I appeared on PBS’ To The Contrary, and discussed fetal homicide laws, cohabitation, and women in the military:
Feminism, Writing, Activism
I appeared on PBS’ To The Contrary, and discussed fetal homicide laws, cohabitation, and women in the military:
I appeared as a panelist on this week’s To The Contrary, and discussed young women in politics, women and the draft, and football and feminism.
You can watch a video of the show here:
“The only way for a woman, or a man, to find herself, to know herself as a person, is by creative work of her own. There is no other way.” – Betty Friedan
It’s been fifty years since Betty Friedan wrote the The Feminine Mystique. How much has changed. How much remains the same.
Sexism is as foundational to society as it was during the Mad Men era that drove Betty Draper and Betty Friedan mad, if you ask me. The major difference is that people don’t smoke inside, and like colors and hemlines and shag carpets, oh the styles of expression are different.
For-men-only employment ads have jumped over to the lifestyle section of the newspaper, where you see presumed for-women-only feature articles about that ever-elusive “work/life balance.”
(Put no paid parenting leave; no childcare support; and no legal guarantee that you won’t get fired for asking what your coworkers are getting paid on a see-saw: Somehow it always seems to be the women dragged to the ground while men sit on top of Fortune 500 companies, law partnerships, and corporate boards almost totally by themselves. Most “work/life balance” experts say a super pink, super non-structural self-help approach will solve it, no government required! What a sexist joke.)
Only yesterday The New York Times published a column about “pro-life feminism,” in which a man sympathetic to the anti-human rights movement bringing you comparisons of pregnant women to farm animals, bills suggesting that women raped who have abortions be prosecuted for “tampering with evidence” and men-only congressional panels comparing the availability of birth control to choosing a place to go for lunch – a man sympathetic to all of that suggested that feminism be reformed. I beg your pardon.
But of course, the world has changed drastically since The Feminine Mystique, just look! Last week they said women would no longer be barred from combat, and daughters expect equality as do sons. Living up to the expectation of equality, and securing justice for those many experiences outside the realm of wealthy white men, has proved to be the continuing problem for the women’s movement to tackle.
Betty Friedan and her book, to say nothing of the first organization she founded, the National Organization for Women, have had outsize impact on my life as a feminist organizer.
I never knew Friedan personally, saw her across a room at a conference when I was an intern, and, you know, by then the women’s movement was so professionalized interns paid money in the form of tuition to get course credit for working free at the registration table.
When she died on a weekend in February 2006, I was in the National Organization for Women office chairing a meeting of the Young Feminist Task Force. I remember leading a moment of silence and thinking to myself what a profound responsibility I was accepting then, right then, to take the leadership required to help move feminism forward in a new way. I have never lost that feeling.
A few months ago, I decided taking meaningful leadership – contributing the most I have to give – meant leaving a big title in the big organization Friedan started. One of the key factors in my decision was realizing how many people, especially young people, were looking to me as an example of what was possible both in society and for their own lives. Believing in you, as I do, ultimately meant demonstrating I believe in myself and our power to create a better world.
I believe it is within our power to end sexism. I also believe getting there requires taking personal, interpersonal and structural risks. It requires acknowledging uncomfortable truths and working to change them. I believe younger people should define feminism for themselves and help lead the way forward. And while I am profoundly grateful for feminism and feminists of the past, I couldn’t be prouder to set this example. This is not an end. I am only getting started.
What would Friedan say about this? Honestly, I have no idea. As for me, I continue to take considerable inspiration from her legacy and The Feminine Mystique.
Gail Collins, a feminist of a different generation than myself, wrote a beautiful piece on ‘The Feminine Mystique’ at 50. In it, she pointed out more often the book is commented on for what it left out (basically anyone who wasn’t an upper middle class heterosexual white woman), rather than what it was (a piercingly accurate description of the waste of women like Betty).
Strangely enough, the waves of reaction in feminist thought went a bit too far in the other direction, in my opinion, when it became imperative for the incarnation of the women’s movement that followed The Feminine Mystique to speak declaratively “for all women” as if that was somehow possible to do really well. In my experience, people can speak profoundly well for themselves, and do both themselves and others a disservice when they try to speak for everyone else at the same time.
