Tag Archives: women in politics

Kamala Harris: Violence against Women stops here

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How effective is The Violence Against Women Act of 1994 is the question of 2014? As the layers of sexism become exposed, there are valid questions and more exposure to the fact that the 1994 law was only the beginning of a shift in how women are perceived in sexual assault and what that means.   Statistics show that there has been a decrease is sexual abuse since the law was instated.   But it seems than likely as in the sports world, in the military and in the university reports of assault and rape become known, that it is the reports of sexual assault that have decreased relative to their incidence, and not the number of incidences of assault.

 

The cost of a woman confronting the incidence of her assault is costly, personal and denigrating in many cases if they are even given credence at all once  reported. In the NY magazine Winter 2014, there is a story on student who carries her mattress around campus because her report of being assaulted on campus by a student did not result even in his being expelled from the University.  Only if there are headlines and large figures in the world of professional athletes, the best universities, or the top brass of the military do we find the public awareness pressing in on what might be the current evidence that violence against women has not been fully addressed even with the 1994 law.

 

In recent months NFL football players Ray Rice of Baltimore and Ray McDonald of the San Francisco 49ers assaulted their mates within weeks of each other, and now the world is watching.  There is a demand to change the policies within the sports world to condemn the behavior of these sports athletes, and any others that might follow. There is talk of dire consequences and dismissal from their multi million dollar careers should these athletes fail to meet those standards of not hitting women.  Trained most of the time since high school, these athletes of age early twenties to late twenties are trained to hurl their bodies without mercy onto the fields and the players with different jerseys.   Brutality is an asset; quick moves automatic without consideration for bodily harm-theirs or the player across from them is the game.  A football is the focus, reaching and grasping stretching and extending the body and mind to whatever it takes to get to cross the line to the goal.  Like the ancient gladiators, their spent bodies are of no concern to the sports fans, the producers of the league or the team owners.  Head trauma, broken knees, arms, hips and pelvises that result for these young bodies and minds are being given some attention these days.  Concussions are now being recognized not only for the immediate destructive consequence, but the long range potential consequences of Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s as well as the documented link to the conditions of alcohol and prescription drug abuse.  There is the dawning recognition of the cost to young athletes who pay for a lifetime of injury to their physical and psychological damages for the violent use of their bodies in football, and other sports.

For the young athletes who suddenly have huge sums of money offered to them, and fame-they are the winners in the lottery of life. They have little training in how to manage their extraordinary lives.  They are perceived as heroes, and are paid extremely well once professional football players or baseball or basketball.

For the general public the headlines report their car accidents, their fights with other players and their mates, just like other celebrities in the entertainment business.   Just like other celebrities they are public property from which the excitement about them, their lifestyles and their traumatic losses sell newspapers, keep the sports radio shows going, and add to the drama and ticket sales on the football field or sports arena.  For those on the sideline, the justification of the use and exploitation of these young men is that they are paid six figure salaries or more, they drive great cars, and the plays they make on the field are the thrill of their performances.

 

And it is the video of Ray Rice that even brings the conversation to the level of public awareness, and uproar. Men hitting women and the demand for a consequence began with the suffragettes who closed the bars because of wife beating in what they called “bloody Saturday nights.”  In the 1920’s, men lost a good part of their paychecks and then many came home and beat their wives.  The response by the Temperance Union to close the bars was motivated by the safety of women from the drunken assaults. (Suffragettes History)

Since the 1994 Violence Against Women Act, there is the report of a 64% reduction in violence against women.  However, that reduction cannot include what wasn’t reported; women getting hit and not reporting it.  Nor does it include the casual and frequent response of police when called with their position of blaming both parties in an assault by a man situation.  The woman’s state of being, sober or having ingested alcohol, what she was wearing, her history are all weighed, and she is often considered to have conspired with the outcome of assault or even the cause. That was what happened with the police in the case of Ray Rice and his wife.  This video stirred up the recognition that more needs to be done to train those in power to respond with absolute unequivocal effective action.  For the coaches, for the police, for the public the no tolerance for assault to a woman is being called for.  In the realm of testosterone laden football athletes, the demand for managing themselves is being revealed as not an option but a demand that needs to be met by the players, by the coaches and by the commissioners and their responses to assaults by players. In the heat of the video and the embarrassment of Commissioner Roger Goodell, there was that talk. There was also talk of starting to train young men about themselves and their aggression on and off the field in high school – which made the most sense of everything discussed. Will the attention and intention to encourage the punishment of sexual assault be the answer?

