International Women’s Day

posted in: Holidays, Politics 31

March 8, 2017

Today is International Women’s Day, a holiday celebrated around the world. Its theme for 2017 is  Be Bold for Change.

 

With thanks to AngieGreaves.com for the image.

 

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.

 

I’m using this version of the old Rosie the Riveter poster because of the Scotland’s Got What It Takes caption. Just seemed a fun nod to Ian.

 

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.

 

31 Responses

  1. Carolyn
    | Reply

    I was lucky to have a strong mother who worked but never neglected her children, who believed that a woman could do anything she wanted and who never discouraged me from trying (even when I wanted to get a motorbike after I’d lost a leg to cancer). With her example, I never thought men would stand in the way of my achievements. As a child of the 60s that belief was held by so many of us who went for higher education rather than teaching of secretarial courses. We fought for our rights because we didn’t realise we shouldn’t. I am saddened that that fresh approach seems to have been lost now

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      You are lucky. I remember the push for the ERA and how talk at the beauty salons of that day hinted at how it would fare: not well. Thanks for starting us off again, Carolyn.

  2. Merril Smith
    | Reply

    I think so many people today–women and men–have no idea of what gains have been made. I saw comments against the Women’s March from women on FB, and I commented (in a nice way) that it was women marching and protesting that got her the right to vote. It is frightening what the current administration wants to do. Thanks for sharing, Janet.

    Title IX is extremely important–not simply in athletics, but also in cases of sexual harassment and assault, and other situations. I’m reading about it in relation to campus rape cases.

    Just to make things clear, the information about the 1870s is an oversimplification. There were women who owned businesses, farms, homes, etc. In general, single women and widows had more rights than married women, though in the 1840s, some states passed Married Women’s Property Acts. And some of the early divorce laws (such as Pennsylvania’s 1785 act) were designed to allow women some economic relief by severing the bonds from husbands who had deserted them, but who could theoretically return and take all their money. Some of the western territories and then states allowed women to vote in the 1870s.

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Hi Merril, I’m glad you mentioned the West. Was it Montana that gave women the vote over a hundred years ago? They needed the women.

      I can always count on you to keep us off those “alternative” paths. And, I see Sharon has joined us with an update too.

      🙂

  3. Ian Mathie
    | Reply

    With all the efforts that have been made, and are still being made, to establish men and women as equals, with equal rights, opportunities and respect, I find it somewhat ironic that such a thing as an international Women’s Day should even exist. This emphasis on women rather goes against the grain.

    But to hell with principles, on this special day let’s stuff all the equality crap and celebrate Women, eh?

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      You remind me of my conversation with my female colleagues in Kazakhstan, talking about International Women’s Day. Someone mentioned how there was no “International Men’s Day,” to which the rest of them laughed and said, “everyday is men’s day.” These days are ones to help us educate and draw overdue attention to our often unconscious biases.

      Just yesterday I saw it happen again. The School Board was giving us their annual report and had a slide of a quote from a visiting author who goes by initials only. C A Morgan (look her up; she’s a YA author and my granddaughter says her’s was the “best series I’ve ever read.”) Her name is Cynthia DeKett and I sing with her. But the School Board president didn’t know her, assumed C. A. was a man, and used the male pronoun. Inequality seeps into our assumptions; and in our expectations.

      I imagine one has to have lived it to fully appreciate its weight.

      But keep coming back; we’ll figure this out together.

  4. Sharon Weeks
    | Reply

    Just an addition. Birth control was common before 1914. In the 1960’s women fought for birth control. Gregory Pinkus developed “the pill” and it was approved by the FDA in 1960.
    Regarding civil rights: I believe that the advent of cell phones and their ability to take videos, have given us a stark look at how civil rights have not advanced anywhere near what most people, myself included, believe.
    I have heard from people that it may be time to start working on the ERA again. I am not sure what this would involve, nor am I sure this would be the right time. Would love to hear what others think of this.

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Hello Sharon, and welcome. It’s great to have you join us.

      I’m thinking of the Comstock Act of 1873, which prohibited advertising for and distribution of various birth control methods. I hear the post office was given the ability to confiscate birth control sold through the mail. That went on for nearly 100 years.

