Posted by: JanF | March 31, 2012

Women’s History Month: The Unwritten Chapters

Last week I wrote about Women’s History Month and about women working towards a better future.

It is said that those who refuse to learn from history are doomed to repeat it. It is also true that those who do not take the gifts of those who have gone before us miss a great opportunity.

The lessons of women’s history are these individuals’ gifts to us: both their victories and their defeats. Embrace them, learn from them and use them to move us forward toward a better future for all of us.

In 2012, the battle lines have been drawn like we have not seen in two generations. Those of us who remember the 1970s watched the women’s movement smash barriers and raise consciousness yet fall short of the goal of constitutional protections against discrimination based on gender.

Since then, women have been “granted” protections: our rights have been protected when Democrats were in power and whittled away under Republican administrations and Republican Congresses and right-wing courts.

If nothing else, this waxing and waning of our “rights” should wake us up to the fact that if a class of people can have their “rights” taken away, then they are scarcely “rights”. And if we have to constantly “earn” and “re-earn” these rights, because we apparently only deserve them when certain groups are in power, that we have clearly not gained anything but a temporary reprieve.

Women are not a monolithic voting bloc any more than people of color or LGBT or the 99% are monolithic voting blocs. And why is that? Women have more in common with other women than we have with many of the other demographics that we fit into. We have all dealt with issues of choosing our family (or non-family) size. We have dealt with the fear of violence against us, from those we know and those who simply see us as easy targets. We have all seen or felt workplace discrimination, discrimination in educational opportunities and in the classroom, and learned that many of our issues (and our existence, quite frankly) are ignored because we are women.

So what stops us from creating coalitions? Why don’t we band together to fight injustices that only exist because of our gender?

I don’t ask this because I know the answer. I ask this because I want to know the answer. I ask this because in the month of March 2012, Women’s History Month, women as a group have been attacked in a savage way by right-wing radio hosts, by right-wing media, by right-wing politicians and, in a continuation of the fallout from the 2010 mid-term elections, by right-wing legislatures across the country.

So why can’t we, as a group, fight back?

I want to posit a theory. Can it be that we have been made to believe that rights are a zero-sum game? That when I have a right, that means that you don’t have a right? That if we work together we are chumps because someone else will gain an advantage while we are being nice and helping someone climb the ladder and break the glass ceiling?

I have been trying for some time (maybe for decades) to understand why women feel that receiving love/affection/attention/success/happiness is set up this way (“if that woman is getting something nice, it means I am not getting something nice”). Instead of being each others biggest boosters, women seem to be in this endless competition. Is it part of human nature — an envy instinct, if you will? If this is the case, I would like to think it is something we (or at least enough “we”s) are willing to get past to create a more powerful coalition.

Can we set aside this baseless fear which the right-wing seems so adept at exploiting? I think we can. Or at least I hope so because we simply can’t afford to hang onto whatever it is that is keeping us from working together.

I won’t insult you by suggesting that the answer to life can be found in song lyrics. But I do want to share the lyrics to a song that was a number 1 hit in 1972, 40 years ago, when feminists had hope for adoption of the Equal Rights Amendment. Where our rights to equal work for equal pay and non-discrimination in jobs and education and equal opportunity for ourselves and our daughters and granddaughters would be a right that was not “granted” but codified into our constitution.

From “I am Woman” by Helen Ready

I am woman, hear me roar
In numbers too big to ignore […]

If I have to, I can do anything
I am strong … I am invincible … I am woman

The only way we win is electorally: by voting as a bloc to insist that the laws be changed to codify our rights. We have the numbers. We just need the will.

Let’s make history: in 2012. So that 40 years from now when we have Women’s History Month we are not looking back at what might have been (again) but we are celebrating the strength and perseverance of women (and men) in 2012 who changed the promise of equality into the reality of equality.