Who will teach your children the meaning behind the facts?
– Tammy Drennan
And who will teach them the facts?
Recently I commented to a woman friend of my daughters’ generation that when I was a young professional woman in a male workplace (30-40 years ago), I usually found myself in meetings where I was the only woman. And I noticed that, often, when I made a comment or a suggestion, I was disregarded. Only when, later, a man repeated my thought as his own was my idea given credence and validity—as his idea.
She responded dismissively, “That never happens to me, because I have skills, knowledge and competence.”
That is one of the reasons I feel compelled to write this memoir. I had skills, knowledge and competence, and was generally acknowledged as the first and most experienced person in the country in my field. She wasn’t born yet when the Women’ Movement commenced. By the time she reached adulthood and became a professional woman with a career, many of the gains had been made, because those of us who lived in that time did the work for our daughters and granddaughters, and all of womankind. We showed up, wearing our lipstick, our power suits and high-heeled shoes, with all our superior skills, knowledge, and experience, and the added qualification of insight and intuition—which we honored—and respect for human relationships over profit. We demanded equal pay, and dignity, and demanded laws be passed. We demonstrated in the streets and testified in court and Congress. We pissed off our male colleagues when we wouldn’t “just shut up and take notes.” We took advantage of every opportunity for advancement, often at the expense of our free time and sometimes, family time. We never asked for special dispensation because we were pregnant, premenstrual, a single mother, or exhausted. We were constantly dissed: disrespected, dismissed, disregarded. We had to fight for every promotion, be better educated, better qualified, and harder working than our male “equals.” And still we had to fight for equal pay in order to get even small adjustments. We fought battles that were not won for many years. After decades of persistently demanding, we lost the big one: The Equal Rights Amendment.
African-American men achieved the right to vote 50 years before women did. We finally got it in 1920, 3 years after my mother was born. Her mother finally got to cast her first vote for President, canceling out her husbands’ vote! YAY!
The right to have dominion over our own bodies wasn’t won until 1973, after many women died having illegal abortions, and many more women had sacrificed and fought for the a woman’s right to choose.
And now, a significant number of politicians want to send us all back to the early days of the last century. Before birth control was legalized, before the Supreme Court decision in Griswold v. Connecticut. This 1965 decision, which considered a Connecticut law criminalizing the provision of counseling and medical treatment to married persons for the purpose of preventing pregnancy, recognized the constitutional right of married couples to use contraceptives.
Forty-seven years after this landmark decision, many U.S. women still have problems obtaining contraceptives and preventing unwanted pregnancies, and state and federal policies increasingly limit women’s access to contraceptive information and services.
- Public funding for family planning fails to keep up with the demand—nearly 17 million women are in need of subsidized family planning, yet only 4 in 10 of these women receive services at publicly funded clinics.
- Federal legislation guaranteeing insurance coverage for contraception is stalled indefinitely.
- State and federal laws are allowing health care providers (including pharmacists), institutions and insurers to refuse to offer or cover contraceptive services.
- Federally funded abstinence-only education prohibits teachers from discussing contraception, except in the context of failure rates.
- The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has repeatedly resisted attempts to make emergency contraception available over the counter, despite overwhelming support from its own advisory committees.
- LATE-BREAKING NEWS (5/25/12): The Senate Armed Forces Committee just voted to end the military ban on insurance coverage of abortion care for rape and incest. Progress! http://www.rhrealitycheck.org/
But these facts and memories are lost to the generation which now benefits from knowing that their hard-won skills, knowledge and competence will be appropriately acknowledged and rewarded. They have no concept of what is was like to work in an environment where women were not welcomed, accepted, or honored.
For many women, even of this generation, the atmosphere of inequality still exists, albeit in more subtle forms. The laws regulating equal opportunity make it easier to be treated fairly, but unless they form networks of their own, professional women are likely to experience lack of opportunity—they are shut out of the deals made in locker rooms and on the golf course.
