Category Archives: Conditions of Change: Feminism

1960 Feminism and sisterhood

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The history of feminism from suffragettes to millineals is about the women and men who established the measures of women’s rights, civil rights  and living toward equality  and freedom to choose their politics and their sexuality.  Fifty years after the Civil Rights Bill, there is the challenge to reduce those rights, not just a whisper but a roar in forty state bills in process that would limit not just abortion, but birth control in some cases, and as such reducing the power for women to choose the use of their bodies.  The barefoot frontrunners are the women who have led and continue to provide the measures of equality as a reality in daily life.  They step out on unpaved roads and byways to claim equality and dignity for humanity.  As Nelson Mandela, Nobel Laureate stated, “Freedom cannot be achieved unless the women have been emancipated from all forms of oppression. ”

Barefoot Frontrunners is about women’s rights, civil rights as lived through,  and makes the claim that  the future of humanity depends on carrying forward the goals of feminism.  Embedded in the Civil Rights Act of 1964,   discrimination due to race, country of origin or sex became unlawful.  But further, the civil rights act provided the affirmative action plan with preferential  access to jobs and education.  Politics was personal, in as much as it was the living day to day in this period of chaos and change that took policy to reality.  A transition for women born in 1940 who came of age at the time of the Civil Rights Act.  Their intimate stories of sexual and political change convey a view of the pattern that is in process world wide.  Significantly, Birth control and women’s right to choose also became accessible to women in 1964, and provided the other side of the equation by which women found their path to freedom and equality.

Barefoot Frontunners argues that the sustainable future the planet needs and wants begins with feminism.   Feminism, humanity and sustainability are wedded in what will have that transformation take place.  Collaboration and cooperation is the future that is sustainable whether we talk about the weather or the economy, and the women of the world are moving toward that in whatever measures are available to them.  Malala Yousafzai, Gabby Gifford are referenced in this work because they both reflect and inspire the spirit of modern feminism by their own steps, they represent the power of their presence in the world.

Barefoot Frontrunners seeks to establish the debt owed by all women to those who have come before us, the gains they have made, the ground they have established as they lived through and brought forward the measures of equality we work with today.  The history of how the rights, privileges and legal changes came to be is a history unknown to many women today, and it is important to recognize and carry forward the goals of feminism.

Barefoot Frontrunners  sounds the alarm that those rights and privileges achieved primarily by having the birth control and choices available to women in how they have children and when although legal for over 50 years, there are grounds for concern about the  serious challenges in state legislation to reduce those rights.  The so called War on Women is evidenced and provided in daily the work of the GOP congress is to reduce women’s rights and reduce the power women have shown in their impact on the changes underway.  Politically and  economically, there is a committed effort  to take women back not forward to a future of their choosing.  The context for modern feminism is to carry forward the work of the previous generations to achieve equality and dignity, and to encourage and support education and choice for women around the world who strive to achieve that for themselves.

The Interviews

The women age 70 who were interviewed tell their story of living through the sociopolitical changes of their lives 1940-2014, where much of the  transformation to sexual and political freedom took place.  These women  responded to an email invitation to share their story:  how they  found themselves consistently  had much to do with finding each other from Seneca Falls in 1848 through the fifty years, it has been about a few women who opened the conceptual doors to freedom for many.    The barefoot frontrunners interviews, for instance, came through a woman’s circle that has met for over 35 years in the San Francisco Bay Area.  The group meets on the 3rd Thursday of the month and is hosted by one of 4 women who have been the hosts for this length of time.  There are women who have come only once or a few occasions over these years,  and some who have become regulars, but most have attended no more than three times.  The population is mixed in education, income, marital status and age and race.  There was a large response of over 50 requests by women to participate in this research for barefoot frontrunners.

WOMEN’S GROUPS

Every woman interviewed brought up the value of women friends and women’s groups.  The past fifty years of personal and political passage with economic and legal ground established provided the path to equality as a concept and a context through which the range of choices for these women in day to day was their individual process. 

 Born in 1940,  when it was illegal to have a book on family planning by Margaret Sanger in a book store, each new freedom with each change in the culture and in the world around them reflected in the laws provided both opportunity and challenges.  What they chose an how they chose provided new dilemmas and new responsibilities for them. They were the frontrunners, leading themselves down unknown trails often trial and error being the means to take on the new roles that resulted in the home and workplace. These women were the barefoot frontrunners, in as much as  there was the breaking from the known to the unknown of new identities and responsibilities.  It is safe to say that those who responded were interested and motivated to tell their stories because they were happy with their passage.    Easily several hundred women received the email offer to be interviewed for this research, consistently the ones who participated reported the positive end of the spectrum:  good health, vitality, enthusiastic about their current life and optimistic about the future.    Those who self selected participation would seem to reflect a positive deviance sampling,

We will talk specifically about the fact that for many women coming through the years of change, there was little or no direct experience with those who led the issues and practices of feminism.  In fact, for some there was a total lack of identification and a sense of strong alienation to the images they saw on television or read about in the newspapers to the strident representatives of feminism and social change of the 60’s.


