Gloria Steinem was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom last November. It is America’s highest honor for a civilian. Her work on behalf of women in the areas of equality and empowerment were the reasons for this prominent award. In her acceptance speech, she spoke about what remains to be done for women. She declared that there are still goals which need to be met. Ms. Steinem discussed equal valuing of women’s work, ending violence against women, recognizing reproductive freedom as a basic human right, and uprooting racism and sexism. This is a hefty list of goals. Comments of the GOP flow through my mind and I realize the enormity of this undertaking.
We also have some myths about feminism that we need to straighten out. One is that this movement, also called women’s liberation. womanism, mujerista, GRRLS, is only for white middle-class women. This is not true. I have black women friends who are feminists and women with less money, who are on fixed incomes and are involved with stopping this War on Women. A poll was conducted in 1972 by Louis Harris and Associates that revealed black women were almost twice as likely as white women to support these issues. Now I read Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique and became committed to the issues. Black women read Shirley Chisholm, Alice Walker, Toni Morrison, and Maya Angelou. These women inspired the dream in black women. The idea that feminism was designed only for white middle-class claim was invented to turn off women. It negated their need for change.
The second myth is that those of us who worked, protested, marched, demonstrated, and lobbied in the 70’s and beyond have accomplished all that can be done for women. Young women felt that our work was done. Women could now relax.
The reality is, we still have much to do. We need to be legally equal. We are the only citizens who are not legally equal. Once we survived the backlash against equality, we still need to work to be socially and legally equal. President Obama has signed an equal pay for equal work legislation. While this was huge and we are grateful, women still do not receive equal pay for equal work. Please note we do not want more pay than men earn for the same work, we just want equitable pay.
We are also dealing with the fact that many women and children in the work are living in violent situations. Women are still being battered at about every nine seconds. I repeat, every nine seconds. Battering can be mental,emotional or physical abuse. Physical abuse can include slapping, kicking , pinching, punching, pulling hair, punching where clothes will cover the evidence. Being pushed and shoved is battering. Being threatened with a knife or gun is abuse. The numbers of women and children who are living in violence is staggering.
In the modern world, most other democratic nations have more women in government positions than America. It is still unusual for American women to be elected. The United States is a modern democracy, and yet, almost alone among such nations, we don’t have some form of a national child-care system. The average cost of child care here has surpassed the average cost of college tuition. If this continues, people will have to have less children in order to give them a chance in life.
A woman’s ability to decide when and whether to bear a child is not a “social issue”. It is a human right, like the right to free speech For the female half of the world reproductive freedom is the biggest economic issue. Women who have children to raise, are less likely to get hired and and to be well paid. Nothing else is going to be equal until men spend as much time performing child care as women do.
As women, we often raise our girls the same as we do our sons. We seldom raise our sons the same as our daughters. To allow a son to play with “girl toys” or to go “girl things” like helping to clean or care for younger children, takes a lot of courage.
Being a woman today take a great deal of courage. There is a book out called Sex and World Peace, which proves that the biggest indicator of whether a country is violent within itself, or will use military violence against another country, is not poverty, natural resources, or even a countries’ degree of democracy. It is violence against women.
Only if each of us has a torch will there be enough light to create World Peace.