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 75 years, I have lived through quite a few years of women working for equal rights. I have seen many successes as well as the failures. I am incredibly proud of those successes. When I was in the early 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 wished my employers to treat me.
I have always supervised women. Originally, I was in accounting and the accounting clerks were all women. Later I managed bookstores with women filling the positions. I wanted my teams to learn a variety of job skills. The more trained they were, the more valuable they were but ultimately, 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 work place. 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, parents raised their girls to be girls, dependent and less able. They expected them to be mothers only and limited their career choices. Nursing and clerical jobs were the biggest options and then only second to being a wife and mother, a fall back in case the marriage failed. When girls were growing up society said they were weaker and without the same capabilities of their brothers.) The brothers received the encouragement to be strong, successful and enterprising. Society filled girl’s heads 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 chose to be and do anything I chose 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, politicians are taking steps to reverse the work of those brave women in the feminist movement. The possibility of all we have worked for disappearing is a very real threat. The extreme right wing wants women pregnant and barefoot once more!
The women who come to me, those who enter my priestess-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 the women who won the right for us to vote inspire me.) This time there was one scene I hadn’t 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 once women got the vote it would include women of all races, but until that happened, they needed to keep the focus on one single purpose. Hers was a strategic decision. Certainly, it was 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 on the work place. 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 as a result of hard fought battles. Little by little, twisted interpretations of religious 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 women see within themselves how patriarchy has influenced them. 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.
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