Let’s start with the interview with Carol in the same woman’s group for over 33 years, as well as what she calls now her Palm Springs  golf group.  Jean brought up the women who sustained her after her husband’s passing with annual trips abroad.  Mother’s groups of decades was commonly reported long after there were no children in the lives of the women who participated.  There were many reports and descriptions of how women have relied on each other through periods of transition and  changes.     Consistently through the stories they told, the comfort and creative aspect of being with other women to face life’s changes was a familiar theme  of the women who came forward for an interview.  Sexuality, vitality and enthusiasm for their lives was the consistent finding of these women who elected to respond happy to tell their stories and pleased with the outcome of their journey to the modern context of feminism.

The conditions for change always included alliance with other women in the reports that were given.    For women, growing up in the family of origin, there were changes in location, marital status or career that set up the need for change.  Often the dynamic was unexpected and nor welcomed.  In the face of a crisis and chaos, new choices were presented and with that, shifts in identity and lifestyle.  A disruption to the status quo provoked discomfort and painful departures from the expectations assumed to be what the future was to be.

Each woman provided a description of their process, and the changes that came as a result.   The path for women  born in the 1940’s who passed through the counter culture social revolution of the late 60’s and early 70’s, the choices and options available to them were part of those shifts.  While these women were living their lives, change was underway.  President Kennedy in 1961 brought together a group of women who were educated and experienced from the campaign that elected him to take on the role he offered them to change history for women.  They were the Commission on the Status of Women, and they came up with what they termed “injuries of sex” to women at home and at the work place.  When these women could not get a response to the need for change within the government as a Commission, they left the government and became the powerful source of change within the Woman’s Movement that stirred the nation to recognition of the need for social change.

In 1964, two significant game changers occurred as well.  First,  the  1964 Civil Rights Act prompted granting women more preference in entry to college and jobs through Affirmative Action.  Birth Control in 1964 and Roe VS Wade in 1973 granted choice and access where none existed before.     For the women who told their stories for barefoot frontrunners, their experience of the changes around them were mixed.  Each of their histories relative to the changes underway were shades of recognition and access to college entry, womens studies, and new views of what was available  to them in their lives.  They married, had children, divorced, many crossed the country to get to Northern California.   California was the mecca for those who aspired to the the counter culture presented on television and the magazines as the New Society.

Many of those interviewed said explicitly ” I didn’t  want a life like my mother,”   and yet they had no roadmap for the new choices, the new responsibilities they would encounter.  The transition was trial and error to some extent, and there were many women who looked askance at their sisters and mothers and daughters and decided they wanted no part of the revision of the roles for women.  Tension between the women who chose the path of uncertainty inherent in this new conception of living life, and those who stayed with the traditional was real and expressed in leaving behind family members who no longer spoke as reported by some of the women.

As Anne, 72, described it:  I didn’t want my mother’s life or to be like my mother, but I had no idea how to do my life otherwise.  And every time I failed at some part of my life-my marriage or my kids or my kid’s school, or a job and money, I compared my life with my mother’s and felt a failure.”   It was the peers, the women who were making an effort to go back to school, advocate and support change who found comfort with each other in moments of loss and confusion as reported by the women interviewed.

Jane, 71,  spoke of it as “the consistent challenge to be a free woman to make my own decisions, to deal with my mistakes.  It was hard to learn how not to feel like a failure when I fell short of where I thought I should be.  It was hard to get back on track sometimes when I really didn’t know  where I was going.”

SUPPORT SYSTEMS

“Counter culture Explosion” is how the period of the late 60’s are described by Sylvia born in 1941.  She, like others, found the life she could not have dreamed possible and as she navigated her way through college, graduate school,  the work she wanted as an artist she was fulfilled. The women friends with whom she shared her intimate fears and passions were her consistent support system.  “Family is just not something I’m good at,” Sylvia says.  Today, her broken relationship with her family in the midwest and her daughter  are the only regrets she has in having taken her life full on defining her own terms. “My friends are my family,” she says and the sense of loss that she still carries that is evident.

CURRENT RELATIONSHIP STATUS

Of the sample of 100, serial monogamous relationships were reported by most of the women:  6 never married, 18 married once, 29 married twice,  4 married three times; 19 currently divorced with no  partner, 21 living with other than partner, 3 widowed.

THE WOMEN AND THEIR CHOICES

 Phyllis, 72, worked 32 years for a government agency.  She has a pension and her social security.  Her retirement allows for travel with her golfing buddies on a regular basis to Palm Springs.  She is well set, more so than her male friends with whom she has lived in a serial monogamy situations, never married.  Active in her younger years in  Women’s Liberation, she now has a Ladies golfing group who plan getaways three times a year that gives her a life design that works for her.  Still she feels the empty place where “something might have been” that she can’t actually describe, but still has a longing for.  It might be the ‘road not traveled blues’ that she describes in not having had a family or a marriage, but overall she sees she is in a stronger position than her women friends who married, many of whom are single now either as widows or as divorced.

