

And their efforts paid off: According to a recent survey, 59.8 million women in the United States aged 16 years and older hold jobs and make up more than 47 percent of our labor force. Of the nearly 65 million jobs that were added between 1964 and 1997, 40 million were filled by women; women who have been making huge inroads in such diverse positions as dentists, bus drivers, and industrial engineers. There are women on the United States Supreme Court and in both Houses of Congress. Women have the right to fly combat planes, we have our own professional basketball league, and we outsmart men on Survivor.

And this trend is likely to continue. Since 1986, women have been surpassing men in college enrollment. By the year 2007, it is estimated that there will be 9.2 million women enrolled in college compared to only 6.9 million men. Not only are we no longer the minority, but in some areas, we area whopping majority. So why do some people think that we still need to be singled out? Does anyone even know when Women's History Month or Women's Equality Day is anyway? I think that these markers are largely symbolic and no longer serve much purpose. In a time when women outnumber men in 27 percent of all occupations, including accountants, editors and reporters, and social scientists, doesn't Take Our Daughters to Work Day seem slightly gratuitous?

And yet many women continue to act as if we need and deserve special treatment. I believe for several reasons that this expectation will only set us back. First, some women may become complacent because they think that a program will take care of them instead of learning to rely on themselves. Second, by crying wolf (i.e., demanding help we don't necessarily need), we risk irritating men and inciting a backlash. And last, when we allow ourselves to be separated from the crowd, we fall right into the stereotype of the downtrodden victim that many women have worked so hard to shed.

Some women's groups are very worthwhile, like those for victims of rape and sexual harassment, organizations like Planned Parenthood, which teach women about the importance of birth control and disease prevention, and associations that raise money and awareness for breast- and cervical-cancer research. These groups help women who are dealing with specific and traumatic occurrences in their lives but just being born a woman does not qualify as a traumatic event.

Do we still have more to accomplish? Of course. We have yet to see a female President or Vice President, and it's still considered news when a woman becomes a CEO of a company or a commander in the military. But at what point do we stop considering ourselves a minority? When we've elected a female President? When we've elected three? When there are equal numbers of women and men in the Senate? In every company? The goal should not be counting women in different industries; it should be that we stop counting.