Karen Colusa, artist 2011
Gloria Steinem: “A feminist is anyone who recognizes the equality and full humanity of women and men.”
Sex, Women and Power came as a new chapter for the new woman and changed the human potential for how men and women lived their lives. While living through the abrupt interruption of the life around me in the revolution of the late 1960’s; new perceptions and ideals even with its cost provided a political and social chaos from which sexual liberation led to the choices I began to recognize that were mine to make. Feminism-though I didn’t have a name for it- was what I felt like a hot knife to a still cold center of my being as a child when I was a witness to contempt and lack of dignity afforded those considered less strong, less seen-the unconsidered, the other. The concepts I could not name, but I felt when I witnessed the inequity, injustice and pain administered with authority by those in power. The urgent push to stand in the cracks rather than enter either the realm of those holding the power or those victimized was where I placed myself. The passionate and uncompromising places I found in the cracks were the signposts and directives of my life, and the purpose of this book is to identify the process of feminism-equity and justice-for men and women, inside and out, and the call for the future we must secure.
Women’s rights born under the blanket of civil rights fifty years ago shares some of the history-the struggle for equality, finding a place at the table with equal rights and privileges as citizens with access to choice and responsibility has been a process shared between women and minorities. We argue that the structured systematic condition of placing obstacles to equality for race and sex are less overt, but live in the condition of the need to exclude and deny that process of exclusion in an attempt to maintain established white privilege and power.
Women and their sense of power are a thread that is the life-force, the motion and the expression of the feminism- that I address in this book. Personal is the political for the women, the barefoot frontrunners, who took the steps to bring into their lives, their dignity and their choices, fulfilling the potential of equality. One by one, in small and large measured and unmeasured ways often, the progress over the past fifty years is profound. It reveals a pattern of empowered by sexual equality that is followed by full participation in all realms of business, political, medical and scientific achievement.
PART ONE – WOMEN describes the path of women through interviews, historical context and intimate essays of the changes experienced that redefined of women and the society around them . Interviews with women who were born in 1940 initiated the process of recognizing the specific agents that created social and sexual change. With the Women’s Movement and Civil Rights movement in the background, women lived under the radar but were the instruments of significant change. It was about how they lived their lives with a response step by step, trial and error to a new world of choice and responsibility . It is also the story of the women who came together in the 1920’s in the trade unions, then again in the 1960’s to forming the ethos of feminism. NOW, and the Women’s Liberation Movement impacted and changed the political structure by their relentless demand and attainment of worker’s rights and equality in the workplace and in the home. But it was all the women who followed who took the movement to a transformed society.
PART TWO – SEX describes women as they gained access to choice and responsibility to determine their own lives. The world changed for women with the first birth control pills in 1964, and then the Civil Rights Bill of 1965 that determined prejudice against minorities, women and immigrants could not exclude their participation and inclusion in The Great Society we aspired to be. The atmosphere of the late 1960’s was that of challenging assumptions about who we were as a country and as human beings, as men and as women. Assumptions about our roles and identities gave way to the cognitive dissonance inspired by the new freedoms and new choices and new responsibilities that came often in chaos and confusion. The future was unclear, but the demonstrations and anger from the universities to the streets of Chicago, LA and New York demanded a look at our priorities and participation in the world. Affirmative Action in 1965 was the starting point for many, within the scope of civil rights and President Lyndon Johnson’s insistence in fulfilling the intention of the Civil Rights Act. Preferential admission to universities and jobs enhanced access for women, and minorities in an attempt to reverse discrimination. The timeline shows that sexual and political power seems linked to the new history by women, and changes in social roles and by both men and women. Sexual and political changes over the span of the years of social revolution illustrate how new patterns emerged in how people lived their lives.