 Patricia, 71, in her interview also relies on her friends for company in her life travels.   She was told as a freshmen when she came to study law in college that the courtroom was not the place for women, and was encouraged to choose anthropology instead as an undergraduate.   There is still the sense of bitterness as she tells this story, even though in the end over time she got her Ph.D in Psychology.  She views her work as a means to encourage people to choose what works for them and has been successful in her work as a coach.    The mother of three children, she expresses strongly that her only regret is her choices in terms of the men she married.  She is single by choice, and happy about it.   She meets monthly, and has done so for 34 years  with a group of professional women with whom she feels consistent support and intimate contact through the years.  As she describes her life, she expresses enthusiasm for the fact that just in recent years she is much more confident about herself than she has ever been in her life previously, lives with a boyfriend of 12 years.

Catherine, 71, a retired Stanford Ph.D in Electrical Engineering still has lunch every week with Alice with whom she worked in Cupertino in 1996.  She was the only woman in her physics lab and struggled for two years behind the overt preference the professors gave to the rest of the male students.  This was 1975, and the belief that men were the primary support for families she feels is why the professors openly gave  preferential treatments to men, a frustrating part of her academic history.  After a severe and painful setback academically relative to the “second class”  status she endured in her physics department, she took leave and  some time for herself with her sisters in Santa Barbara.  Once she had recovered and was well again emotionally and physically,  she returned and did complete her Ph.D which to this day she feels was one of her biggest accomplishments.

She has officially retired from her lab work position that resulted from completing her doctorate, and is satisfied with the career that left her comfortable and well set for her retirement.  Although she is looking for another job because even with retirement and social security, she finds it hard to live the life she wants within the confines of a budget. She lives alone, never married and no longer looking for a partner.

Anna, 74, in her interview reveals what many women  saw in entering a new path emerging for women.  With a family of 4 children, she entered Laney College and explored a new world she had never considered at  Esalen in studies with Claudio Naranjo, becoming a follower of his work and community.  She found her place in that communal living in the 70’s and is still resides  with that group.  Claudio Naranjo, known for his work with MDA in rehabilitating people to get past their fears and limitations had a powerfully positive effect on Anna.  Although her experience in the 70’s was a long time ago, she feels the presence of the impact of those days on her today she shares.  The group changed significantly when Claudio Naranjo left the group she reports.  She is quite happy with her life and has just begun a new relationship with a new boyfriend after being single for seven years.

SEXUALITY

With few exceptions, the women interviewed stressed their ongoing interest and enthusiasm for sex.  It would be interesting to study the level of interests of women prior to the sexual liberation shifts in attitudes of the 70’s to see if the interest in sexuality is the same or different.  But for most of the  women over 70, even if currently inactive,   sexual experience, good experiences of intimacy and a trust with a valued partner were all acknowledged as very important.  For those single, they specifically spoke of their desire to find that special relationship in a partner relationship, not necessarily to be married.  In this group, those in a relationship, married or cohabiting made it clear they were there by choice and not obligation.

Sarah 74 spoke of her days of exploring her sexuality as a young woman, leaving one lover for another and the marriage she entered into only 14  years ago.  Her husband now has Alzheimers and she said in a confidential tone that these are the sweetest days of their lives together.  “He lives in the moment, and this has resulted in our having the best sex we’ve had in all our years together.”

Dianne 72 as well as four others mentioned the fact that because of their partner’s medication, sex as they knew it was no longer an option.  Dianne said that she and her husband just “don’t go there” and have pretty much forgotten about that part of their lives, and continue to enjoy each other in different ways.  They have a Sunday social group that they have been part of for years, enjoy the Berkeley Rep matinees and are happy with how their lives have evolved.

THE ROADS CHOSEN

It seemed that for these women and the many who reported their lives similarly, they were at varying levels of awareness of the changes that were underway for them in the 60’s.   They had the benefit of choice in childbearing and marriage after 1964, having experienced the world without choice in their earliest years.  They made changes in  life partners, had children and navigated the waters of choice with ups and downs, wins and losses not without significant doubt and worry about their lives outside the script of their parents’ lives.  Measuring their success was a variable that changed over the years.  Only one reported real regret in choices that she made, and that was the men she had married.

Significant was the fact that these women were self sufficient only by how they chose to live their lives, having scaled down with social security being the principle means of support.  Alternative senior groups around Berkeley and Oakland accounted by some the means to live life as well as they did due to shared expenses.  Only three reported a pension that allowed more choice in lifestyle.  For sure, those who were cohabitating or married , or widowed.  Very few did not mention the need for extra income that they met by making small amounts of money through creative ventures, like house sitting, dog sitting, driving and shopping for others, or other services in the community for which they were paid.   The women who chose to be interviewed would seem to represent the positive deviance of the aging unmarried or widowed woman challenged and active in determining the means to maintain their lifestyles.  They were all in good health, two having recovered from breast cancer years before.  They presented an enthusiasm for their lives, and enjoyed the opportunity to talk about their lives.

