1973 ERA and women in power and politics

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EQUAL RIGHTS AMENDMENT/ROE VS WADE  

1970 brought about the Equal Rights Amendment, followed in 1973 by Roe vs Wade which allowed termination of unwanted pregnancies.   The link between political power and sexual choice were once again afforded to women in this new world of feminism.  Even in the dissension and uproar within families, social groups and society, these actions signaled  unequivocally that women would find the support they needed in their work place and in their homes.  The backing of the state and federal government to support their choices about their bodies and their family size was the turnover of soil that brought a new future for womankind.  The Equal Rights Amendment embodied in the Civil Rights Bill of 1964 was the other powerful director of that future.

Any  conversation about the Equal Rights Amendment has to include the work of Ruth Ginsburg.  In 1954, being one of eight women in a class of 500 at Harvard Law School, Ruth experienced as did the other women the direct admonition of the Dean who considered the women as taking the place of qualified men.  Ginsburg’s response was to be the first female member of the Harvard Law Review. Ultimately she graduated from Columbia Law School in New York City first in her class in 1959.   All through her career, Ruth Ginsburg argued for gender equality.  President Bill Clinton appointed  her to the Supreme Court in 1993 after she had been appointed by President Jimmy Carter to the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia in 1980. Ruth Ginsburg  has maintained a presence for gender equality and workers rights throughout her tenure. The second woman confirmed in the Supreme Court in 1993,  joining the first woman appointed  by Ronald Reagan in 1981 Sandra Day O’Connor.

Equality of gender was a part of The First Womens World Conference in 1975.   As well,  a basic premise of that conference was that  world development was not possible without the full participation of women and that women held a vital role in the promotion of peace.  A reflection of the world change that was happening at different levels in different places in the world surely.  As we know there are many parts of the world where women have no rights politically, socially or sexually.  The progress, however, began with the understanding that female liberation and security was attainable, and chosen in many countries of the world.

Women progressed in the United States.  By  1975, women working outside the home went from 4% to 49%.   By 1978, more women more women entered college than men.  From 1980-84 women came into political offices.  In 1980 Elizabeth Dole became Secretary of Labor, 1984,  Geraldine Ferrara was the Vice Presidential candidate.  Janet Reno and Madeline Albright were given posts in President Clinton’s cabinet in 1992.  The Equal Rights Amendment would pass in 1997, and the Paycheck Fairness Act would pass in 2008 because of Lily Ledbetter.

From the 20’s where women had worked for health reform, prison reform and ended child labor, those efforts by Mabel Vernon and Sarah Bard Field were the beginnings of the frontrunners who came to public office and brought forward the advances from the 70’s onward.  It’s important to see the spectrum of time has not been that long. These were the women who found themselves in the front of the line fostered by women behind the lines in groups and individually.   They found themselves able to make choices and decisions that their mothers did not and the path for them was not that clear.  Out of the chaos and contradictions,   a new model of what it was to be a women began to emerge, the context for modern feminism – about humanism, the dignity afforded to all people to have access to choice and responsibility.

Sexuality and Politics

SEXUALITY CHANGE OF IDENTITY

For the years prior to the birth control and Roe VS Wade, the study of women’s sexuality was specifically about their ability to procreate.  Freud and Kinsey in 1953 and later Masters and Johnson looked at female sexuality from a biological stance, without a focus on desire and emotional content.  The focus of their work was to create the best conditions for pregnancy to occur.   As the right for women to choose was approaching legal status,  the aspect of sexuality from the perspective of positive value for women also came into existence.   Betty Frieden in The Feminine Mystique in 1963 gave a perspective of the experience of female sexuality that had women engage with each other over the topic of their own personal experience.  There was a new question:  Are women enjoying their sexual lives and what does that look like?

THE PILL AND THE HITE REPORT

Even before the pill in 64,   the Margaret Sanger Center in New York had made available diaphragms to women as a contraceptive and educated women to the notion of limiting family size.  Margaret Sanger, for providing this source of birth control had been put in jail for this offense more than once.  Within the group interviewed for this book, there were reports of getting diaphragms from the Margaret Sanger Clinic in New York in 1920.   There were few women who had the means or the ability to choose abortion by going to Juarez, Mexico and other secret places, special doctors compassionate to women with unwanted pregnancies within the United States.    The birth control pill was first designed to assist in creating ovulation by regulating the cycle of menestruation.   Recognized for its birth control effect, some smart mothers took their daughters to their gynecologists “to regulate their periods,” knowingly reducing the risk of unwanted pregnancy.

