By Nike Wind
March is celebrated as Women’s History Month, with March 8 marking the 102nd International Women’s Day. Reporting from the front, I am more than discouraged. Feminism is the force that changed the social mores in Western democracies and forever altered our culture’s sexual roles. Let’s go back a bit to our own past here in the States.
The history of American feminism includes three waves: the first, linked to women’s right to participate in the abolitionist movement, led to freeing the slaves. In 1870, African American males were given the right to vote when the fifteenth amendment was ratified. It wasn’t until 50 years later, in 1920, that the 19th Amendment to the Constitution (introduced by Jeanette Ranking, the sole woman in Congress) allowed women to vote.
In 1923, the Equal Rights Amendment was first introduced to Congress, and had been brought before Congress for every year through 1970. Then, from 1982 until the present, it has always been re-introduced in Congress. Here is the actual text of the ERA, riders notwithstanding:
Section 1. Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.
Section 2. The Congress shall have the power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article.
Section 3. This amendment shall take effect two years after the date of ratification.
That’s it! To this day, in the twenty-first century, the ERA has not been passed into Federal law. I choke as I write this, unable to suspend disbelief. The sixties and seventies marked the second wave of feminism. Since then, baby, we have not come that long a way.
In 1961, John Kennedy appointed Eleanor Roosevelt as Chairwoman to the President’s Commission on the Status of Women. The report, issued in 1963, cited extensive discrimination and tried to correct inequities in fair hiring practices, affordable housing, and established maternity leave and affordable child care. In 1960, women earned 60 cents to the dollar a man earned for the same job. In 1963, more women entered the work force than any year prior or since. According to the National Committee on Pay Equality, white women today only earn 77 cents to the man’s dollar, and it is down to as low as 58 cents among women of color. That is no improvement for my Black, Latina and other sisters of color.
I lived in New York City in 1975, when the first Women’s Bank opened on 57th Street. It was the very first time, thanks to the 1974 Equal Credit Opportunity Act, that a woman was allowed to procure a loan without a male signatory regardless of her ability to pay it back. That was 37 years ago.
Yet the battle continued. Despite the bloodshed, starvation diets, burned bras and imprisonment, the women on the front line of Women’s Rights waged on.
The passage of Roe vs. Wade ultimately made abortion rights legal in every state, (with limits on late abortion) and in many states elective termination of pregnancy is not actually available. Mississippi has only one abortion clinic serving the entire state.
Since then, the War on Women has all but officially been declared by the Republican party in this country. Many states have passed legislation requiring that women must endure an ultrasound of their fetus, and hear the actual heartbeat before submitting to an abortion. If the fetus is too small, they stipulated that women undergo transvaginal ultrasound as a requirement for receiving government funded abortions.
Yes, our reproductive rights are being eroded as Planned Parenthood is defunded, while politicians, sworn to uphold the separation of Church and State, have announced in their own particular science fiction that “pregnancies don’t occur from legitimate rape.” If a child is conceived from a rape, it is because “that is what God intended to happen,” said right-to-lifer and Republican Indiana Senate Candidate Richard Murdock. You can’t make this stuff up.
This occurred during the third wave of feminism, which began in the United States in the early 1990’s, and continues until the present time. Today, for the young girls and women coming of age, women’s rights have been taken for granted, likened to fluoride in the water; invisible, just there. This is a dangerous viewpoint. We can not be complacent. In 2013, women only occupy 18% of the Congressional seats in the Senate and House. Are we better off today?
We merely wanted equality. We got more responsibility and less equality than we bargained for.
Today, sociologists know that men and women spend an equal time at work, but women do more housework and child rearing. We now have to open our own doors, pay for our own meals and practically everything else. Superwoman, Supermom, and Super Model ideals have made an impossible standard for modern women. While trying to maintain a balanced, peaceful life, too often we end up feeling inadequate and less than. To misquote Jane Wagner and Lily Tomlin from The Search For Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe, “If I knew this is what it meant to ‘have it all’, I wouldn’t have wanted so much.”
Elsewhere in the world, conditions seem to have worsened. Recently, a young woman was shot in the head in Pakistan for promoting education as a right for women. The Taliban claimed responsibility, then boasted that her whole family will be targeted should they return from London, where she received treatment.
India is in an uproar as the sexual assault laws are at long last under scrutiny. For too long, rape was ignored and rapists were rarely prosecuted.
The international slave trade of women thrives today, even here on our shores. It has to stop. In his song, “Woman is the Nigger of the World,” John Lennon has called woman the “slave to the slave.” Perhaps slavery has been legally abolished, but I don’t think our social status has been fully emancipated from the hardship and prejudice we continue to endure. The fight goes on. Fight we must.
The spirit of feminism is still vitally needed all over the world. We must illuminate and expose the mad men, dictators, military and religious leaders, fathers, husbands and brothers who cage women by the millions. Freeing them and ending poverty for women and children (17,000 of whom die of starvation every day) should become the central tenet of the Fourth Wave of Feminism, which I want to inaugurate right here, right now.
So, for Women’s Month, I invite you to break down a wall, crack the glass ceiling, and prove to yourself that you can do and be more than the circumscribed idea of a woman. Turn off the TV when the misogynist images of anorexic women are used to sell us the American Capitalist dream. We have buying power. We are more than 51% of the population. We can use our influence to effect change.
Turn off the radio when rap songs call us bitches and whores. Don’t buy into Madison Avenue and Hollywood Boulevard’s idea of who you are. I invite you to take time for yourself.
Make this a month of self discovery. Find out a little more about the real you, deep down inside, beyond the hype, beyond the image, on your own terms. Rest in the stillness and find out what you really want, then set about to create it. Within you lies unlimited potential. Henry Ford said, “If you think you can or you think you can’t, either way you are right.”
You are woman. Let me hear you roar. Happy Woman’s Month.