The power of relationship  was consistent in all the reports made by these women in telling their stories.  Through their women friends and groups, church groups, travel groups and interest groups,  the paths they described sustained them emotionally and physically.  Most had shifted careers as they shifted identities over the course of their lifetimes.   Only two  reported the issues of sexism deeply in bedded in some workplaces.

THE POWER OF CONNECTION

Over the sewing circles of the 30’s or currently,  or in more current times, the women who gather to work together at for instance Hackermoms  in Berkeley, there is evidence that women have always come together to  inspire, conspire, and encourage each other’s desires.   Their shared  interpretations of how they want to live and the choices that are available to define their life’s course have been a source of reference for most. Women, as opposed to men,  seem more flexible in terms of willingness to be led and to lead others to to life choices and identity.  The thread throughout their lives and the lives of women throughout history is  connecting, with each other and in the process expanding the notion of who we are as women.

LONGEVITY

We know demographically  that women live longer than men, or have in the past but there are indications that women are gathering along with their increased participation in the work force, the medical problems seen as a result of work and stress.  But the skill of connecting and socializing are emphasized as one of the reason for women’s longevity exceeding men’s.

It is a well known fact, that senior women have better skills for maintaining and creating connection and community than men, attributed to their roles based on competition and isolation and independence that have often been their orientation on the job.  The women interviewed for Barefoot Frontrunners by virtue of the self selection  brought chose to participate, and represented the choice of connection and community in their responses.

For the women who lived through the fifty years since the Civil Rights Act, it began often with breaking the rules that had been unselected in their growing up, and finding the right path.  Discomfort, confusion and pain were definitely accounted for in their process.  Being good, being pretty, not being bold or bossy, waiting for one’s turn-all of these social skills needed to be reconsidered and that process was often accounted for in the interviews.  Often these women, as barefoot frontrunners, had to rely on their intuition and inspiration rather than social approval or access.  It could be said that the response to pain in the world is from those experiences of marginalization and intimidation many women experienced in the workplace or academic environment.  Affirmative Action got them in the doors on jobs and college campuses, but the process of individuation they encountered was difficult and painful as reported by some.  The Barefoot Frontrunner’s response to the pain in the world is to take the step out and towards a place lacking support, guidance or protection.  The indignities and injuries of the world are made visible by those who see and feel the inequity and exclusion because of their own experiences.  By simple acts of courage over the years of change and transition in the 70’s and 80’s, these women interviewed through small and large acts witnessed and participated within their lifetime, a full shift in what it is to be a woman.  By how these women have  lived their lives, their daughters and granddaughters have the power to determine the choices brought forward to them.   Born of a social revolution and civil rights bill in the 60’s, those rights and legal principles are the law of the land but under severe challenge now in congress.  How will this generation respond?

The women’s movement, the Anti War movement, the civil rights movement  stimulated the polarity of views that allowed for social change and change in how women were perceived and how they perceived themselves. .   The civil rights act of 1964, Affirmative Action all created the opening through which many women passed to get the education, the job and the life of their choosing.

Fifty years of civil rights and women’s rights has brought change in western civilization.  It’s a bell that cannot be unrung.  It is the promise for all civilization as we learn over and over again that all women, all people deserve the life of dignity and choice.  And that all societies who take into account the value of equality for true prosperity and growth will be the future.  Economies that account for the underpaid woman or man doing the same job are the future.  An ecology that brings sustainability to the resources we share as a planet we share-that is our future, that is the context of modern feminism.

 

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1950 Women relieved by Feminists in late 1960s.

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1950  women relieved by feminists in the late 1960s and the Women’s Movement and social revolution underway.  Bra burning feminists definitely alienated many from assuming further understanding of the practice.  But it was a practice, a demonstrated by women who rejected the confines of their social role, their place in the family and in their communities.  All women did not agree with the tactics taken by some, in fact there was quite a bit of polarity among women in the country.   True liberation of limitations of sexual identity restricting women’s choices and expression had a certain amount of agreement, but expressing that statement was not always agreed upon.

The hard work of our grandparents who went to work with no health benefits, retirement or unemployment or social programs that helped the elderly, poor and needy was a result of the church and the families.  There were those who didn’t identify with the process as it occurred in the late 60’s.  Six million women went to work  to take the jobs of the men who were sent overseas during World War II.  The women then returned to their homes after the war and the men took their jobs again.  Better working conditions for workers came about as a result of those women on the jobs during the war, and is seen by some as the beginning of civil rights.  The New Deal brought about the soldiers returning getting VA loans for school and to purchase homes and often relocating to different parts of the country forming nuclear families where there had mostly been extended families.  Now another war was happening in Viet Nam, men were drafted and dissension and protests about the war were common.   Those protests allowed the women to organize and bring about the issues that crystalized in the Women’s Movement in the late 60’s.  

