June 10, 2010

“We’ve Come a Long Way, Baby.” ~ Sharon Marrama

Are you a Feminist?

“The first problem for all of us, men and women, is not to learn, but to unlearn.”

Gloria Steinem

I sat in a week long Summer Institute Intensive class, “The Psychology of Women.” The professor’s opening statement for the class “raise your hand if you are a feminist.” I was the only person in the class to raise my hand. Powerful!

My first thought — The importance to educate others on the subject of feminism and empowerment of women and how I could help.

My second thought — Write about it!

What Is A Feminist?

So now you might be asking “what is a feminist?” Being a feminist is more than just fighting for equal rights, it is woman’s fight for independence. The term feminist replaces the former phrase “woman’s’ libber” that was often used in a derogatory manner. A more formal definition might be that a feminist is a person who favors political, economic, and social equality of women and men, and therefore favors the legal and social changes necessary to achieve that equality.

Through the years feminist activists have campaigned for woman’s legal rights including the following:

1.) Rights of contract- property rights, and voting rights

2.) A woman’s rights to bodily integrity-abortion and reproductive rights

3.) Protection of women and girls from sexual harassment, domestic violence, incest, and rape

4.) Economic matters have also been a focus- workplace rights, equal pay, maternity leave and gender-specific discrimination against women.

What Are The Facts?

The movement came in waves, each having a distinct purpose and outcome.

First waveWomen’s Suffrage. This occurred during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the focus was on legal rights, property ownership and the right to vote. In the fore front- Florence Nightingale and Susan B. Anthony.
Second waveWomen’s Liberation Movement. Focused on the unofficial rights of sexuality (birth control), family (abortion) and workplace (equal pay).
Third waveContinuation Movement. This was a move forward in reaction to the perceived failures of the first and second-waves of feminism, beginning in the 1990’s. 
You might find this website informative. There are some fascinating and intriguing interviews with feminists that include: Eve Ensler, Carol Gilligan, Jane Fonda, Gloria Steinheim, Melissa Etheridge, Annie Lennox, Natalie Portman and many more.

I Remember

And I can not forget that it was only 38 years ago (1972) that congress passed the Equal Rights Amendment. The amendment reads: “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.” And that it was only 32 years ago in 1978 that they passed the Pregnancy Discrimination Act. This act bans employment discrimination against pregnant women, stating a woman cannot be fired or denied a job or a promotion because she is or may become pregnant, nor can she be forced to take a pregnancy leave if she is willing and able to work.

But the most memorable was the legalization of abortion with the court case of Roe vs. Wade in 1973. The Roe Court deemed abortion a fundamental right under the United States Constitution, thereby subjecting all laws attempting to restrict it to the standard of strict scrutiny. I remember hoping for no more stories of back room, botched abortions. But picket lines and protestors were a formidable force outside abortion clinics nationwide and then there were bombings. I remember going to a Boston clinic with a friend, it was pretty scary.

As a child of the 50’s-60’s and 70’s I have seen how feminism has developed over time and has helped to change the more traditional perspectives in many areas of daily life.

There Was A Time

There was a time when (seems many forget) women were physically, verbally and sexually harassed in the work place. Guess what guys, “nice buns” and “nice tush” are derogatory and are not appropriate in any setting let alone a work environment. But many women tolerated this nonsense, fearing that if they acted on this they would be fired in retaliation.

There was a time when women ran the risk of losing their jobs when they went out on maternity leave.

There was a time when you could be asked in a job interview:“Do you have children?’ or “What if the kids get sick?’

There was a time when women were expected to stay home and take care of their family, now it is a career choice.

There was a time when husbands did not do dishes, laundry, or household chores. But they did babysit. I still wince when I hear that phrase, and yes it is used too frequently. Let me ask, when was the last time you heard a mother state that she was- babysitting her children?

There was a time when “she asked for it” was a defense for sexual assault.

Take A Pop Quiz

Do you believe that women should be economically independent?

Do you believe a woman should be able to choose her own path in life?

Do you believe in equal pay for men and women, if equally qualified for the position?

Do you believe a woman can and will one day be President?

Closing Notes

You do not have to be in the front line to be a feminist, if you believe in equality for women and men consider yourself a feminist.

Of course the closing statement for the class was “raise your hand if you are a feminist.” Twenty four people both men and women, raised their hands (the entire class).

Now I ask: Are you a feminist?

I hope everyone raised their hand!

Sharon was born in the Boston suburb of Woburn, Massachusetts in 1957.  As the first of five children, Sharon quickly learned to become a leader, mediator and communicator. Aside from family commitments and the joy of spending quality time with her grandson Connor, Sharon is dedicated to the following goals: enhancing her writing skills as she prepares to write a book, developing her yoga practice, and finishing her college degree. Sharon’s long term goals include preserving balance in her daily life, maintaining a healthy mind-body-spirit, and living a fulfilled life.  To learn more about Sharon and her passions, visit her website.

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