THE POLITICS OF ORGASM

  Roe vs Wade offered the choice for women to  take or not take pregnancy to full term.  That same year, unmarried women were allowed to get birth control pills from their doctors. It is no coincidence it would seem that the question of value and desire then became a part of the conversation for women around that time.   Sex as a function of fulfilling the biological function for women was replaced by the emergence of pleasure and orgasm as a priority for women.  The Hite Report in 1976 gave a view of the  intimate experiences relative to their pleasure and gratification, orgasm and masterbation were reported by women in the research of Cheryl Hite for this book.  Women began to talk to each other about their experiences, their expectations and their desires.  It stirred up questions women had never before been willing to reveal about their sexual lives.

John Bancroft work at the Kinsey Institute in the 40’s was the tip of the iceberg in bringing up the scientific question of what lay behind the behavior of women relative to their sexuality, as reported by Julia Heiman, current director of the Kinsey Institute.  But it would be the impact of the national conversation among women about their sex lives that was stimulated by the Hite Report that had the topic gain ground among women in the 70’s.  The  ladies bridge club tables in the late 60’s, early ’70’s and other ladies’ gatherings often provided the place and time for those discussions by women about women, the topic of orgasm had come into the conversation.

Not all women identified with the strident voice and emerging presence of the National Organization of Women, the word feminist was not taken on by many.  In fact, within the National Organization of Women it was well reported that a split had occurred between the newly emerging and highly vocal gay rights activists and the interests and positions causing dissension and confusion for a purposeful direction that all could support. Meanwhile, most women were aware of and not directly participating in the process of feminism or the woman’s movement in any form.  But they were taking women’s studies in the local junior colleges, moving on to the colleges and universities made available by Affirmative Action.  They also reported entering into therapy and the self awareness studies and programs and talking to other women, forming women’s groups that allowed the women to assimilate the new choices and options available to them.

SEXOLOGIST EARLY STUDIES

Now the pressure was on in a new way:  women undertook the study of their sexuality and sought to have a fulfilling sex life.  Helen Singer Kaplan, a sexologist working with women who wanted to expand or understand the limits of their gratification in their sexual lives.   Kaplan in the 70’s developed a study on the physical response of women measuring those responses in the release of serotonin, heart rate, dilation of the eyes and lubrication.  Her findings were that the emotional or cognizant awareness and the physiological response of women did not correspond .  That is, the biological physiological changes in the body that corresponded with desire for sex were apparent but were not detected or reported by the women as they occurred.  It was reported that the “split” -separation of feeling and physical response did not show up for men.  When there was biological physiological change in men, men were aware of the desire that came with those changes.  The obvious conclusion was that the evidence for physical response by men was observable and validated by erection.  But as well, the standards around  sexual response that are part of the education and experience of men and women as they enter puberty and adulthood had been very different.   Men have historically had more approval of overt expression of interest in sexuality than women.  Part of the identity shift in the times of sexual liberation for women was to change their opinion about their own experience to allow recognition and connection with their own body.  Being aware of one’s own body and its desires for women is as recent as the social and political changes for women in the  past forty years of western society.

When you consider the amount of pressure on women up until the mid to late 1960’s to withhold themselves from sexual activity for a variety of reasons, including pregnancy but most specifically relative to their value and inclusion as “good women,” it makes sense that there would be a denial to those experiences.  The rules socially adhered to by the majority of men and women prior to the sexual and political shift of consciousness of the 6o’s and 70’s  did not include enjoyment overtly expressed by ‘good’ women.  The women were the gatekeepers of sex and took the fall if unmarried sex occurred and definitely was blamed for unmarried pregnancies.  Not that different from parts of the world we see and hear about where women are stoned, burned and abused for any signs of such an expression publicly or even privately with her husband.  Those concepts about women still live in the halls of congress where recently a nameless senator suggested birth control would not be needed if women kept their knees together.  Hard to believe those attitudes  prevail.

The dramatic change from the mores that discouraged, limited women and even punished women relative to their expression of their sexual interest and appetite to expression and fulfillment are a new age phenomena.  Around the world today, there are countries and nations that still punish women for any overt expression of their sexuality and  limit the women’s access to responsible care of themselves through the use of birth control.  The late 60’s provided the beginning of women owning their own sexual lives.

In 1976,  Cheryl Hite  presented her book The Hite Report.  Nationwide the book offered women a whole other aspect to their sexuality.  This book presented intimate sexual research on female orgasm reported by the women themselves.  It caused a sensation for sure and broke the taboo of open discussion by women about themselves and their sexuality.  Books about women’s sexuality had been by doctors, priests, psychologists, but this was the women themselves discussing their appetites and desires now revealed in this best seller.

Corresponding with the dawning of sexual liberation of women into a new context of modern feminism, there were the changes in the sociopolitical structure around them.  The connection seems significant between sex and politics as we entered the next entry of feminism; women taking public office.