The women who stepped forward in Seneca Falls in 1848 or in Afganistan a week ago, give weight to the position of women who impact their circumstances and the world around them. Significant and a crack in the hardened ground of patriarchy, class regimentation, we see girls like Malala Yousafzai who have broken through the fear and contempt, and will not be stopped. In our own country, ground is broken for non violence against women who have had the courage to come forward and break the chains of sexual abuse in their homes, in our military, in universities, and in the athletic sports world. We have moved forward significantly, but in our poorest and most crime ridden local communities today, there is recognition that for girls, lack of education and property make less possible access and entry into the workplace. It all begins for girls with the means to protect themselves from unwanted pregnancies in order to progress and make into a sustainable life. Planned Parenthood has served women since the days of Margaret Sanger in the 1940’s. Roe Vs.Wade has added to their support of women to terminate an unwanted pregnancy, but predominantly, Planned Parenthood has served as a source of education and service for all income levels to guide their management of health and well being, sexual education and birth control. Predominantly, the sexual revolution of the 1970’s brought the recognition of women as sexual beings with desire and appetite unrelated to their roles as wives and mothers.
The PART THREE – POWER is the product of call in 1970 for the sexual and political liberation of women that made for the ongoing transformation underway worldwide for women, and for humanity. Women getting together with women and calling for change and taking on the openings provided to women with Affirmative Action was the action taken. Led by the voices of the women in the movement, but achieved by the women who stepped forward into the potential for liberty brought on by the social revolution. It was each women who chose to take on whatever part she saw for herself to achieve her place, her position of being a free woman. The brave actions of these barefoot frontrunners brought on the markers of feminism we find in the world today. The role of fathers, the definition of family, the high representation of women in professional and political positions of power are all the work of the women who came before. Feminism has always been about social justice and social equity, and we find today the work of Civil Rights undone is where the energy of feminism lives in Black Lives Matter. Sexism and racism begin always with the exclusion of the other seen as a threat to prevailing power. Marriage Equality in 35 states is a major win for Civil Rights and Women’s Rights, But those left behind, the women and the people of color, may be the next level of identifying and bringing the needed light and attention to the wounded people abandoned by unsustainable economic dynamics .
New family patterns have emerged that include a variety of ways in which people hold and define their lives. Who people marry and if they marry are new questions with new answers as we move forward. The dignity and individual expression of living life as we choose for men and women is the move toward a better world most agree. And yet, there is a serious attempt to take women’s rights back to restrictions and limitations lived through before women’s right to choose and birth control. Guttmacher Institute described in 2011 as the War on Women’s Reproductive Rights. In 50 states, there are 1100- reproductive revisions designed to restrict access to abortion and birth control services in in 24 states. Republicans in the house are waging a war on women through attempts to deny birth control in the Affordable Health Care system; their efforts are to take not just women but the law itself back to what was gained by Roe VS Wade in 1973. These legislative proposals from Georgia, Texas and Pennsylvania as well as Louisiana, Ohio and North Carolina are designed to take women back, not forward and ultimately society back not forward to the future we’ve left behind.
Knowing how we have come this distance considering the magic and the mastery that directed the course of women’s liberation and civil rights brings a stark recognition of the value of these past fifty years. And an urgency to keep what has been attained, and reach deeper and harder for those left behind. Affirmative Action ended in 1984, but there is talk of bringing it back. There is also a movement to train and teach women and young black boys and girls to code and enter the tech world with its cavernous need for workers as unlimited potential is the direction of that world. Yes We Code is such an organization with Start Ups all over the country bringing inventors and youth together unleashing the imagination and competency accessible in this union. Further the goal of feminism has always been since Seneca Falls in the 1920’s a solution to the people thrown away in prisons. Prison Reform is at the front of the work going forward for those who aspire for a world that represents the goals of humanitarianism, peace and justice. That is the power we discuss in this book.
This work is dedicated to all the women making the effort to include themselves, bring their talents, desires and wants to their world and our world. The new woman today is an expression of bringing their eyes and heart to meet the unmet challenges for humanity. Their power to language and shoulder the means to free themselves, and in turn to free others. To all the women and men who work to lift the corners of darkness and fear in the glaring light of racism and sexism, this is the new world we require. Ferguson, Baltimore, Oakland, New York City are not the exceptions, the people there have exposed the substantial work left to do to fulfill the goals of the Civil Rights Bill, and free men and women from the bigotry that robs them of their own peace. That truly is the power we will need to meet the challenges ahead.