But it must be said that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was the pivotal moment that made the “injuries of sex” established by the Commission on the Status of Women in 1966, appointed by President John Kennedy, that changed the platform of what was possible for women.

Seeking change and bettering the support of families and equitable conditions in the work place have been a process voiced and advanced by women all along the way from the suffragettes, through World War II and most specifically during the Viet Nam war.

The sexual revolution had as its basis women having what Gloria Steinem termed “the right to the satisfaction and compensation of work.”   Only  4%  of the workers were women in 1941, but by the 1990’s,   53% of women worked outside the home.  Revolution is about conflict, with and without bloodshed, dissatisfaction and a break in the cultural cohesiveness is an important factor.   As well, a revolution represents a breakdown in the assumption of implied and specific beliefs and orientation by a majority to diverse and often conflicting viewpoints and standards by a minority that makes itself heard.

The Viet Nam war is credited with cracking the door for some of the changes that brought about the many classes and groups  in the continuum of equality and opportunity.   Women who had participated in Anti War and Civil Rights Movements had found themselves allocated to their roles as supporters.  The movement that formed in 1966 was a product of the Civil Rights Act in 1964 which gave ground to the social changes the women specifically demanded.   Women’s circles, women’s groups, women’s study groups that raised the consciousness of women, and men to define the practice of feminism.  Equality is one aspect of feminism, social, political and economic equality for all sexes is a broader definition.

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Political revolution

Betty Frieden created a movement of  women who came together and created a platform for the  National Organization of Women in 1970.   Equal pay for equal jobs was identified and a part of the movement for many.  In 1997, the Paycheck Fairness Act would be introduced by Senator Thomas Daschle of South Dakota.  It would be 2013 when the Paycheck Fairness Act through the work of Lily Ledbetter.

The conditions for change as the morality was challenged  around the issues of inequality have been at the center.  Lines were drawn between different segments of the population all across the country producing great conflict, polarities and an environment for  those conditions to be recognized as core to new laws, new identities and new practices.  They happened in families, in communities, in neighborhoods.  Those changes took some time and were fostered by the relentless commitment by the women and men who took the challenges on.

Around the country, Ivy League and State Universities came to the streets in protest of the war, and in support of Civil Rights.  Women came together, as they had from the days of the Suffragettes and before, and changed their own consciousness about power and the sharing of the benefits economically and socially.  Discontent, anger and revolting against the assumed practices of state and national government are what the generations before us gave to this generation.  Women’s ability to choose their destiny over their biology is often seen as a consequence of the birth control law in 1964, the right to choose in 1973 and the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

How was this being lived through by many women at that time?  Their stories give a fuller picture of that experience.  But it is critical that recognition is given to the process of freedom and liberation of women now in 2014 because in 40 states women’s rights  are being challenged.  To know that the freedom women have today is a benefit that comes from that generation, the Margaret Sanger’s, the Bella Abzug’s, the Jane Fonda’s is important.  What we have comes from a generation who made the demands that produced the changes we enjoy, and we must be responsible to carry forward those gains to our granddaughters and theirs.

 

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2001 What we’re used to-

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San Francisco  2001

Wet mirrored on pavement in the night with break lights garish shining-carnival like, we drive in silence.  All eyes on the road ahead not even the radio on.

Windshield wipers work hard, and the swish of the tires meeting pools of water serenade us. The sea of brake lights ahead of us tell us there is no hurry.  We’ll get there when we do.  And none of us any faster than the other.

Flipping on the radio as we sit idle, we know we can’t go back and can’t move ahead, can’t even get out of the car. Resignation now stalks the car like a cat awaiting dinner, unflinchingly attentive to the empty bowl it faces.

****************************************************************************What are the conditions for change?  What has us awake to the need for change, identify what needs to happen and take that to action and change?   The past fifty years tell us a great deal about the conditions that fostered feminism.  Feminism has gotten a shadow image, a negative stereotype of the overly strident dominating woman.  The very image of the woman taking on the male persona as means to take power and have authority is another.  How women have been defined is very much a product of the cultural group.  Bias toward women is both a feminine attribute as well as male.  Sheryl Sandberg in her book Lean In who makes reference to the internalized prejudice acquired by women toward women, and says “Women are not just victims of sexism, they perpetuate it.   Unidentified and unexamined habits of thinking and acting in the business and professional world show up in the fact that both men and women teachers and business professionals, doctors.  So how these attitudes get into the culture even now are not really a mystery.  Is it what we get used to.

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The Bay Bridge  1997

Automatic behavior-that’s what psychologists call some behavior, repetitive, not requiring focus but putting the well worn patterns of detail together already established. Driving is that.  One is not aware of the discrete or gross shifts in movement or perception.

The eyes on the mirror do not spell out commands to slow the car for the car coming from the right. The hands on the steering wheel get no defined instruction to bear right, ease up on the gas, or reach for the brake. All this disappears from thought into the blocks that follow as we move toward the City.