Women today don’t have the exhilaration of participating in a movement intended to change the world, the joy of newfound sisterhood, of a personal liberation we had not known was possible. The fun of plotting strategies and choosing who would be deployed to the front lines. The new-found self-assurance and confidence that came from joining with others when we thought we were alone in our perceptions and experiences and disappointments. During a period of intense social ferment and change, we relished the excitement of being a part of it.
That is why I write this memoir about the years of the Women’s Movement, and my experiences during that time. I was lucky enough to have pioneered in a newly-developing area of expertise, computers and technology in education, beginning in 1963 when all things were possible and very little was known. The opportunities for creativity and invention, development and innovation were unlimited. My early experiences and success propelled me into a career filled with opportunity, an international reputation, and indeed, respect. But not in everyday experiences in the workplace, marriage, or society as a whole.
“Can the increasing loss of memory be a collective symptom trying to call attention to the deeper issues of sustaining culture and helping nature? Is it possible that the real social security crisis is about recollecting the deeper reasons for living one’s life, rather than simply collecting compensation for surviving it? Can life itself be trying to provoke an effort at recalling the deep memories and imagination that form the true inheritance of human kind?” Michael Meade
What is the deeper meaning of the Women’s Movement, the true inheritance? It was about the simple equality of opportunity and treatment, about civil rights, about the rights guaranteed to every citizen by the Constitution of the United States. And yet, we needed the 19th Amendment to give us the right to vote, and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to give us equal rights in the workplace. The ERA, never passed and adopted, would have guaranteed that “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.” Finally passed by Congress in 1972, it had not gained ratification by the necessary 38 states within the required seven years, extended to ten.
As far as women’s lib, since we really don’t have it yet, it’s important to keep reminding young women how tenuous our hold is on what little forward movement has been made in the last 100 years. Thankfully, a lot of men have changed for the better, so maybe they wouldn’t let backslides happen either, but sadly, that’s just the educated ones, with a MORAL framework which ISN’T fundamentalism-based.
“Moral outrage weakens. Compassion strengthens.” ~ Roshi Joan Halifax
I have to contrast techniques that worked for me (moral outrage) with what is necessary now in the age of David Letterman, the serial schtupper.
“The truth will set you free, but first it will piss you off.” ~ Gloria Steinem
Although women have made many gains, women still don’t have equal pay for equal work and are now making an average of 77 cents for every dollar that men make. The biggest wage gaps are for working mothers—and 80% of American women become mothers by the time they are 44 years old. Single mothers make about 60 cents to a man’s dollar. I was a single mother for four years during the period of my fastest career development. Fortunately, I was able to negotiate for a fair salary—and yet, I was still not paid an equal salary to the men at my level. The reason? No doctorate. (There’s always something…) So I got a doctorate. And came back, asking for equal pay. Didn’t get it, until I used an underhanded strategy that involved working for free for six weeks, while in my spare time writing a grant for a federal agency that insisted on my salary being the equal of any other Director in my institution. The Program Monitor at the funding agency in Washington D.C. made it a condition of the funding.
Women are not equally represented in Congress. We represent more than half of the population, but only 17% of Congress, behind Turkmenistan, Bosnia, and Herzegovina. This is a huge loss for our country, because research has consistently shown that there are better outcomes when women are more equally represented. The Harvard Business Review reported recently that “If a group includes more women, its collective intelligence rises.”
Perhaps this email I received the other day from a male friend, 85 years old (which he describes as eight and a half decades of moral bankruptcy and male superiority, which actually ended at age 9 or 10 at the hands of a little friend named Irene) typifies the changing attitudes of many of the men of our generation. It made me laugh out loud. I have his permission to pass it on:
So you think we would do better if our leaders would be women.
Is that a sensible question? Just look around at the state of the nations.
How would that work?
When it came time for decision making all of the women leaders would have a quilting party. Sit around and discuss possibilities along with juicy news about this and that.
No question. The results would be more sensible
And the men. What would they do?
What they are good at. Hitting balls and playing with their privates.
You think it is possible?
I think we are well on the way.”
I hope so.
The Women’s Movement was about creating a better world for our daughters, and for our daughters’ daughters, and thus for our sons, and their sons.
We must not forget.