March 8, 2017
Today is International Women’s Day, a holiday celebrated around the world. Its theme for 2017 is Be Bold for Change.
For my contribution, I am reposting (with permission and slightly edited for length and clarity) from an OpEd piece that ran in the Leader-Telegraph, the local Eau Claire, WI newspaper, February 5, 2017.
The article was written by Sharon Weeks, retired from the Chippewa Falls School District, who has a small photography business and is part of the Valley Art Gallery co-op in downtown Chippewa Falls, WI. What Young Women May Not Know offers in broad strokes how far women have come in the past 150 years and how fragile these gains still are.
Women’s history has been basically excluded from the classroom textbooks in public schools. Many people are not aware that a select group of white men, a board of education in Texas, has been charged with the job of editing all of the history textbooks for decades. Their editing is final. (See Moyers & Company, “Messing with Textbooks,” by Theresa Riley, June 2012)
After the Civil War, the 14th and 15th amendments, adopted in 1868 and 1878, granted citizenship and suffrage to blacks, but not to women. A suffrage amendment to the federal Constitution was presented to Congress and repeatedly failed to pass.
From the 1840s to 1920 women fought for the vote. The struggle to gain the right to vote began nearly 200 years ago. Attempts to vote in 1870 were turned away. The Supreme Court ruled against them in 1875. In 1916 Alice Paul formed the National Women’s Party. They marched. Over 200 supporters were arrested while picketing the White House. They were beaten with clubs and thrown in prison. Some went on hunger strikes and endured forced feedings. Forty prison guards wielding clubs went on a rampage against 33 women known as the “Night of Terror” on Nov. 15, 1917. (See HBO movie, “Iron Jawed Angels”).
In the 1870s women could not own property, could not sign contracts, could not vote, file law suits, nor have their own money. Under their father’s roof, he had control and that control was passed to her husband upon marriage. A woman running away from violent domestic abuse was hunted down by the law and returned to her husband as she was his property.
Note from JG: this was true as recently as 1972. I was selling real estate in Ohio that year and had a single mother as a client. And, I was told by my boss not to waste my time with her for she would never get a mortgage. I had no idea!
In the 1960s women fought for birth control, which was illegal in many parts of the country then. Margaret Sanger, a pioneer in the struggle for a woman’s right to birth control in an era “when it was illegal to discuss the topic,” was arrested many times for her publications and her New York City clinic.
1972: Title IX is a landmark federal civil right law that prohibits sex discrimination in education. Title IX is not just about sports and it protects all students; the federal government threatened to stop aid to all public schools that did not comply with this law.
1973: Roe vs. Wade made abortion legal and safe. Women stopped dying from abortions. The government is planning to stop funding for Planned Parenthood and tens of thousands of women will not only lose coverage for basic health care, but they will also no longer have access to birth control. That pretty much means there will be more unwanted pregnancies and if Roe vs. Wade is overturned, which seems likely with the appointment of a new Supreme Court judge by this administration, there will be more women dying from abortions again.
Another JG note: when a high school classmate failed to show up for gym class one morning, I had my first introduction to the issue of abortion. She had died from a self-induced abortion, what we called coat hanger abortions back then.
Every march, every right that was fought for, that women died for, was for your “status quo,” for the life you have now, that you take for granted. Please know that every one of these rights that let you live the life you have can be erased with the swipe of a pen. Don’t let all those who died, the fighting and suffering be for naught.
Guess what? The Equal Rights Amendment did not pass. It won the two-thirds vote from the House of Representatives in October 1971. In March of 1972 it was approved by the Senate and sent to the states for ratification. It failed to achieve ratification by 38, or three-quarters, of the states. It was not brought to a vote again.
Here I am again: Phyllis Schlafly led the fight against the ERA back then. And what I remember most from that era was her use of “unisex bathrooms” to stoke the fear of passage. What is it about bathrooms? They’re back in the news again. Here’s a recent meme from Instagram that speaks better than I ever could about the “problem” with bathrooms.
Back now to Sharon.
Because of that rejection, sexual equality, with the exception of when it pertains to the right to vote, is not protected by the Constitution. However, in the late 20th century the federal government and all states have passed legislation protecting women’s rights. These protections are not amendments to the Constitution. They, too, can be wiped away with the swipe of a pen.
Please don’t be complacent and too comfortable with your life. Be aware of what has happened over the years, decades and literally centuries to get you here. Women fought and died. People march to make other people aware; pay attention, please, lest you lose it all. Lest we all lose it all.
Back to me: Feminism, “women’s right to choose,” so many words that serve to shut down this very important conversation. I wanted to add here that this issue of Women’s Rights is also an issue of Men’s Rights, of Human Rights. For as women become free from the constraints that have held them back for centuries, so do men.
This is not a zero-sum game.
I see empowerment of Others as the flame of a candle:
Lighting more wicks will not detract from the light the other (white men) candles give off.
How about you? How has gender bias affected you in your life?
Next week, we’re back to LEAP FROG and civil discourse: E is for Empathy. Can you measure empathy? We’ll see.