Public radio voices  fill the car:  A crisis in Somalia where in the background audible grunts and groans can be heard and cries of fear and pain, with the NPR’s soothing voice over dispassionately speaking. The voice of a Somalian woman, her tone recognizable if not her words, speaks in a high pitched voice as she describes her children’s needs and her own.  Even so, there is resignation in her voice:  Everyone is hungry.  This is what it is for everyone, no one having any more nor less than herself.

It is hard to imagine her having any perception of any life outside the transparent walls that limit and reduce her life.  The guns, politics and economics that have sourced her difficulties and that of her village are not spoken of by her. This impersonal devastation has personal consequences for her children and herself. For her, the daily quest to place food in the mouths of her children is all there is.

 Several blocks have gone by and stopped at a red light, a stream of brake lights lay ahead, surreal in their neon pink glistening in the deep blue color of twilight the sky  has provided tonight.

Flashing across the intersection, the blue and red lights up ahead reveal a truck fender embedded in the left side of a dark maroon Volvo door.  No sign of either driver.  People clustering around the car and the truck, both vehicles soundless.

 The light changes and I feel my foot on the accelerator, feel my hand on the wheel, and am aware of the inches between my car and the other cars passing by.  I am suddenly aware that I am in a car- just inches away from other automobiles where everyone’s actions directly impact others, and can be in control of events.

I look to the driver in the car passing who does not see me but is intently looking forward.   I glance back thru the rear mirror to the red flashing lights now pulling up to the embedded truck and car.

 The stock market report is on now and the internet stocks are a source of excitement to that can be heard in the voice of the NPR host.

Blocks pass by.  I’m thinking about the woman from Somalia. I’m thinking of her mechanical task of finding a cup of rice.

It’s what she’s used to.

 I’m now on 880, the car has fallen in with the distance in front and behind my car, providing the illusion of both autonomy and harmony as we all move at similar speed forward. Darkness has filled the car. I sigh and lean back, turn up NPR again.

It’s what I’m used to.

 

 

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2012: structure and study of barefoot frontrunners

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Where are we going, where have we been:  The history of feminism, suffragettes to millineals,  is about the women and the men who established  the measures of women’s rights to determine the use of their bodies, and civil rights bringing equality and access to the role of women in the world.  Fifty years after the Civil Rights Bill, there is the challenge to reduce those rights that is not a whisper but a roar in forty state bills in process that would limit not just abortion, but birth control.   The barefoot frontrunners are the women who have led and continue to provide the path to equality, stepping out on unpaved road to bring the gains of equality and dignity to humanity.  Nobel Laureate Nelson Mandela stated “freedom cannot be achieved unless the women have been emancipated from all forms of oppression.”  Women’s rights are human rights and the only future for humanity.

Where we have been is the story:  the  historical context of  the sexual and political advances of women  and their intimate stories as they lived through this period of change inside and out.   Where we are going is  to carry forward the feminism that addresses the betterment of humanity.  What has been given by the previous generation falls on the next to maintain and move forward.  

 

THE INTERVIEWS

There are many definitions of feminism, for the purposes of Barefoot frontrunners, the inclusion of all, men or women,  who seek equality and dignity for all human beings is a good place to start.  The history of women’s rights as lived through by the women, from Baby Boomers to millenials, here and throughout the world is fresh terrain.  Those women had the benefit of  women’s rights in 1965 through a civil rights act, but brought the possibilities from the act into their lives and  may or may not be aware of how those benefits came to be.  The Barefoot frontrunners took on the rough terrain and  found their way through trial and error to establish their lives.

Another aspect to the showing the history, social and political, of sexual liberation are their personal and intimate stories.  The women’s movement as seen through the historians, like Ruth Rosen of University of California and Estelle Freedman of Stanford is still the essential to the education and representation of feminism throughout the world.  The work is not done, but in process.  As Estelle Freedman states it, feminism has been a middle class phenomena and  has not reached into the areas of the world where women suffering poverty and lack of education.

The continuum of this process of feminism corresponds to the level of humanity and dignity world wide.  The story of the barefoot frontrunners, where we are and how we got here, and where we need to go to expand women’s rights is the content and the perspective of this work.

The value of the stories of the women is to reflect the process of feminism is ongoing, showing up in different parts of our society.  These stories of the women who came through the sexual and political liberation of the past fifty years.  The work of feminism for the women who found their freedom and self expression reminds those who do not know the history, personal or political, the cost born by those who came first to these new interpretations of being a woman.  The women born in 1940 who responded to the invitation to be interviewed in every case had triumphed over the conditions, limitations, obstacles, hardships and disappointments.  There are many women who would have a different perspective and a different outcome, but this self selected group represents the positive deviants of the women who came through the sociopolitical changes of the past fifty years relative to their being a woman.

Positive deviance by definition is a description of those at one end of the continuum:  those who thrive, are inspired by and engaged with satisfaction in a process that could produce a variety of results, like women’s rights.   The fuller picture of those turning 70 would entail inclusion of  conditions resulting from limitations of access, opportunity and education and a range of issues related to health, social or marital, economic disparity.

