Eleanor Roosevelt: Catalyst and Leader 1930-1960 began to gather women to take their parts in taking care of the people she saw languishing on the streets of Washington: women, children and the elderly were the most vulnerable people. Mrs. Roosevelt is said to have taken a part in the Commission on the Status of Women begun by more than a few presidents that proceeded and represented the basis for the Woman’s Movement. The New Deal that came through her husband’s work many attribute to the engagement of Mrs. Roosevelt who ventured from the White House and her Upper Class standing to come to see and understand the needs of the country at different points in time. Rarely referred to as a feminist, she represents everything that is powerful about women coming together for social change.
PART I: HISTORY 1930-1960
Ruth Rosen, University of California social historian describes most specifically the process of change that from the early Women’s Movement prior to 1963 throughout the backlash against feminism in the 80’s to the rise of global feminism in the 90’s. She chronicles the rise of effectiveness of the women’s movement to unintentional consequences by President John Kennedy in 1961. The women who had been a part of his successful run for President were invited to participate in the “Commission of the Status of Women.” These women were particularly skilled and educated and once brought together came up with grievances toward women. “Once women get together and talk, they identify the issues and from their ability to establish a language have the basis for social change,” is how Rosen describes this process then, now, here and globally. She has interviewed the women on that commission, and met with the women who she feels were the “reason for the results that happened for the Women’s Movement.” Eleanor Roosevelt was the Chairperson of the Commission and they were effective in what they presented to the public, but did not get the results they wanted from within the structure of the government. In 1966, they formed an independent Women’s Movement to have their issues and grievances for women addressed and acted upon.
In 1964, the Civil Rights Act was being presented for a vote and Rep. Howard K. Smith, chair of the House Rules did not want to see the Equal Rights Bill pass for racial or country of origin civil rights and so added, sex to the bill with the assumption that would result in the bill failing to pass in congress. Instead Title 7, Equal Rights Amendment in the Civil Rights Act passed changing the course of history.
Rosen stresses two significant accidental contributions by President Kennedy and Rep. Howard K. Smith that provided the playing field for real change to happen for women. The other factor attributed to the social change underway was the fact that the women who participated in the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and Students for a Democratic Society created a “manifesto” in 1965 to 40 women active in civil rights, student and peace movements that produced “discussion and action toward the goals of feminism that would be debated over the next three decades.”
Rosen credits the middle class value of education for women that came up in the 50’s, the Feminine Mystique by Betty Frieden, as the source of the language, noise and productive political actions of the Women’s Movement. She describes how women came to identity the “injuries of sex” and once identified and brought to language gave found for “the real genius of the Women’s Movement.”
It has to be said that the 1964 change of women having access to birth control pills correlates with the changes women brought to bear in social policy, and shows up in the fact that all changes of significance happened for women after 1964.
Part 2: War against Women
Politicus.com among other sources has a list of 65 state legislative proposed actions to limit Roe VS Wade. Their statement is: “When one group of people display inordinate animus and enmity toward an organization representing a majority of the nation’s population, it is either because of ideology or conditioning spanning centuries. In American, over 200 years of slavery has left an indelible streak of racial bigotry that persists today despite a civil rights movement and election of an African American President. Despite women’s suffrage and feminists movement in the last century, women are still regarded as second class citizens by a stubborn patriarchal element in government incited by evangelical Christians. The evangelical element is so enraged over women gaining a semblance of equal rights and the right to choose their own reproductive health, they naturally extended their hatred of women to an organization that primarily serves women and their health issues.”
Relative to this interview with Ruth Rosen, my question was-given the current state of the GOP war on women-should the Women’s Movement be reignited, recharged, regrouped?
Dr. Rosen’s answer was a surprising – no, Her position is that the Women’s Movement has created millions of women on their jobs, in their communities, in education, in their churches who are representing the need for action relative to the goals of the Women’s Movement. “It was a brilliant success” because women themselves bring to their homes, communities and work places, their unions the integration of the work that needs to continue. The need for childcare, was a current example Rosen gave that is significant for women today. Googling women’s organizations, it is clear that there is evidence that backs up Dr. Rosen’s view. She doesn’t see a gathering of one Women’s Movement even within states as effective as compared to the effectiveness of how women are participating now, mainstream, everywhere. A Women’s Movement now would produce more “significant differences, more conflict” than collaboration in Rosen’s assessment.
So surely the internet is a means to connect, identify issues and form action that brings women together. One such group that came to mind was momsrising.org that I brought up to Dr. Rosen. They have no central office, all are in their homes all across the country and address women’s and civil rights; their recent work had much to do with the success recently of paid family leave. Bringing up concerns nationwide that effect all moms, all families is a source for changing policies by their presence on the internet and at the White House. Dr. Rosen does know this group and speaks highly of their work as representative of women creating social change for the better.
PART 3: Women coming out to vote for midterm election
Dr. Rosen expressed strongly that it is very important for women to get out the vote for the midterm elections. It is a known fact that women generally do not get out to vote for the midterm, but getting more seats in the house is really important this election. Here is where women can get together however they do their votes in, and encourage each other to get their vote in and counted. All women need to be concerned about the 700 bills in play in congress and in 40 states, designed to silence the women and throw away decades of progress in civil rights and equality that have deeply contributed to the current choices available to women. Our daughters, their daughters may not know how it is they got to have the choices they have, the platform established by the Women’s Movement and the debt we all owe to those who brought equality as a practice into our lives. Getting out the vote for the midterms was the recommendation of Dr. Rosen. The women’s vote is critical and many speak about that on the various political analysis cable news shows. This is an important year, and the huge difference can be made by the women who were identified as having been a large part in President Obama’s success in his election.
This is the year to take action and vote in response to what President Obama said recently at a Planned Parenthood conference, that the legislation in 42 states banning or severely limiting the right to choose is an “assault on women’s rights, and an attempt to roll back the clock for women to 1950.” Statistically the number of women who generally don’t vote at the midterm elections if they do vote can create the tipping point needed to have the number of GOP seats reduced and the country to move on to future rather than attempting to return to the past..