Category Archives: women’s rights

International Women’s Day, 2015

International Womens Day 2015 2

Equality for women is a conceptual idea that has not and perhaps never will be achieved. On a national level we have made progress towards equality between men and women but in a two-steps-forward-one-step-back sort of fashion.

My mom was and still is a very traditional lady. She was happy to marry and have children, although perhaps she overdid it a bit when she had eight. She grew up in a time when the husband had a job and supported the family and the wife kept house, made meals, raised the children, and did laundry, lots of laundry.

My mom did not have a job outside the home. She tried to “work out” as she called it a few times and Dad never objected but she claimed she was too nervous (and with eight children who wouldn’t be). When she would quit a job Dad did not complain. To help with finances she watched extra children  for women who did have full time jobs. Mom never learned to drive a car and still moans about it to this day, but she was not forbidden to learn. Dad offered to teach her several times but she lacked the confidence to try.

All around her, though, life was changing for most women, both in America and in Europe. You may think there was more equality in places where agriculture was still king but even in agrarian cultures women, who often worked hard, still had not done heavy work like building or tilling land.  After World War II some women who had worked in factories during the war did not give up their jobs. The economy was strong enough that both men and women found plenty of employment.

I had no intention of repeating my mom’s life. Although she did not long for a different life, I did. I didn’t want to end up barefoot, pregnant and in the kitchen. I didn’t long to follow my father into a factory job either. I wanted to go to college. We were poor but with scholarships and loans I did get a degree. If I had been born even ten years earlier this may not have been possible.

Did I, with my four year degree, achieve an equal place in society to men with four year degrees? Well, not really. I did learn to drive. Someone concocted the birth control pill so I did not have to have eight children. Using the pill did not 100% guarantee that you would not get pregnant and abortion was still illegal so one or two forgotten pills could put you right back in that pregnant kitchen. Finding a way to equality has always been made more difficult by the fact that women, when pregnant, carry a child for about nine months and, once that child is born, have to nurture that child into adulthood, which in America is considered to be necessary until s/he is at least 18 years of age. We still find pregnancy and childbirth being used as excuses to perpetuate inequalities between men and women. And, of course, men do not carry babies.

I had wanted to be an architect but I was counseled away from this. This would not be as likely to happen now. It was always true that my verbal skills were better developed than my quantitative skills. These inequalities still exist with a mad scramble in schools to get girls involved in STEM programs much earlier and much more often. Hopefully future generations of women will have skills in mathematics and science and technology as strong as their verbal skills and will qualify for jobs that pay better than the social service jobs women have gravitated towards since they found part time release from their kitchens and laundry rooms. I became an assistant professor at a university but my pay never equaled that of men in the same positions within the university.

Although there are men whose egos are not bothered by sharing household duties, it is more likely that even women who work full time are still expected to “keep house”. Appliances and take out have cut down on home duties, we don’t iron much anymore, but floors still don’t clean themselves, nor does the laundry do itself. Few households can afford to hire “housekeepers” and there are fewer applicants for these kinds of jobs. Women still, in most cases, make less money than their male counterparts and, if you include their household duties, they make a lot less than men.

Men experience more security and safety as they travel out and about in America and, I’m guessing, around the globe. Women are still likely to attract the attention of men who prey on women either physically or sexually or both, especially if a woman travels alone. We may never have a way to deal with these safety issues unless we teach all women really effective self-defense techniques or find a way to “tweak” the brains of male predators (a technique that could easily be abused).

Will we resolve our issues of women as child bearers, women as qualitative people and therefore of lesser value, and women as victims of the, perhaps, more atavistic traits in some men? If human society lasts a few more centuries then perhaps, but that is just in America and other western nations.

Men around the globe see no reason for women to have equality. In some cases their religious beliefs, if followed devoutly, make equality impossible. Women are “protected” from the baser motives of men. Protections range from covering women’s hair and necks with scarves, to covering their entire bodies with a sort of floating tent (burqa) from head to toe; from prohibitions against education for girls to child marriages to the destruction of the clitoris in women so they will not have any pleasure from the act of procreation. Single women and widows must follow rules enforced by entire communities. In some countries we know women are not allowed to drive. Since many of these strictures are religious, asking that they be changed amounts to heresy. How will that knot ever be untangled?