      We have an interesting history, to be sure.

      I hope others will take advantage of you joining us and ask you some questions.

  5. Kathleen Pooler
    | Reply

    Thanks for this refresher and reminder on how far we have come with Women’s Rights. I remember those bra-burning days of the 60s. And yet, I agree we can’t be complacent, especially with this current administration’s steam rolling agenda. In the 70s, 80s and 90s I had my fill of the “good old boy network” in the health care profession. Your post is a great reminder to keep fighting. Thank you.

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      You remind me I never did get to burn my bra back then. Bummer. Would have made a great memory, I imagine.

      Thanks for joining us this morning, Kathy.

  6. Lynn Dudenhoefer
    | Reply

    Hi,
    Sharon’s daughter here. I just wanted to say how proud I am of my Mom and her amazing article. We have discussed these issues for years. I have been especially concerned with the number of young women that really believe they have equality in all things, even pay. I have argued with many to my surprise.

    I was born in the sixties and often wished I had been in my twenties then because of all the protests and marches, people were so involved. So it warms my heart to see people taking to the streets (and airwaves,online etc.)
    There are so many more issues here than abortion, and I am sick of those on the right saying that feminists are all baby killers. I personally don’t like abortion, but have watched friends make that agonizing and painful decision. I support CHOICE.

    Pay inequality, domestic violence, rape, incest, sex slavery and trafficking, sexual harassment on and off the job, the good ol boys club, being judged based on your appearance, what you wear or how big your boobs are, having said boobs the focus during conversations, being called honey, sweetie or girl, working twice as hard to get promoted at work, then coming home and doing 75% or more of the housework and child rearing, and being constantly bombarded by media with unrealistic, sexualized images of women that most of us can never compare to. Those are just some of the issues this feminist stands for, and the fight does not stop until they end.

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      So many issues …. so little time.
      Hello Lynn and welcome. I had the nicest chat with your mom a few weeks back, getting ready for this post. I’m pleased to hear you talk of how proud you are of her. What a gift that is. And how lucky you both are.

      There are more resources available in the 21st century than when you or I were growing up, to help girls find their own path. That is encouraging.

      But still, there have been so many stories that went untold.

      Thanks for dropping in and saying hello.

    • Sharon Weeks
      | Reply

      Wow! Thank you, Lynn.
      Mom

  7. Sharon Weeks
    | Reply

    Janet,
    Just got back on-line from a reading break and to tell you how your book is affecting me. I was on page 209 and read about George Orwell’s political lessons. ” (1) that people often inherit the government they deserve, (2) that when their education is markedly weaker than that of their leaders, the public is lost, and (3) that blithely going along with those in power and assuming that they somehow know better is dangerous.” How absolutely pertinent to today. Caused my mouth to drop open. This certainly stands repeating. Am sad that I am almost at the end of your very interesting journey.
    Sharon

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      I’m so glad you found that section. And, as I recall, I ended with some little sentence about how MY country could use that wake up call herself. Something like that. I’ve been working on a companion book to the memoir, one with stories that got cut in the editing process but I still want out there. So, if it’s any consolation, you have that to look forward to.

      Thank you so very much, though, for telling me you’re enjoying it. It makes my heart do a little happy jiggle.

  8. Terry Bryan
    | Reply

    Hi, Janet. My name was dumb bunny entering college. The idea was to become president of a big company, so I told my councilor I wanted to major in business…next thing I knew I had a list of courses-typing, shorthand, I forget what else since I had a small stroke. No, no, no. I want to learn how to be president of a company, not a secretary. I was informed women weren’t presidents of companies…so I majored in art. This was my introduction to gender inequality and I have fought it since that day.

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Oh Terry, I hear you.

      My college dumb-ass story isn’t gender based, just naive. After leaving nursing school (took me one year to realize that wasn’t for me) I transferred to NYU wanting to become a medical social worker — I could still work in hospitals (for some bizarre reason I loved how they smelled) but not in the medical part of it. But, having loved the one sociology class I had in my pre-nursing liberal arts program, I thought sociology would get me into social work. So I majored in sociology, not learning until a year later that I wasn’t going to come out with a social worker degree. There should be a “dumb-ass” Story Swap. We’d both be winners.

