Raging Feminism

The blog below is a guest post written by S. Sloane Simmons.  Sloane is a member of the Chancellor’s Advisory Board to the Women’s Center and also co-owner of STUFF.  Her article also appears on the the Starr Symposium Blog and will soon be posted on the STUFF website.

First, a few statistics: I am 45-years-old; I have been married to the same man for 24 years; I have one child; I own my home; I co-own a small business with my sister; I am Caucasian; I finished “some college” but did not obtain a degree; I am an active community volunteer and currently serve on several governing and advisory boards. I am happy.

I sat in a public auditorium the other evening and, after arriving late, tried to settle in after a long and varied day to absorb four women’s words. They all chose great stories to share and their answers during the Q&A were heartfelt and well received.

But I found myself making notes on paper – a questionnaire I had been handed upon arrival became my notebook – about what had brought me to that room. These women spoke eloquently and from many perspectives that were different from my own. In the end, the questionnaire was not fit to be turned in. This morning I re-visited my notes and noticed that my emotions ran to thankfulness to the woman who was older than me for forging a path, to hopefulness because the woman who was younger than me had much to teach me and I delight that the women who were right near my age were finding themselves coming into their own.

The symposium was an intergenerational conversation about work and life. It was presented by Women Girls Ladies in conjunction with the UMKC Women’s Center and the UMKC Women’s Council. I figured it would be worth my time, given that I was a woman, a girl, and a lady and I had a life and I worked. Perfect fit right?

It was more than perfect. My time in the auditorium reminded me that I had been raised by a woman – my mother – who is a raging feminist, and that I had been deeply molded by two women – my grandmothers – who would have never admitted to being feminists in any form. These women gave me their best and let me catch glimpses of their worst. What shakes me to my core is that I never think about being a feminist myself, because I really don’t have to very much. It is ingrained in me to believe that women can do anything and be anything. I have visual memories of the comics at the back of Ms. Magazine that reminded me as a teenager to make more of myself than the boys around me and to insist on more than 69-cents to their dollars earned. I have had a hand in raising a child whose biggest argument at school to date (including middle school!) is the one he waged about there not being “boy colors” or “girl colors” in art class when he was ribbed because pink was his favorite color and he used it without fear in his work.

The phrase, “been there, have the t-shirt” could not be truer about my feminism. My family has cycled through 2 generations of NARAL t-shirts, National Women’s Political Caucus t-shirts, Planned Parenthood t-shirts, and we have all treasured the posters, magnets and bumper stickers from the past. They remind us that “A woman’s place is in the house . . . and the senate”; that “war is not healthy for children and other living things” and a female newborn is a “baby woman.”

This week I am co-chairing an event for the American Civil Liberties Union in my hometown. It’s going to be a wondrous evening full of amazing art and talented people. The ACLU will always need funding to continue their work protecting all of our civil liberties. I don’t work in those trenches every day, but I am thankful for those that do. Every issue women face – every obstacle they overcome – was and is a civil liberties issue. It wasn’t very long ago that women couldn’t vote, that women couldn’t own property and that women had very little control over their bodies and its intended freedoms.

If you asked me if I was feminist, I wouldn’t deny it nor would I immediately embrace it. The true feminists to me are those women who changed the world as we know it in the 1970’s, not me. I can vote, own things and speak openly with my doctor. I just get to be me . . . a raging feminist.

Changing Attitudes About Family Roles

Image from flickr.com

Recently, the New York Times published an article discussing women in the workforce – specifically mothers and the job market. The article makes some valid points about the disparities that still exist between men and women in the job market, most of which are examples of why we still need feminism today.  The article states that, “There are still only 15 Fortune 500 companies with a female chief executive… Overall, full-time female workers make a whopping 23 percent less on average than full-time male workers.”  For the most part, the article is right about how we need policy changes that allow people with families, mainly women with children, the freedom and protection to find balance between their family responsibilities and advancing in careers; however, I found that the article made some statements that bothered me.