What these women interviewed for Barefoot Frontrunners brought to the perspective was in fact that conditions of health and well being, education and economic vitality indicated either the positive or negative outcome of aging.     One aspect that was evident was that the  women interviewed  identified as being innovative and open to a variety of ways to problem solve.  Those interviewed came from a  group that meets monthly for over 35 years.  Rarely the same people attend, they are from all over the country, all ages, all stages, middle class the common denominator is being willing to risk exposure by presenting their question, and open to discovery in terms of the response they get from the group.

From this aggregate, the women who stepped forward relished the opportunity to tell their story though they were clear about the condition of anonymity as an interview process subject.  Consistently, as is probably self evident in their volunteering for the research, they were pleased with their current state of well being with a sense of security in the world.

Still they reported that for  each gain, each law, each standard, there were challenges; they described obstacles, obstructions, imposed limitations prior to sexual and political freedom, and then the new problems that came with civil rights and affirmative action.  They reflected on their responsibility in defining new paths.  Each spoke of not wanting a life “like my mother” in one form or another.  But they didn’t  know what would be asked of them with new freedom, and if they could meet the needs of the situations they encountered.  They reported both significant losses and thrilling gains in their passage through the years of social change.

THE HISTORICAL TIMELINE: 1940-1965

All the significant changes in law and policy have happened  in the past 49 years for women, most specifically the pivotal year of 1964 when birth control became accessible through the work of Margaret Sanger who opened the first women’s clinic in 1939 and is the founder of Planned Parenthood.   The addition of women’s rights to the  civil rights act in 1965 became the law of the land, not necessarily the law in practice.

CHANGE AND TRANSFORMATION

How did civil rights and birth control impact women? Unlike today with the ongoing 24/7 news of every place in the world and every significant news item publicized on our phones, on our computers with the newspaper being the slow route, not all women knew or participated in the process of gaining the benefits of women’s rights.  Change is chaotic, and the path and the directions for living life  through the transitions and conflict was welcomed and experienced by some, not all women, or men in the late 60’s.   It was a time of challenging sexual roles by both men and women.   Ultimately the civil rights act and affirmative action sought to provide a more level playing ground.  Given the mothers of the women born in the 40’s could not drive, own property or have access to birth control, this new world of opportunities to discern one’s own choices was confronting to many women.    

Prior to this period of liberation, women were taken in and cared for in the event of loss of husband by  extended family and churches.   Those days were before FDR and the New Deal with public policies to aid the family.   Divorce was rare,  most often the father just went away and left the family.   So change looked risky, liberation and freedom were concepts not all women embraced.  So some women led, some followed and some watched the black and white television reports of women aggressively speaking of equal rights in the 1960’s and didn’t identify with the process at all. Alongside the women who made the changes happen, these women also are barefoot frontrunners. 

The Barefoot Frontrunner

A profile emerges of who the barefoot frontrunners are today and throughout history.  She breaks the rules, finds her own path, and leads to places without the benefit of social agreement as well as those where there are legal grounds, but little social approval.  The Barefoot Frontrunner’s response  to the pain in the world is to take the step out and towards a place lacking support, guidance or protection.  The indignities and injuries of the world are made visible by their simple acts of courage.  The Barefoot Frontrunner takes their vision of the world, and expands the awareness and discomfort of the world to inequality and indignity.  Feminism has always been about reform, a social reform:  reform of prisons, a reform to temperance, equal pay, equal access to education and inclusion in academia and the job market.  Feminism has always been about women and men who seek equality through change.  Changes always come in response to the cracks in the solidity of positions held in society.  The struggle over the Viet Nam war and racism provided the conflict and a dawning consciousness that led to the heightened cohesion and action of the women’s movement to facilitate women’s rights.

WOMEN IN THE WORKPLACE

16.1 million Americans were drafted into World War II on average for sixteen months.  Their jobs in the shipyards, in the factories, on the farms were taken by women who were needed for the war effort.   Rosie the Riveter is symbolic of all the women who took the jobs for the men who entered the war.  Workers’ rights came about during this period of time in the ship factories of Richmond, California, as well as other locations.  Many of the women who came to California left South Carolina, Georgia and Texas because of the jobs available to women at that time.  Those workers’ rights gained disappeared  once the soldiers returned to their jobs. Women were sent home in 1945, and the FHA single family homes launched a new era of independence and relocation for many. The return of the vets and the single family home purchases and baby boom boosted the sagging economy post World War II.

The VA loans for all the soldiers who returned offered access to home purchases and college entry allowing social mobility producing the bustling 1950’s. How were the women faring shows up could be a factor in  the highest recorded level of alcoholism attributed to  dissatisfaction that showed up in the mental and physical health of women .  Masters and Johnsons (Sexual History) Chapter 4) did a significant study on the sexual dysfunctions of unhappy wives. Not directly concerned with their unhappiness, but wanting to have the women more responsive to their roles of wife and mother.