1978 was the first year there were more women entering college than men.  1980-84 brought women into political offices.  In 1980, Elizabeth Dole became Secretary of Labor.  In 1981 Sandra Day O’Connor became first Supreme Court Judge and in the election of 1984,  Geraldine Ferraro was the Vice Presidential candidate.  Janet Reno and Madeline Albright were given posts in President Clinton‘s cabinet in 1992, he also appointed Ruth Ginsburg  to the Supreme Court in 1993.  The Equal Rights Amendment would pass in 1997, and the Paycheck Fairness Act would pass in 2008 because of Lily Ledbetter.

Elizabeth Warren, Hilary Clinton, Gabby Gifford 

These are the women we look to for leadership in our world today.  Each woman has shown the world their ability to stand for the ideals of feminism/humanism as women with a deep passion and commitment for equality and equity for those outside the benefit of power.

DESIRE-THE POWER OF WOMEN DEFINED

How significant is the question of desire for women in the context for modern feminism?  The question of gratification is new ground, new identity and new definition to what it is to be a women.  We have come through the past fifty years, but poverty and lack of education are as much the determinant of the exploited, the mutilated and the excluded in any society.   Many women world wide come from conditions that far exceed those from which women have been liberated in the past fifty years.  The changes necessary to restructure and reallocate power in any group are not easily come by.  Some of the changes that have come with the past fifty years of redefinition of what it is to be a man, what it is to be a woman bring confusion and chaos long before clarity.  But no one wants to go back, in fact women world wide want to bring their sisters forward and into their own power.

Meanwhile, we continue to be students to this life long pursuit of knowing and expressing our power and our sexuality.

Meridith Chivers of Queen’s University of Kingston, Ontario directed her research in 2009 to “Discovering What Ignites Desire for women,” in the Archives of Sexual Behavior Anthology.  Those studies and those of Lisa Diamond, a Sexologist at the University of Utah, also studied women’s desire in her sexuality study.  The Diamond  study revealed that women’s desire is more receptive to and dictated by need for intimacy and emotional connection.  She measured the oxytocin as a factor in asserting that female desire was reliant on estrogen- and the cause of desire for women.

Marta Meana, Professor at University of Nevada, also researched in her study in the Archives of Sexual Behavior, and her findings were that it wasn’t the closeness or communication that created the oxytocin that released desire, but  that “being desired is the orgasm.”   Meana attributed that to narcissism.  Her study suggested that  sexual response was a “yearning for self love.”

  Meridith Chivers of Queen’s University of Kingston, Ontario directed her research in 2009 to “Discovering What Ignites Desire for women,” in the Archives of Sexual Behavior Anthology.  Those studies and those of Lisa Diamond, a Sexologist at the University of Utah, also studied women’s desire in her sexuality study.  The Diamond  study revealed that women’s desire is more receptive to and dictated by need for intimacy and emotional connection.  She measured the oxytocin as a factor in asserting that female desire was reliant on estrogen- and the cause of desire for women.

Marta Meana, Professor at University of Nevada, also researched in her study in the Archives of Sexual Behavior, and her findings were that it wasn’t the closeness or communication that created the oxytocin that released desire, but  that “being desired is the orgasm.”   Meana attributed that to narcissism.  Her study suggested that  sexual response was a “yearning for self love.”

How and under what conditions do women experience their desire is a new question.     Many countries continue to keep the constraints, sanctions and prohibitions that limit and control women through lack of education and birth control; poverty in this country or any country limits and victimizes girls and women to reduced options in determining their sexuality.  Planned Parenthood has for all the years since Margaret Sanger opened the doors of her Clinic in the 40’s been a source for young women taking responsibility for their  wellbeing with education and prescription for avoiding pregnancy and sexual diseases, a response serving the clients and their community.  All the more alarming is the movement to close the doors of Planned Parenthood, and limit the education and services they provide.

 POLITICS OF REGRESSING:  LIMITING WOMENS RIGHTS

Incredulously, corresponding with the attacks on Planned Parenthood, in 40 states,  there is an attempt to take women back to that societal and legal constraints limiting women choosing to take a pregnancy to term.  As women gain more power of choice in how they live their lives, take on head of the household status with jobs and income, opt to make their own choices in terms of marital status, women have become more powerful politically.  The last Presidential election data suggests that women, single women in particular had a great impact on the results that voted in President Barack Obama.
The correlation between the power to express their lives sexually and politically seems to have caused a backlash against women by at least 40 state legislative bills attempting to reduce women’s ability to choose to be pregnant and to bring pregnancy to term.  But ultimately the intention clearly is to limit the power of women politically through attempting to send the women back to the choices available in 1950.

 

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