Not too far into the article, the writer, David Leonhardt, plays into gender stereotypes by saying, “What’s going on? Men and women are not identical, of course. Many more women take time off from work. Many more women work part-time at some point in their careers. Many more women can’t get to work early or stay late.”

Maybe it’s not just Leonhardt gender-stereotyping, but the fact that this is a pretty common attitude about women that really bothers me.  Moreover, the stereotype tends to emphasize that most women are unable to devote adequate time to their careers. In all fairness, Leonhardt’s piece does a good job of outlining how new policy would have a positive effect on the job market, not just for women, but for all people with families.  In addition to this, he stresses that it will take a combination of legal and cultural changes to make a difference. However, the article brings up an interesting question: Why are there still so many negative stereotypes about females in the workplace, especially females with children?

It seems the stereotypes and the fact that more men than women are CEO’s is a result of this ongoing cultural idea that a woman can’t do the job as well as a man. This idea is one that feminists have been fighting against for a very long time. And while we have made headway in the fight against gender discrimination at work, society still needs to change the way they view women.

Leonhardt’s article also mentions that “women can’t get to work early or stay late.” I focus on this line mainly because it seemed confusing to me. Is he saying that women with families obviously have more work around the house to do and are mostly responsible for childcare, and these reasons are why they can’t get to work early or stay late?  Is he assuming, then, that men with families don’t have to do as much around the house or have the same responsibilities for childcare, so they obviously can devote more time to work and their careers?

This gender stereotype, about women’s roles in families, is perhaps one of the biggest obstacles to changing both the cultural and legal landscape for the job market. In Sweden, both men and women take leaves to take care of the children, equally. Granted Sweden is much more work/life balance friendly when it comes to people being able to take leave from work and not be penalized, but it is a great example of the gender equality the U.S. needs to aim for.

Women in the U.S are constantly expected to be either “career-driven” and, therefore, have no family.  Or they have a family and, therefore, can’t be “career-driven.” It is a double-edged sword for women who ask, “why can’t I have both?” Men can just as easily stay home and take care of the kids, or assume an equal share of the household and family responsibilities.  And many of them today do. But much of society works under the impression that that is still the “woman’s job.” Clearly if America is ever going to see gender equality in the workplace, our society needs to start with changing how we define family roles.

A Pioneer

August 26 of every year since 1971 has been devoted to Women’s Equality Day. This day commemorates women getting the right to vote in 1920 after a long struggle that began in 1848. However, this day also is meant to remember that the fight for equality is an ongoing struggle, and to remember those who fought before us that made our lives what they are today.

In honor of the fact that we are coming up to August 26, I thought I would try and do my part to call attention to this day and all that it represents.

I think that it is important to remember and celebrate the women who fought for our right to vote and for women’s equality.

Elizabeth Cady Stanton was a pioneer of women’s rights movements and a leader in the Women’s Suffrage movement. She not only led the fight for women’s right to vote, but also in other matters of women’s equality, such as parental custody rights and the right to hold property. Her fight even continued when she was married to her husband, abolitionist Henry Brewster Stanton, when she insisted that the word ‘obey’ be cut from the ceremony.

Stanton started out as an abolitionist, but when she and other female abolitionists were denied official delegate standing at the World’s Anti-Slavery Convention in London in 1840, she committed herself to fighting for women’s equality and she and Lucretia Mott called together the first Women’s Rights Convention in Seneca Falls, New York in 1848. The convention and Stanton’s Declaration of Sentiments are frequently recognized as the beginning of first organized women’s rights and women’s suffrage movements in America.

Elizabeth Cady Stanton worked tirelessly throughout her life to fight injustices against women. She partnered with Susan B. Anthony to found the National Women’s Suffrage Association, which Stanton was president of.

Elizabeth Cady Stanton was a true pioneer in the women’s rights and suffragist movements and devoted much of her life to women’s causes. She died in October 1902, over 18 years before women got the right to vote.