We live in strange times for women.
After 200 years, the decision has been made that it's time to permit women to have combat roles.
Yet more than 280,000 women have been deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, putting their lives on the line for their country. In more than 10 years of war, more than 150 women have been killed and more than 800 have been wounded.
"This is a formality. Women have been in combat for a long time. But now they will serve on an equal footing," says Rep. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., who lost both her legs in combat as a U.S. Army helicopter pilot in Iraq.
Lifting the ban on combat roles for women may be mainly symbolic at this point, but it will make it much easier for women to be promoted in the military and to earn better pay. About 200,000 jobs in the military that officially have been closed to women will become competitive for both genders.
Once men scoffed that women could meet the same physical requirements required of men in the military. No longer. Physically fit women volunteering for combat roles will meet the same standards men must meet.
Forty years after the Supreme Court made abortion a legal choice for women, we just went through an election in which the Republican presidential nominee wanted to nominate justices to the Supreme Court who would do away with the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion. Candidates for the Senate disparaged the "legitimacy" of some rapes or sarcastically told women they should just keep their knees braced together to avoid unwanted pregnancy.
Forty years after Roe v. Wade, more than 2,000 new state-level restrictions have been put on access to abortion, making it much more difficult for many women to find or afford access to terminating an unwanted pregnancy.
Some women have to drive hundreds of miles to find a clinic. Other women are told they have to wait a day or longer to make certain they won't change their minds. Many women have to walk through phalanxes of protesters shouting epithets trying to dissuade them from entering a clinic. States such as Virginia have tried to require such intrusive procedures as vaginal probes before permitting women to have a legal abortion.
Today, very few American families can get by financially without both parents working. Some single mothers work two jobs to make ends meet.
Yet women earn only 77 percent of what men earn. In jobs paying over $100,000 a year, when men and women do the exact same jobs, women earn 87 percent of what men earn.
After 200 years, we Americans may be at the point where polls show a distinct possibility that a woman could be elected president. Hillary Clinton leaves her post as secretary of State with a high job approval rating and the hope of many that she will run once again for president in 2016.
Despite the "year of the woman" in the 2012 elections, women make up only 20 percent of the Senate and less than that in the House. Dozens of other nations have more women in their top legislatures than the United States does.
And, when the first few nominations for President Barack Obama's second-term Cabinet were announced, there was an immediate outcry that none was a women. We haven't yet seen the full Cabinet, but the White House was quickly made aware that people are watching.
The move to equality in all aspects of human life, not just gender, is often slow, but it is relentless. Just as Americans are dropping their biases about gays, they are dropping their old stereotypes about what women can and cannot do.
Men and women are different. But the day when laws could be enacted discriminating against women solely because they are women is turning into twilight. Sadly, the dawn has not yet arrived.
(Scripps Howard columnist Ann McFeatters has covered the White House and national politics since 1986.)