In Honor of Women’s History Month

Many of the young women I meet tell me that they think feminism is not what they are about, that they prefer to work for the good of all. I understand that and certainly we can all choose where we wish to place our focus. However, it does make me wonder how effective we can be with our focus placed on so broad a scope. Certainly, we want equal rights for all and some call that feminism these days, but is it?

In my 82 years, I have lived through quite a few years of women working for equal rights. I have seen many successes as well as failures. I am incredibly proud of those successes. When I was in the initial stages of my career and had just entered management, I was able to implement leadership methods, which now have become models for employers. They are team building and servant leadership. Then, however, there were no names for them. I led my teams based simply on how I would wish to be treated in the workplace.

I have always supervised women. Originally, I was in accounting and the accounting clerks were all women. Later I managed bookstores, and those jobs were filled by women. I wanted my teams to learn a variety of job skills. The more trained they were, the more valuable they were but those acquired skills would help them earn more and be more successful in their own careers. Because I was building relationships with them, I had the privilege of hearing their stories. Their stories opened my eyes to the personal challenges that women face in the workplace. Not only did they struggle for jobs, for equal pay and for jobs in management, they had to fight their own inner image of being “less than” that was placed on them by how they were raised.

In those days, girls were raised to be girls, dependent and less able. They were raised to be mothers only and career choices were limited. Nursing and clerical jobs were the biggest options and then only second to being a wife and mother, a fallback in case the marriage failed. When they were growing up, they were told they were weaker, without the capabilities of their brothers. The brothers received the encouragement to be strong, successful, and enterprising. Somehow, girl’s heads were filled with “I can’t” kind of thinking. “I can’t do that.” I am not able to do that.”

I was lucky that this never happened to me. My parents were able to look ahead at a changing world. They taught me to be independent and to think for myself. They taught me that I could be whomever I choose to be and do anything I choose to do if I put my mind to it!

So, when I heard their stories, heard how they were taught to think as they were growing up, I knew that part of my work in the world was to help women learn just how powerful they are!

Today, I see the work of those brave women in the feminist movement being attacked. I see the possibility of all we have worked for being taken from us. The extreme right wing wants women pregnant and barefoot once more!

The women who come to me, those who enter my mentoring program, must learn the history of the feminist movement. Many have no idea how hard the fight was and still is.

I recently re-watched Iron Jawed Angels. I have no idea how many times I have watched this movie. I just know that every time I do, I am once more, inspired by the women who won the right to vote for us. This time there was one scene I had not noticed before. It was the scene that Alice Paul refused to allow Black women to join her movement. She did not do it because she did not believe in their cause. Their cause was simply less popular than her own. She knew that, at that point in time, bringing them in would only jeopardize her cause. I am quite sure she also knew that once women got the wrote it would include women of all races. Hers was a strategic decision. Certainly, it is a decision many would view as biased. However, broadening the focus, trying to be inclusive, could very well have caused people to see the movement as a racial one rather than a gender issue. Alice Paul had a single purpose – to win the right to vote for women.

We still do not have equality in the workplace. Politicians are tearing apart our right to control our own bodies. Our right wing, conservative lawmakers (mostly men) are doing everything in their power to reverse the laws passed because of hard-fought battles. Little by little, twisted interpretations of biblical passages are entering the domain where separation of church and state should prosper.

It is imperative that our young women know our history. It is imperative that they see within themselves and discover how they have been influenced by patriarchy. It is imperative that feminism be about women and women’s rights for equality. Otherwise, we could very well lose what others so valiantly won. With singular purpose, with determined focus, women’s rights matter.

Coming Soon to the Apple Branch – A complete Women’s Study Program. Watch for it!