President Obama asked Kamala Harris, Attorney General in California to present to congress that 1 in 5 undergraduates are sexually assaulted, and women who do not attend college have even a higher rate of assault in the age group of 18-24. Sexual assault she mentions is an emotional trauma that maybe a lifelong difficulty and men as well as women are sexually assaulted. To address the underreporting by assault victims, Harris identifies that even with the glare of public light brought on by the Ray Rice Case, in the Universities and military, there are the limiting conditions that reside in the issue of sexual assault. (SF Chronicle 1/26/14) Of concern to Harris are the myths that continue to serve as limitations to women coming forward when sexually assaulted.

“It should go without saying that victims are not, and should not be, on trial, that they bear no burden to prove their own innocence and that our criminal justice system was not created only to serve and protect the metaphorical Snow White.” Women on trial for their sexuality shows up in many forms, and Kamala Harris is directly addressing the residual sexism in qualifying the victim’s complaint of sexual assault by addressing her personal history, her use of alcohol, and burden to prove her innocence. “There does not have to be a perfect victim for a crime to have been committed,” Attorney General Harris commented. The pervasive attitudes of women being sexual beings and attacks on their sexuality persist in the form of questioning her virtue and history. Harris comments on the fact that trauma has the effect of having memory distortions, but women are considered unreliable witnesses often to their own assault because of inconsistencies that are a part of the impact of trauma.

The business of professional sports, the halls of great Universities like Berkeley, the top brass in the military have all been headlined as wanting in terms of addressing the claims of assault with the appropriate gravity that it is due in reference to sexual violence. Women, and men coming forward and reporting sexual violence as the crime that it is will more likely report if they are not attacked, and become the victim of sexual bias.

 

“We must do better” Kamala Harris states, and yes we must. It is decades past women being the choosers in their sexual activity with the ability to assume responsibility for their sexuality. Aggressive campus sexual assault laws are a good start as Attorney General Harris states, but we have a distance to go in making it safe enough for women and men to expose themselves knowing they will be heard and not attacked, second guessed or have their attack minimalized in this, “the most underreported crime of all.”

 

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1890-current: Early Feminism in Europe

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 Early feminist (1890) Florence Fenwick Miller (1854-1935) Midwife and English Journalist describes women as in legal slavery with man made laws having women endure sex, marriage and childbirth with no choice or voice in the matter. http://www.enotes.com/topics/feminism/critical-essays/women-16th-17th-18th-centuries

Jenni Murray of BBC History describes the conditions in show,  The 20th Century in Britain: The Women’s Hour,  as neither rich nor poor women had the choice of mates, endured beatings and abuse with no voice in their predicaments. She refers to Millicent Fawcett and Elizabeth Garret as the feminists who advanced education and an opening in the medical profession for women through brave stands by a few women who risked their lives to take the stands that gave ground to other women. It was through the actions of the Women’s Social and Political Union 1903 and the work of Emmeline Pankhurst that the so called War by Women had more women take notice of and make demands for fair treatment and opportunity for education for women. In 1919, she notes, it was Nancy Astor who would be the first women in British Parliament, and in 1929 it was Margaret Bondfield who would be the first woman Cabinet Member. Just as in the US, the war called on the women to take the men’s jobs during the war.   But in 1944, the men returned and the women were sent back to their homes. In 1944,  the Education Act,  limited the number of girls who could be in school. It would be 1950 before girls were given equal access to education. In 1968, with the advent of Betty Friedan, the second wave of feminism came with it, the repeal of the Education Act in 1968.

Murray notes that Linda Grant, author of Sexing in the Millineum made note of the sexual revolution of the 60’s,  which she credited as providing women with the right to say yes.

Englishwoman Germaine Greer wrote The Female Eunich in 1970. Very much like the feminists of the United States, it provided the first aspect of sexuality as perceived by women, and not men. 1970 also was the time of the first British Conference at Oxford on The Women’s Liberation Movement. Parallel to the activities of feminists in the US, Barbara Casette, Secretary of State for Employment, was effective in rallying for the Equal Pay Bill.  It was enacted in 1975 together with the Sexual Discrimination Act.

Similar also is the path of feminism that showed up in England as it did in the United States. Murray comments on the discordant and changing relationships that showed up between women as well as with their men,  in their homes and at the workplace. She points to the position of many women after the 1980’s, even with the gains and the social change underway, being “I’m not a feminist, but…”

It is remarkable how the beginning of the new roles and aspirations for women at home, in their own personal choices and at work had that affect and that feminism took quite a hit as the gears begin to provide new ground for how women lived their lives, both in the United States and in England. In France, it would be the 1975 Veil Law that ended the ban on Birth Control of 1920. In 1994, only 5% of the women in France between the ages of 20-49 did not use contraceptives according to Wikipedia.