It would be the Viet Nam war that allowed women to come out of their homes again in the mid 1960’s.   Protests, and the Anti-war and civil rights movements brought women together.  Reform of the war that was killing so many of America’s youth in Viet Nam, and the tragedies of three young girls in a Babtist Church in Alabama provoked the women participating in the anti war and civil rights protests.  They began talking to each other and noticed they were relegated to “women’s work of getting coffee and the paper work done” and began to invest themselves  in the Women’s Movement.  Also at this time, the Commission of Women’s Issues which President John F Kennedy brought into existence produced a document identifying 47 Sexual Injuries to women in the work place and in the home.   This group would ultimately leave the government and throw their considerable skills in public life to the work of the Women’s Movement. ( Ruth Rosen: The World Split Open )

Meanwhile Betty Frieden’s The Feminine Mystique challenged women to consider a whole other level of understanding about their sexuality.    For those women,  their roles, society’s view of them and the contradictions they experienced, a new awareness of themselves emerged.  It was far from comfortable, particularly women towards women, to challenge the a priori of what was considered to be a successful woman at that time.  Those that did respond led themselves on a path with no guaranteed destination.  Without protection or structure, barefoot frontrunners, these women were ridiculed in the news reports as unfeminine, with family members who distanced themselves from their “strident and bossy” ways.  Even within the Women’s Movement, there was considerable conflict over what it meant to be liberated and who was and who wasn’t truly free.  In the fray of these conflicts, tv show hosts and comedians made light of the struggle.

For the majority of non urban women who were not in a college environment, there was no real understanding or knowledge of the need for the struggle underway, no way to assimilate what seemed alien to what they knew from the world around them.  The effect on these women was to distance themselves from the stereotype feminists.  As some made  new decisions, taking on new responsibilities and dealing with the hard work of establishing new identities, most women at that time steered clear of the conflict within themselves as well as the building of  external pressure from a changing society.

For all women, recognition of the doors opened with the  Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Chapter 6) and Affirmative Action  which brought more women into college and into jobs previously not available to them.  Life was changing across the United States, but most emphatically in California, New York and Chicago.

BACK TO THE FUTURE

Women’s rights – feminism is a  work in progress.  The conditions for the values and practices of women’s rights are unevenly distributed outside the United States and within.  Those conditions that enhance the developments of feminism, that is equality and dignity to all people, are reducing poverty and making education available for all women in addition to having sexual education and responsibility in the hands of women and their choices about the use of their bodies.

Women have come a long way.   More women entered college as early as 1975, and that is the standard now.  Women have entered business and political life with success since the 80’s aided by the Affirmative Action policies of the late 70’s.  An equal number of women are head of households currently as their male partners, and 40% of the family incomes have women contributing equally to the household income.  Marriage is a choice, having children is a choice for women young and older today.(Chapter 5)  Women have their own 401K’s, their own health insurance. as the Barefoot frontrunners sample survey indicates,  women of social security age, most are self supporting, and will work for the remainder of their lives.  The past fifty years of women’s rights have changed the rules and the roles, but not for women in the areas of poor education and poverty anywhere in the United States.  Not for the women in countries where education of girls is prohibited.

THE WAR ON WOMEN

Today  40  states  are attempting to reduce women’s rights through bills that outlaw birth control as well as abortion.  Most incongruous is the fact that abortions have diminished by 40% at the lowest level in thirty years because Planned Parenthood, schools and public awareness has given the means for girls and women to be responsible for potential pregnancies.  Therefore, the attempt to do away with birth control and abortion would only damage the increasing number of girls and women who are being responsible for pregnancy and disease.

Going back to the future is not a destination to aspire to.  It’s important that women coming along are aware of the need to carry forward of the work of previous generations to the freedoms earned by women today.  For the younger generations, gen x-ers or millineals for example, the work of the earlier generations gave them the women’s rights they have always had.    It may not be clear that all the changes that occurred for women and minorities were hard won and at a significant cost, and relatively recent, and sometimes an accidental gain.(Chapter 2)    .  They may or may not be aware of the fact that Planned Parenthood  has been around as long as the quest for freedom and equality for women has been, and has served with dignity and respect women, men and our communities with education and treatment.

So it is the Barefoot frontrunners

The purpose of this book is to provide that history, convey the challenges that have been and still are of concern to women, and the society we all say we want.  Those women in our history and in our world  who demand going forward, bringing equality and civil rights to  women through politics and education throughout the  world are the barefoot frontrunners. That is the future, the transformation, that leads from the vision of inclusion, rather than exclusion, -collaboration rather than competition and sustainability rather than opportunistic use of resources shared by society.   The work ahead will have much more gravitas and meaning if we understand the past, how  the gains have been made that have profoundly impacted the opportunities and choice provided by women’s rights.(Chapter 10)  These gains from the voices and actions of women unwilling to tolerate

conditions that violated  personal dignity and potential are ours to continue, ours to guarantee.

Gloria Steinem:  A feminist is anyone who recognizes the equality and full humanity of women and men.

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