There’s a song in the musical “City of Angels” entitled “What You Don’t Know About Women.” I think that could be one of my theme songs, being, as I am, one of the male species.
But when a million or more women march in the streets, that sort of commitment demands attention, and perhaps some reflection, from the other side of the chromosome lineup.
I consider myself to be a feminist in the sense that’s the correct term to apply to anyone who believes in equal rights for women. The very term, though, has sometimes taken surprising turns. I can remember talking to students of mine at the college just last spring who said things like “I’m not a feminist, but I support equal rights for women.” Hmmmm … somehow there’s been a distortion in the message.
As with all mass movements, there’s never been unanimity in the struggle to advance the interests of what used to be called “the fairer sex.” Although much of the criticism and resistance to women’s suffrage and the Equal Rights Amendment, for example, has come from men, it’s often also been the case that some of the vitriol came from within female ranks.
In the Seventies, the ERA was sailing toward approval – 35 of the 38 states needed gave their approval – when Phyliss Schafly organized the “Stop ERA” movement, emphasizing the claims that the amendment would make women eligible for the military draft, ban separate restrooms for men and women and take away certain privileges enjoyed by women.
But this was not the first time that women helped stop or slow the ERA. Eleanor Roosevelt, perhaps the most prominent American woman of the 20th Century, opposed it on the grounds that it would weaken the male-dominated labor unions and would benefit primarily middle- and upper-class women without addressing the concerns of the lower classes.
That last point strikes a spark. Much has been made to open doors and crack glass ceilings for college-educated women, but that hasn’t generated much enthusiasm among those who clean houses, do nails, wait tables and work in other financially unappreciated professions.
As I see it, divisions among women have been a significant factor in gender politics for a long time. It’s nice when you read about how some Ivy League college appointed a woman to a top post, but how does that help the lady changing sheets at the hotel? You can’t eat equality.
I believe that a true women’s movement needs to find a way to embrace the interests of a wider range of people. Economics are at the heart of it, but so are centuries of women battling each other for position in a male-dominated society.
Race has also been a component as well. Donald Trump’s comments (and actions) have riled many feminists, but according to the Pew Research Center’s exit polling, 53 percent of white women voted for Trump, compared to 94 percent of black women and 68 percent of Hispanic women, who voted for Hillary Clinton.
What happened in the streets of America last week among women may be an historic shift in national culture and politics. Or was it a large group who still represent only about half of women? I guess we’ll find out after the pink “pussyhats” are put away and the hard work of creating a true unified women’s movement happens … or doesn’t.
Jim Tortolano pleads that while he is not a woman, he is married to one, knows some others and had a mother.
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