The correlation between access to birth control and termination of pregancy and political power and access to education and equal pay seems to correspond for women’s rights in Europe. In Germany, Anita Augspurg was the first university woman student to graduate from a university in 1919 in the Weimar period where equality in education became available to middle and upper class women-until the age of 15 where they then had education at home. The Advanced Women’s rights in making education available to women in Czechoslovakia, Ireland, Lithuania and the Soviet Union was in evidence prior to World War II, as it was in Germany. But the Nazi Era reverted those standards calling for German women to be restricted to their roles as supporters to their husbands and children, as well as their country. 500,000 volunteers made up of women took on the jobs of men and 400,000 women were nurses and aids in hospitals during the war Wikipedia reports.

But by 1987, Betty Friedan again introduced to a whole new generation of young German women feminism. The impact resulted in an antipatriarchy terrorist group Rote Zora of women from 1974-1995 who were responsible for 45 bombings and arson attacks. The strides back to increasing access to women to education and access to being employed, as well as their limited 10% representation in the work place leadership gave stronger ground to the Womens Rights effort. Alice Schwazer became in 1977 and remains a voice for issues of feminism today in the EMMA magazine. The Green Party was established in 1980 and serves to promote equality and human rights in Germany. It is notable that in 2013, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, a woman in power and leadership, opposed the European Union proposal to introduce more representation of women in executive board positions, and roles of leadership for women in jobs.

It could be that Women’s Rights where education and equality represent  feminism, but it could also be the measure of access to birth control and women’s right to choose is the measure of the advance and practice of Women’s Rights. Nations and countries giving access to birth control and right to abortion correlate with those seeking equality in education, jobs and equal pay for equal work.   To give women the right to choose is to give them the power to determine their lives, it’s individualistic, solitary, personal. The current issues of the 1000 state bills in the United States attacking women’s right to choose to terminate their unwanted pregnancies, and to disempower Roe VS Wade is to reduce the power of women in the world. What is the continuum of women’s right to choose and their representation in roles of leadership and power in our government, in our universities and in our industries is a relevant question which is beyond this discussion, but surely to be considered.

The Atlantic Magazine, August 5, 2013 featured Emily Matchvar’s gives a comprehensive look at abortion policies in Western Europe and other countries. For women in Germany, the first trimester only is available to women to end their pregnancies. In the Netherlands, there is a 5 day waiting period for women with a 24 week limit. In Belgium, abortion was illegal until 1990, but now a state of extreme distress must be proven for a woman to gain an abortion. Finland, up to 13 weeks is necessary and with that proof that there are adverse conditions such as poverty or already have 4 children. In Denmark, there is a 12 week limitation. But in Israel, Matchvar points out in this article, that although  93% of the American Jews support abortion rights in all cases, the law is that it is illegal for a married woman 17-40 to have an abortion unless rape, incest or infant malfunction is proven. If unmarried, the woman may plead her case, have an ultrasound and take counseling. In Russia, Eukrane and Poland, there is a restriction to 12 weeks, but every attempt to make difficult if not impossible making the choice to abort is presented to a woman seeking an abortion.

Emily Matchvar in the Atlantic article takes the position that the governments that seek to increase their population and advance their nation seek to restrict choice to women and limit access if not directly prohibit it accordingly. Not personal, not up to the individual, but a national need to be answered by women giving birth to children.   Another perspective can be related to the result of silencing the voice of women, enforcing a limitation of choice by women and strengthening further the male voice and perspective as the director of women’s  and the country’s fate. Certainly any woman who has experienced pregnancy, childbirth, early infant care and the years up to school age is aware of the fact that the hormones, the perspective and the free range of movement is greatly inhibited during this vulnerable time. Further,  the years of child care, the significant first 3-5 years are the most vulnerable for the child, and most essential to their well being. The disadvantage of income loss, babysitter costs, and distraction of focus and energy are all costs endured that make for less time and energy to make other demands on life. Not to mention the 18-20 years of parenting that is the current requirement.

Feminism, like democracy, are messy propositions. The initial work of feminism to have recognition of the need for equal opportunity, access and reward required a revision still working itself out with outcomes that are still representing a challenge to societies engaged in the process. “I’m not a feminist, but…” the alternative is devastating and limiting to all the world.  I’m not a feminist is an apology for making noise, causing problems, speaking out and taking actions that disrupt the status quo.   Feminism is not an ideal to reach, it’s organic and in the past fifty years world wide has hugely impacted and altered the history of the world. Intricate and requiring the integrity of assimilation with costs that are not expected that come with the changes, such as role identity and the complexity of divisive and discordant views of the value of the changes as they occur.

