Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Gender Justice

Last night, I stayed up long past my usual bedtime to watch Makers:  Women Who Make America, which you can buy or view, episode by episode, here.

Even though I knew this history, I still stayed up to watch.  The show did not break new ground, but it struck me as a good history, particularly for people who don't know this history.  Unlike Betty Friedan's The Feminine Mystique, which has been getting a lot of media coverage as we've come to the 50th anniversary of its publication, the PBS show focused on women of all classes.  It did a good job of explaining why African-American women did not always feel welcome or committed, and it included the stories of lesbians, who also felt excluded.

The show was a good reminder for me of what ordinary people can do.  I'm always grateful for those reminders.

I hear people of a certain age complaining about today's youth and wondering why they don't go out and protest.  I would argue that today's youth have different tools, and they may not need to throw their bodies on the barricades.  We're still in the early days of social networking, which is already changing the landscape in ways we can scarcely comprehend. For that matter, in many ways we're still in the early days of the Internet, which also has transformed us and continues to do so.

The show pointed out that women had been trained to organize in other contexts (like the Civil Rights Movement and the fight against the war in Vietnam), and thus, they had the tools to organize for their own interests as they became radicalized.

I remember back in graduate school when we learned to work the mimeograph machine, one of the tools of social revolution of the 1960's and 70's.  Sure, we had copy machines; I'm not that old.   But grad students had to use the old technology because it was cheaper.  Maybe smartphones will be the mimeograph machine of this generation of students.

The show makes clear that we're still not where we want to be as women, and I already had this on the brain yesterday as I read a series of articles in The Washington PostThis article points out that one year after college graduation, female graduates are making roughly 15% less than their male counterparts, and here's why that fact is so significant:  "All the traditional reasons typically trotted out to interpret the pay gap — that women fall behind when they leave the workforce to raise kids, for example, or that they don’t seek as many management roles — failed to justify this one. These young women didn’t have kids yet. The study took account of the differences in their academic majors. And because they were just one year removed from their undergraduate degrees, few of these women yet had the chance to go after (much less decline) leadership roles."

Yes, we have work to do, even as we approach a time where we have more females graduating from college than males.   And that work is not just here, in our own country.

Last night's show ended by reminding us that third world women face even more brutal conditions than women in this country have faced in many generations, centuries even. But it's worth repeating the point that the show made again and again:  social change can come swiftly, after years of slogging for justice that seems like it will always be out of reach.  I have a vision of a world where women can move safely as they fulfill their full potential.  I've seen enormous changes throughout the last 47 years that I've been alive.  I hope to continue to see positive changes for women as I move through the next 47 years.

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