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Women notch a win in battle for equality

Sargent Crystal Groves with a U.S. Marine Female

Sargent Crystal Groves with a U.S. Marine Female Engagement Team stands in formation during a ceremony for the 235th birthday of the Marines at Camp Delaram in Helmand province, Afghanistan. Credit: Getty Images, 2010

Who says going to war isn't women's work?

Probably the same person who said women don't belong in the executive suite and college is still a boys' club. Good luck selling those old fictions to a generation of ambitious women. It turns out a woman's place is in the House, the Senate AND the foxhole.

You want to know how swiftly gender stereotypes are collapsing? Don't focus only on Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and his big decision to end the military's ban on women in combat. That was certainly historic. But the Pentagon's a lagging indicator this time.

The new Senate has 20 women, the most in history. The House has 81, counting three nonvoting members, also a record. Glass ceilings keep being shattered in law, medicine and corporate life. Though far more men still hold partner, chairman and CEO titles, women are flooding the ranks right beneath them. And one expects the next battle cry to be: "Whoa! That's high enough!"

Progress like this always comes in fits and starts. Women's wages still trail men's, though some of that comes from choosing flextime mommy tracks. And in success, backsliding is always a possibility, as Barack Obama is learning now. He was widely praised for an integrated first-term cabinet until Hillary Rodham Clinton (State) and Hilda Solis (Labor) started packing their bags with no female replacements in sight.

But if education is the future -- and it is -- young women are romping there. The gender gap on campus has grown so wide, men will soon be demanding their own Title IX for the classroom.

In 1840, Catherine Brewer Benson became the first American woman to graduate from college. By 1982, more women than men were graduating from college. Today, women walk off with nearly 60 percent of oddly named bachelor's degrees, up from one-third in 1960. Increasingly they're also the ones earning the top grades and running the extracurricular groups.

In an ongoing war for women's equality, the combat zone was only the latest battlefield.


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