Interesting throughout reviewing this level of investigation into how and what impacted women in Europe, Betty Freidan’s name appears over and over again. Her work translated in different countries resonated with women.   Individually, personally they experienced in her words a potential for how they wanted to live as human beings. The work is underway, it is uneven, and the future is uncertain.

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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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1840 to 2014: What feminism calls for today

Journey for Women

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

               Where it all began

We have established that he beginning of women’s right all begins 72 years before the 19th Amendment was passed and the beginning of  women’s rights.  Two women in 1840, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott attended an AntiSlavery Convention in London.  Elizabeth Stanton’s husband was a participant in the  Antislavery Convention,  but the women were refused seating due to their sex.  Elizabeth Stanton, the only non Quaker,  prevailed and the women did gain entry.  Stanton and Mott then went home and  brought together women and men who identified  “18 injuries and usupations” toward women at the Weslayan Methodist Church in Seneca Falls, New York in 1848.  In attendance were 300 people with forty men.   The “Declaration of Sentiments,”  and nine resolutions proposed to reflect that “all men and all women were created equal, and should have equal rights and privileges”  All but one of the resolutions was agreed upon, but not woman suffrage.  It would be Frederick Douglas who would persuade the convention to accept the woman suffrage resolution .  (The National Portrait Gallery.)

Further we know that the Woman’s Rights Convention in Rochester, New York would follow days after the Seneca Falls Convention, and a year later Worchester, Massachusetts would host the convention.   This work  would be the continued work of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and temperance worker Susan B. Anthony in 1851 that ultimately secured the vote for Women 72 years later in the passing of the 19th Amendment in 1920.

Political entry and  inclusion of women in congress started in 1920 with Jeannette Rankin of Montana, the first woman in congress who opened the doors to the women who followed.

With the right to vote, with women advancing in to property ownership and being elected into office, another impact to change was the birth control efforts in process.  As early as 1916, women could attend the Margaret Sanger Clinic in New York City for birth control use of diaphragms.    But it was Margaret Sanger in 1938 who demanded address from the public of the plight of women and children as free labor in factories and the farms, the comstockery abuse of women and children, as well as the fact that the bearing of many children broke women’s backs and spirits.   Sanger wrote many publications on birth control in response to the number of  women having unlimited pregnancies and children, often dying young.  Margaret Sanger‘s book arguing against “comstockery”  changed the course of history, though book store owners who carried it on their shelves had up to five years in jail as a possible consequence under the law of the times. She would become the first president of Planned Parenthood in 1940s.  Her work is the basis for the right for women to choose the use of their bodies, and Founder of Planned Parenthood remains the consistent address and support of women’s rights.

Women coming together, then and now, has been and remains the source of personal and political change for women.  In New York in the late 50’s, Bella Abzug and others began to openly question the economic and social status of women.  Betty Friedan’s book The Feminine Mystique delved into the area of women’s sexuality and  became a bestseller in  1963.    The distinction to her book and the stir it created was that it was unlike other work, such as  Freud and Masters and Johnson.  Science had only looked on women’s sexuality in terms of  dysfunctions-inability to fulfill the role of wife and mother.  The new questions for women and their sexuality was around their choices and their benefits relative to pleasure.  Books like Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique and Cheryl Hite The Hite Report  stirred up for women a better knowledge who they were and what was available to them.  The link between sexual power seems to correspond with political power in the world.  Women became more willing to talk to each other about their issues, their intimate lives as well as their views on the world around them.

WOMENS GROUPS

The link between sexual liberation and political freedom was a personal and political experience unevenly spread around the country.  A change in consciousness allowed women to recognize the choices they had in determining their own lives.   The Women’s Movement of the 60’s as viewed by historians like Estelle Freedman and Ruth Rosen that was to become of public discourse was a “white woman’s movement.”  Women,  moving individually and collectively, often with a great deal of conflict and dissension among themselves and polarization of interests still had the courage to ask important questions of themselves and the world around them.

                                Accidental Feminism

When President Kennedy was elected, he acknowledged the work of 40 women who had helped him get elected in 1961 to a new government post: Commission on the Status of Women in 1961. President Kennedy is sometimes referred to as an “Accidental Feminist” because he was not known top be specifically interested in women’s rights.  His goal was not to spur on the goals of women’s rights, but to acknowledge the work of the women who had helped him get elected in his campaign of 1961. These women identified the “injuries of sex” for women in the workplace and in their homes and identified the measures of women’s rights to address those injuries.  These women would depart from the government position,  and bring their expertise, knowledge and abilities to the Woman’s Movement and  make headway for change for women, pushing for their inclusion in the civil rights act in congress.