You cannot homogenize diversity, nor is it wise to try. It is the diversity that is the strength. It is the diversity that is the beautiful part. In encouraging diverse people to speak and lead for themselves (and having others listen and add their experience, not to change what the speaker said, but to speak and lead for themselves in the pursuit of an equality to be achievable in common by all) we can move the needle closer to justice. Modern feminism is already doing this all over the Internet. This is my experience and I deserve to be heard. That is your experience and you deserve to be heard. I know we can do better. We can be more than this. Let’s take a risk and organize something totally new and spectacular. It is very exciting, and dare I argue, a very inclusive expression of what Betty Friedan could have helped to kick off had her slice of reality, The Feminine Mystique, been published today.
If they’re willing to put their lives on the line, then we’re willing to say they deserve a chance. Leon Panetta, Defense Secretary, on ordering that the ban on women in combat be lifted.
After a period of transition, women will be as eligible to serve as men in military positions, including combat. Assignments will be made on the basis of skill, not the contents of one’s underpants. This is a seismic shift that is much bigger than the military.
In 1948, President Truman issued an executive order for the integration of men of color into the military. In 2011, President Obama certified a congressional bill repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, which barred out non-heterosexuals from serving in the military. In both cases, more shifts followed in the broader culture.
So that moment is here for women. Will we take it?
With the removal of the ban on women in combat, one of the primary objections used to halt ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment has been — poof — erased. This is a strategic time to renew and redouble efforts to put these beautiful words into the Constitution:
Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.
For those not familiar with the ERA, there are two primary ways to get it inserted into the Constitution. First, Congress can reintroduce the Equal Rights Amendment, as is done every year with the help of champions like Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), who joins other allies on Capitol Hill in being consistently awesome on this issue. After Congress adopts it, two-thirds of the states would need to ratify the ERA.
Another way to equality for women in the Constitution would be to have three additional states ratify the Equal Rights Amendment that was ratified by 35 states in the ’70s. Under this strategy, you typically see folks pouring the most energy into the following three unratified states: Florida, Illinois and Virginia. While Congress imposed a 1982 deadline for ratification of this version of the ERA, many constitutional scholars believe that this deadline would not be found valid in the courts — particularly because the Madison Amendment to the Constitution was introduced in 1789 and adopted in 1992.
Both strategies present an opportunity to finally secure a constitutional guarantee against sex discrimination (ironically, the vast majority of people in this country believes such a thing already exists). Under both strategies, state legislatures will be required to act. While support from the president and others would be nice, symbolically important to be sure, know that majority votes within state legislatures is where the decision-making power rests.
So what can we do? Well, I’d argue that women’s rights activists should take a page out of the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, playbook. There were mainstream non-profit organizations that made arguments on Capitol Hill, and hosted lobby days, and sent action alerts, and no doubt, those actions helped. But I would also argue that the success of that repeal also had everything to do with activists who did not wait for permission from mainstream organizations, who were willing to take more radical actions, including non-violent civil disobedience as individuals and leveraging smaller, feistier grassroots groups with less investment in Washington culture. While the strategies are not the same, and it’s probably not practical to expect groups like these to work together for a variety of reasons, they are complimentary efforts building toward a common goal on the activist side. What we need now in the push for constitutional equality are more voices, not fewer.
Pressuring decision makers is great, but we should also think bigger. We should not just demand that decision makers do something, we need to be the decision makers ourselves.
Run for office. If you want to see the Equal Rights Amendment ratified, truly, I believe, the best thing you could do is to re-orient your thinking right now to say to yourself and others: “I’m thinking about running for my state legislature.” (This is a great strategy no matter where you live.) We need more women in public office for so many reasons.
For too long the Equal Rights Amendment has been represented as a time way back when, when some really terrific activists almost got us there. History is important. It’s important to teach and important to know. But even more important than the history is the doing, the now, the activists who are on fire (many of whom are part of the history, actually). When we sit around a fire, we look at the flames and not the logs. What we need now in the push for constitutional equality is more urgency, less history. Delightfully, Secretary Panetta has given us a boost we can choose to take now.
This post is dedicated to one of my favorite activists on fire, Zoe Nicholson, who fasted for 37 days in the Illinois statehouse demanding ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment in 1982 — and continues, to this day, to focus relentlessly on what we and you can do now.