The part of women that is not satisfied by inequality is the brain. Once you get to use your intelligence to accomplish something, that becomes a right you never want to lose. In addition, being “submissive” is sometimes seen as permission to abuse women. If women were meant to be submissive then why are they so “brainy”?

People who work in Global Initiative organizations and who help women around the globe achieve some autonomy and who help these women satisfy familial and personal goals by helping them become entrepreneurs seem so filled with joy by the work they do that we have to believe the transformations that are achieved are noticeable and lasting and overwhelmingly positive. So while we don’t want to step on people’s beliefs, it seems valuable to make sure that resources are available to women when they are ready to make use of them. Listening to the stories of women who are newly empowered empowers us all.

We have a lot of International Women’s Days left to celebrate and a long way to go before women are treated equally with men, even in America.

By Nancy Brisson

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We’ll Take the Burqa – The New Evangelicals

Well ladies, maybe we should take the burqa. We now have a candidate for VP who tried to defund Planned Parenthood, who is a staunch Catholic (rapidly becoming the new evangelicals), who is a man and yet feels it is up to him to fight against a woman’s right to control her own body and make judgments about her own health. And worst of all, it appears there are woman who agree with this piece of atavism sponsored by many in the GOP.
Since we haven’t put a woman in the White House as our President and since most of us are still knocking our heads against that very thick glass ceiling (however cracked it may be) it is possible that no one would notice if we decided to retreat to a self-assigned purdah. Of course, deciding this for ourselves would be far different from the experience of woman who are required to keep actual purdah. And, of course we really cannot do this even if we are voted back to the 1950’s. Probably retreating would be exactly the wrong move, unless keeping silent and letting the world see what returning to the days when abortion was illegal and contraception didn’t exist would look like in America. I don’t think it would take very long for Americans to decide to repeal those laws; think Prohibition. So back to purdah.
All I can hope is that we don’t let ourselves be sweet-talked into believing these Republican guys if they start wooing us. The press has already pointed out how buff Paul Ryan is and something, something about his eyes. Don’t be fooled by the discipline it takes to do that rigorous X90 exercise routine every morning; rigor and inflexibility can be the same sometimes. We have yet to meet Mrs. Ryan and the children because they do not live in Washington, but we will be meeting them. No matter how many nice things Mr. Ryan’s wife says about him, or how much his children like him, we cannot afford to elect this man. Our choices are to stay with the left or buy a burqa and practice our own form of purdah until they desist.

I Fear for the Rights of Women in America

Women Rights Demonstration, Tehran, 1963Image via Wikipedia
One of my greatest fears in this contest between the right and the left in Washington (I should say the right and the center because the left seems to be missing) is the hit that women’s rights will take if we go right. The economics is hard enough to take, because while I do feel we need to tighten our belts, I do not think getting rid of “safety net” programs that we actually pay for with our own dollars is the appropriate direction at this time. If social security is, as they say, a pyramid scheme our government designed it (not with this intention I am sure) and we trust that they can redesign it without losing our benefits. The environment is another tough area because I honestly believe humans have affected climate through the use of fossil fuels and that this issue cannot be ignored.
Given all these issues though I worry most about what would happen to a woman’s right to control her own body, to trust in a private relationship between her doctor and herself, and a woman’s right to have an abortion if she feels it is necessary. I worry that all these rights will go away if we elect these right wing extremists (and they are extreme). This will reverse our enlightened view of women and set us back centuries in terms of women’s rights. Further the only way to justify interfering in a woman’s life in this way is in the name of religion, which is what keeps putting us back into the argument about the separation of church and state. No other issue has the possible outcome of turning America into a Christian state except possibly the issue of teaching “creationism” in schools.
I believe this whole contest comes down to how you feel about the rights of women. I can feel that our laws stand on the edge of reversal and that women could very well descend back into the dark despair of past days for who knows how long. It will be a decision even more bloody and destructive than allowing the sad choices women must make today. This is one very important reason why I fight so hard against the Republicans.
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