We know from history that in 1964, the Civil Rights Bill  presented to congress had an addition at the last moment.    Historian Ruth Rosen reports the “unintended consequence” taken by House and Means Chair William K. Smith was to provide civil rights for women.  Smith wanted to see the Civil Rights Bill fail and at the last minute added women’s rights assuming that would kill the possibility of its passage.  However,  the Civil Rights Bill  prohibiting prejudice of racial or country of origin, or Sex passed.    the bill was changed right before the vote to “race, country of origin or sex.”   The Civil Rights Bill of 1963 passage of   Women’s Right’s, and affirmative action to give preference to those excluded from power and position were the groundwork for equality within the structure of the bill.

                                      Struggle with identity

In 19644% of women worked out of the home, and divorce was at a 4% level.  It was not  clear to many women across the country what the right direction was and each woman really had to choose to tune into the fledgling freedom of choice offered her, or hang on to the institutions and bureaucracies of identity and so shrugged and tolerated the new context of feminism that  arose in the Womens Movement.  There was disparity and conflict within the movement and many women did not identify with the women active and vocal in its demands for equality.  Trial and error, exploration was possible and many women were aware of and responded to the new ground available to them in the years to come.

                               Transformation

 The timeline of social, economic, political and sexual freedom that began over fifty years ago shows up today in the Pew Report of 2011.  In 1960, 11% of mothers went to work to support their families, and today it is 40%.  Women now make up 47% of the workforce.  These are mostly single mothers who support their families but there are also a significant number of mothers whose income is larger than their husbands, making them the primary earner in the family.   The “dramatic transformation we have seen in the family structure and family dynamics over the  past fifty years,” is described by Kim Parker, associate director with the Pew Social and Demographic Trends Project.  The trend is a result of the long term demographic changes, including higher rates of education with more women graduating from college than men and has its basis in the 1960’s women’s movement, it is reported.

The Pew study also reports that the economic decline in the past seven or eight years has resulted in fewer jobs in industries predominantly held by males, such as manufacturing, construction and labor jobs.  Corresponding to these changes is a record low marriage rate. 2012 was the first year that the married population was not the majority. Also in 201240% of all births were in single mother households without marriage.

The changes in how people organize themselves and the choices they make about  marriage and children is the world of today.   Women and men choose their lives by a different criteria than their parents or grandparents. Two million  Men choose to work at home and parent their children; women consider not a valid choice not to have children; same sex families as well as those who chose to live alone all have the range of options of their choosing available.  Equality of choice in family planning comes directly from Roe VS Wade and birth control.  Representation in election campaigns points to the active role and large impact of single women in political life.  All the more alarming that there are 1000 state bills in process in forty states that seek to reduce women’s right to choose, and even to give access to birth control.  The Affordable Healthcare Act political forum extends to employers seeking to not extend birth control accessibility to their employees.  The attempt to reduce women’s rights at this stage of development seems outrageous.  But it is real, and calls upon all human beings to be concerned.  Going back is not the direction most would choose.

                                  Call for leadership

There is an indication of an attempt to  revert the civil rights of women established over the past fifty years.  Voter’s rights of minorities is where civil rights are being attacked in another realm.   Historians Ruth Rosen and Estelle Freedman do not see a resurrection of a woman’s movement as the leadership that could respond to these attacks on equality and choice and power for women and minorities. Rather each of us, any of us, have an impact in our daily lives to be concerned and active citizens.  With the 24/7 news around us, we can grow numb and have the sense of inevitability take the energy of a response to the conditions around us.

Barefoot Frontrunners came from the stark recognition of the path along which human rights, women’s rights have evolved.  The first wave of feminism of the 20’s, the second wave in the 60’s had an impact, made a difference, opened the road for humanity to engage in the realm of feminism: equality, inclusion and transformation of roles and functions as individuals and as a society.  The voice of women has never been more needed as the world gets smaller and issues of any part of the world effect our world. The women who have been left behind, due to race and class and the economic and religious constraints within which they live, some feel we have to bring along to get along in the long run.  It will always be the barefoot frontrunners that widen the path, open the door and seek to empower those left behind.  It begins now, and every day.

“Sisters, bloody feet have worn smooth the path upon which you tread.”  Estelle Freedman No Turning Back-the History of Feminism and the Future of Women

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