I just listened to Charlie Rose’s interview with Gloria Steinem. If you get a chance check out the HBO documentary “Gloria: In Her Own Words”. How fitting to reflect on such a rich, full, life well lived long after the suffragists work culminated on August 26, 1920. Alas, the advancement of women in society is not just about the work of great women like Gloria Steinem, Elizabeth Cady Stanton or Susan B. Anthony – it is about all of us. Advancing the role of women continues to be about our stories, our work, and our legacies. What’s yours?
I did not grow up a feminist and never heard the term until my early 30’s. As a young adult I knew about battered women’s shelters, double standards, and that teenage girls who had sex with boys were considered ‘sluts’. I knew girls that got pregnant were sent away – far, far, away, that the coffee at my work was served under a poster of a playboy bunny and that sexual advances of men at work were just something you put up with. But, I never knew there was a movement afoot to address the insanity until my early 30’s – and then, of course, I joined it.
By the 1990’s, the right to vote, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, Title VII and Title IX of the Civil Rights Act, and other laws to address reproductive health, property, and lending rights were already passed. Sexual harassment was the injustice of my day and it became my cause while Anita Hill bore the torch. As a result of the sexual harassment movement there is a name for those playboy posters by the coffee station and the unwanted solicitations I endured. Many stories were told, many political battles were fought and won and many advances gained. Which begs the question, what’s next?
Today, the rights of all people to exist as equals to all others remains a global cause for women and men. The uprising in Libya is the latest to catch our attention as people there fight for the right to bring their whole human selves to wherever they are, the workplace, the mosques, the sidewalk café’s, and to the political arena. The fight for justice continues and is necessary. In Gloria’s words, “There’s something in us that knows, you are not the boss of me.”
In Stanton and Anthony’s days the suffrage movement was fragmented between the abolishonists, the temperance movement, and women’s rights. In Gloria’s day the women’s movement was fragmented between the Betty Friedan (The Feminine Mystique) camp of white suburban middle class women who wanted to join the existing systems and the Bella Abzug camp who were fighting for welfare and lesbians rights. Steinem describes them as “not at all what Betty had in mind.” Today women are equally fragmented between those of us on the left of left, the right of left, the middle left (confused yet?) and just about anywhere in between. And I would be remiss if I did not mention women who would drop over dead if they heard their name is the same sentence as Gloria Steinem. (aka Bachman, Palin). There are thousands of fragments because “no one owns a movement”, Gloria reminds us. Yes, indeed.
Yesterday, I tossed my poster of suffragists in the recycling as a symbolic nod to a new era of the feminist movement. A messy, unpredictable, undisciplined, non-linear, topsy-turvy exciting movement to God knows where. Pick a spot and join the ride. Its going to be wild! And, don’t forget to tell your story.
[Patty Tanji is the President of the Pay Equity Coalition of Minnesota. She is also the owner of Open Workplace where she educates and motivates leaders to incorporate practices in their organizations that encourage trust, accountability, and transparency. You can find her on twitter @ptanji]