  9. Joan Z. Rough
    | Reply

    A great review! I still remember back in 1956 when I was in 8th grade my father told me I could be a nurse or a secretary, but better yet marry a good man. Just before he died in 1982 he told Bill that my mother couldn’t balance a checking account and she had been in the antiques business for years. She knew how to balance checkbooks and make good investments. She had to do what he said and most of the time she did. It still makes me angry to think about it.

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Thanks Joan. I thought Sharon did a great job of hitting the highlights.

      I was led to believe “nursing or teaching.” Those were my two. Your stories remind me that men need feminism too. They have also been trapped in a stifling, limiting mindset. Sad.

  10. Susan Jackson
    | Reply

    I wonder if they even teach this in schools, do our granddaughters even realize that in the USA women were
    property and we didn’t have the right to vote until 19xx

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      No, it’s not taught in the schools. And in some districts, like the one mentioned in the article we linked to, Messing With Textbooks, the curriculum is decided by a group of white men and pretty much locked up. So, it’s up to the grandmas!

      • Ian Mathie
        | Reply

        Just the same as they don’t teach abut slavery or evolution in so many places. Those in power don’t want the deficiencies or the crimes of their ancestors revealed, and some of them still believe those practices are right!
        WE haven’t really come that far in the last hundred years. Equality still has a long way to go before it becomes a reality. So sad, so wrong.

        • Janet Givens
          | Reply

          Hi Ian, you reminded me about denial, as these school districts are essentially denying a big part of our history. Denial is like sleeping: you don’t know you’re doing it until you aren’t.

          Is education the key here (ironically)? I don’t know.

  11. Tim Fearnside
    | Reply

    Another great post, Janet, and one I’ll be sharing (or at least discussing) with my daughters. And I can’t help but wonder, why must correcting the most patent of injustices always prove to be such a massive struggle? What are the resisters always so morbidly afraid of? Is it simply a primitive need for power stored deep in the inner reptilian reaches of (some of) our brains? I simply can’t relate to or understand the slaveowner mindset in the slightest.

    • Sharon Weeks
      | Reply

      I absolutely love this response. I think it really is a primitive need for power!

      • Janet Givens
        | Reply

        Hi Sharon,

        You’ve discovered Tim, too. He’s a keeper.
        But, to your point, there’s actually a hormone that gets triggered when we feel threatened, unsafe. We are hardwired to hang on tight to our belief system and the wiring resides in our anterior cingulate cortex.
        I’m not sure that’ll help any, but it’s a point of view I enjoy sharing. I wrote more about it last August, here https://janetgivens.com/blame-it-on-the-oxytocin/

        I think we’ll have one or two more comments before our week is up. I’ve certainly enjoyed having you join us. Thank you again for writing a timely and succinct letter to your local newspaper. Social media is at its best, I think, when it connects us to each other through these kinds of things we can share.

        • Sharon Weeks
          | Reply

          Thanks, Janet, I have enjoyed being a part of it. I will go to your link to see what you have to say. Weather permitting I will be heading to Long Island on the 23rd for part of the East End Fringe Festival.
          My daughter and I would like to do a drive down the coast next year starting in Maine and will look you up if you aren’t off to parts unknown!
          Sharon

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Hi Tim. I thought of your daughters actually as I was putting this post together. They are as such a critical age and, like my own granddaughters, are fortunate to have a father who understands what challenges may still lie ahead of them.

      I loved this sentence, “why must correcting the most patent of injustices always prove to be such a massive struggle?” Indeed. I’m thinking our ability to embrace the unknown can be helpful here. Might it be as simple as the fact that some of us appreciate its power more than others do?

      I don’t know. Just a guess. Thanks for stopping by. I value your support.

  12. Laurie Buchanan
    | Reply

    Janet — I’m a week late to this excellent post. But then again, the celebration of women should be timeless.

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Hi Laurie, It’s aways a treat to hear from you.
      I was just explaining to Woody how you are offline for six days of the week to finish your next book. We are both envious.

  13. […] Civil Discourse in the New Age International Women’s Day […]

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