I’ve been thinking a lot about recent legislative and executive moves against the best interests of women. They are not good thoughts, but I can't help it. I want to know why these distractions are happening now, and how we might derail their forward movement. Here’s what I’ve come up with:

1. It’s true, we’ve come a long way, baby, but women under the age of 50 don’t really know that deep in their souls, or maybe they just don’t know much about the past.

FYI, without belaboring the point, here are a few things I could not do as young woman between 18 and 30-something:
· Own a home in my name
· Have my own bank account
· Be admitted to any number of good schools, including all of the Ivies, UVA, Rutgers, Lehigh, Stanford or Georgia Tech
· Get a bank loan or mortgage without my husband or father as co-signer
· Have the final say on important decisions in my life—medical, legal, financial—without approval of a responsible male relative
· Get a legal, safe medical procedure to end a pregnancy
· Have my own health insurance policy
· Inherit property, without a legal guardian 
· Sign a lease on an apartment, myself

Obviously, these restrictions led to limited visions for the future and shut many doors for young women before they ever had a chance to shape their lives. 

2. Maybe it’s historical memory, maybe it’s laziness, but some of us continue to live as if these restrictions are still in force. Others yearn for the days when men were men, and women were women who were taken care of by men. 

3. Perhaps because the word “women” is so often lumped together with the word “minorities,” many women see themselves as part of a minority. A down-trodden, weak, poor, hopeless minority. 

4. I can't point to any specific research at the moment but feel safe saying both and women generally look to men for leadership, on just about any particular issue. Men have trouble accepting advice or direction from women, and so do many women. We can't blame men for this. It's just something that has been hard to change, even over 40 years of women's empowerment. Old habits die hard. 

It will benefit both men and women if we have more choices in the leadership field. Our perspective is important and, often, unique. But, in spite of lofty goals set by feminists, young women have precious few good role models to look up to. I'm not talking about Lady Gaga or Sarah Palin here. We need more Oprah Winfreys, more Kathleen Sibeliuses, more Olympia Snows and more Elizabeth Warrens. Money, brains and power count. 

Now, for the good news:

1. In case you had not noticed, restrictions regarding rights and ownership that were left over from the 19th Century and originally intended to help women, were lifted decades ago. 

2. It was not always the case, but women definitely are not a minority. Here are the numbers for 2011 (based on date in the CIA World Fact Book):
US males over the age of 18:  122,156,715
US females over 18:                 128,186,606
In 2011, women outnumbered men by 6,029,891*
*Note: These numbers include men and women over the age of 65. Some may argue, but I assure you being over 65 does not necessarily make a person too old to think or be useful.

Let’s see, using the 128,000,000 figure, if only 1% stood up for something and, say, gathered on the National Mall to show their strength, that would put about 1.3 million people on the ground between Pennsylvania/Constitution and Independence avenues on a Saturday afternoon. That should be enough!

And, if those people turned to the west and started walking, what could possibly stand in their way to leave an imprint on every inch of land between Washington DC and San Francisco? Like an army of locusts, just 1.3% of US women could physically trample every plant and eat every morsel of food from coast to coast. What a vision!  Who could stop 1.3 million anything?

3. We may not make as much money as men (on average, per person), but women now make up more than half the US workforce and that alone should give us a hell of a lot of clout. Let’s use it!

If only that measly 1% sat down on the job next week, they would shut down school districts, hospitals, office buildings, hotels and restaurants, casinos, and social service agencies from coast to coast.

Need gall bladder surgery? Sorry fellas. Looking for a fun weekend in Las Vegas? Think again. Your mother needs additional care at the nursing home? Too bad.

4. We may not have many women planted in positions of leadership in government or industry, but most of us do things that demand respect, as long as we demand to be respected. Think about that.

We shouldn’t need to have stars to follow. Those of us who have raised kids (some, alone), worked on marriages and jobs (often at the same time), participated in our religious organizations, schools and communities and generally been good eggs about it, already ARE stars. Even if we didn’t get paid what we should have, didn’t get the vote of confidence from our community to move into leadership positions, didn’t find our way to the top of the ladder in the corporate world, we have a lot to be proud of. And, we’re worth every bit of praise we get. Why don't we get it?  

We owe it to ourselves, our daughters, our granddaughters and generations to come after us to keep the light burning for women, ALL women. We have depended on men for everything at one point in history, but it looks like we cannot depend on them to help us fight off the possibility of restrictions on our lives, today.

It’s up to women to use the strength in numbers that has fallen into their laps, combined with the rights and privileges inherited from the hard work of women who came before. It was never more true than it is today: Women must take care of women, ALL women.  

Let’s not slip, no matter what our religion, our race, our politics. Let’s promise we will not elect people to office or go along with the appointment of leaders who do not respect our fundamental rights as human beings and as women.

Personally, I have no use for a candidate who is from the party I usually vote for, who is on the same page with me regarding foreign affairs and economic issues, but wants to forbid me from making decisions about how I use this body I was born into! What could be more fundamental than the right to control one's own body?  

Bottom line: Women voters must come together as women on the issue of birth control and health care issues related to femaleness. Race, religion, ethnicity, geographic region, economic class, occupation, marital status: None of that matters when it comes to issues regarding how an individual woman moves her own cells through life’s maze. Our bodies and our choice of life paths come first; all the rest is secondary.  

Related stories: 
Beware of sluts, women with brains and other real and present dangers
Birds on a Wire Blog 

Twenty years on, 'Year of the Woman' fades
The Washington Post



03/27/2012 09:41

I am with you on the importance of reassuring ourselves as older women of the rightness of what we fought for some 30 years ago. The sorry truth is that our memories and current rage go unnoticed by women in their 40s and 50s who might support a revitalized movement.

Like those in their 20s and 30s, the focus is completely on work/children/relationships. For the less fortunate, there is a kind of desperation about simply getting by. Others revel in the todayness our culture supports. So you and I send our checks to PP, Feminist Majority, and hope the work of professionals--unlike the volunteers who built the second wave--will use our money to secure reasonable futures for our children, grandchildren.

And vote, always.

03/27/2012 10:05

I am old enough to remember how it used to be. I remember how a friend nearly died using a coat hanger to try to abort. I remember when my mother married a man no one liked because a woman had to have a man. (or so it was thought) and he was the only available one. I remember when my step-father refused to help me go to college because, as he put it, "girls only go to college to get a man." Yes, we have come a long way, but the Republicans are doing their level best to take us back to those days when men had all the power. I am so sorry to see it happening.

03/28/2012 06:16

I remember those days - and I remember a man at the registry office who helped me 'steal' my car during my divorce because my soon-to-be ex-husband was hoping he could literally starve me back into the marriage. You are always eloquent. We have got to keep working.

03/28/2012 15:18

Naomi, Darlene and Pat---thanks for your comments. Yes, we've all been there and, perhaps foolishly, thought life would be more fair, more ripe with opportunity for our children's and grandchildren's generation. Apparently not. In some ways it is, but that doesn't mean they are going to get off easy. There's still much work to be done, and they need to step up to the plate. At the same time, I think can help out by sharing our experience with them. Is that being too grandmotherly? I dunno.

03/28/2012 16:03

"Sourdough with a little rye + race where you & I live" is title I posted today. You might want to check it out.

03/29/2012 18:39

Paula -- Off your topic. But here's the explanation for our brief twitter disconnect. http://techcrunch.com/2012/03/27/unfollowbug/ Ha. It's a bug.


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