Listen to the Sisters
We've been fighting for our own bodies, our own identities forever. We know.
When I was growing up in the forties and fifties there weren’t many female role models in our textbooks. I’ve been pondering on this for a while, and the only one I can remember is Madame Curie, the physicist/chemist who, our textbooks said, “worked alongside her husband”, Pierre, and had the misfortune to die of radiation poisoning after working without protective covering while isolating Polonium and Radium, elements she’s credited with discovering. They didn’t report that she was the first woman to ever win a Nobel Prize and the only person ever to win two Nobel Prizes in science. (It’s interesting to note now that she was addressed as “Madame Curie”, her married title, and not “Marie”, her given name.)
So, yes, there was Marie, but she was Polish. Here in America we didn’t yet know about Sojourner Truth or Sacajawea or even Eleanor Roosevelt. Young girls in my circle had few heroes (heroines) outside of fictional characters. We didn’t even know Hedy Lamarr had a brain.
In my circles, blue-collar and high school educated, we could look forward to becoming a wife, a mother, a store clerk, a housekeeper, or a nanny. If we were lucky, we could rise to secretary, and if we were luckier still, and smart, we could go on to become a teacher or a nurse.
We could become helpers.
So imagine our shock, we adult women still clinging to those roles, when Betty Friedan’s book, The Feminine Mystique, came along in 1963 and smashed our status quo to smithereens. Betty told us why we were miserable and gave us permission to wake up and change things. She let us know we’d been gaslighted, bamboozled, seduced, and conned—and let me tell you (if you weren’t there), the earth moved.
We threw away our Ladie’s Home Journals and when a new quarterly came along in 1972, we grabbed at the chance to subscribe to the astonishingly liberated Ms Magazine. (I was a Ms charter member, signing up before the first issue (cover above) even hit the streets.) We thought we had the world by the tail. We’d escaped our cages, sort of, and less than a year later, when Roe v Wade became law, when the impossible became reality, we honestly believed we had finally taken charge of our own lives.
I’m telling you this so you’ll understand how painful it is for those of us who were there to now have to admit defeat. We struggled through Phyllis Schlafly’s successful destruction of the Equal Rights Amendment in the seventies. but we gained some traction with Title IX. This year the Biden administration will tackle the weaknesses in Title IX, but the Equal Rights Amendment has yet to be ratified. Gender equality is still not the law of the land.
Phyllis and her Eagle Forum ladies won by convincing enough women—and men—that the rightful role of women, the role women will always choose—is that of ‘helper’. Schlafly, a career woman herself, convinced women who opted to be homemakers that the career feminists were trying to undermine them.
They brought the bible into it, of course, since throughout the bible women were either helpmates or servants or whores. Helpmate, they reasoned, was top of the heap. Who wouldn’t want to be a helpmate?
From then on, it was one step forward and two steps back. Today it’s 10 steps back for every step gained. We’ve lost Roe v Wade, and it’s worse than we could ever have imagined. The courts, including the Supreme Court, are packed with pseudo-religious misogynists ruling in favor of criminalizing abortion and—get this—eradicating birth control.
And since fully six members of the Supreme Court were chosen because they were of a single mind--to eradicate Roe v Wade--we already know the floodgates have opened and this is just the start. More southern states to follow. More criminal charges against women and their ‘enablers’. More judges and candidates promising to end the idea of abortion forever.
Except it won’t happen. Abortion won’t end. Access and funding for abortion will.
And now the new wrinkle: Legalized punishment. Remember when Chris Matthews asked candidate Trump if women should be punished for having abortions, and Trump said, “Yes, there should be some form of punishment”? He added fuel to it by saying nothing should happen to the man. And nothing happened to him--to Trump. He went on being the candidate and he went on to win the election and he planted the seed that women were bad, women couldn’t be trusted to make their own decisions, and he filled the courts with judges who we knew going in would do everything they could to delegitimize abortions.
(Let me step in here for a minute to tell you my own history. I was a housewife for most of my life, and a full-time mother. I was married at 18 and became a widow last year after 65 years together. I was never a ‘career woman’, though I did work outside for short periods over the years. I did my freelance work from home. My choice. I can’t tell you how strongly I believe in choice.)
For centuries—not decades--we women, the only gender that can give birth, have been fighting for control of our own bodies. We’ve been fighting for our own souls, our own autonomy, our own destiny. Those of us who are old enough have been telling you how it was, how we feel, why what has happened to us should never have happened. We're tired, we're demoralized, we're sickened by the lack of progress.
Think of it. I'm 85 years old. That means for almost 70 years I've been watching this battle, advocating for our rights, wiping our tears, wailing as it all falls apart. Again and again. And I'm only one of millions of women who have been there and done that.
And done that.
After so many years of battling against those outside forces, we're losing. Women are losing. So talk to us. Not AT us, TO us. And, more important, listen to us. Give the soapboxes over to women who saw it, lived it, and are still out there fighting what should never have been a lost cause.
All those major voices calling for us to rise up and fight for our bodies, ourselves—they're out there, young and old. Give them a chance to speak. Give US a chance to speak. It's the least this country can do.
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I walked that, path as well - with the professional piece included. The biggest challenge was being a mental health professional working for a police department in the 1990's. Officers didn't want me there and resented my doing "their" job. It was a struggle, but in the end I think they respected me and even asked for help at times.
Some things are different although not enough. I had such hope going into the 2016 election. After it was over, I was practically catatonic for a day because I knew that I'd been very, very wrong. I'd let my hope win out over my cynicism which is odd for me. After all, I was the professor who, years prior, told my students that abortion was just the shot across the bow, that they'd be coming for birth control next. They scoffed (respectfully), not believing we could ever go back. I wish they'd been right and I was wrong.
That's been a big part of the problem though, hasn't it? People, most especially women, never believed things could get rolled back. I donated to Planned Parenthood, marched in Pro Choice Rallies, wrote editorials, taught the history, and did whatever I could to make people understand how tenuous our reproductive freedom truly was. They didn't believe you or me. With the leak of the Dobbes decision, so many women started telling their stories and coming out of the woodwork. Of course, I supported them but wondered where they had been. Maybe, just maybe, if women hadn't been complacent, things could be different because men wouldn't have dared cross that line. But we were complacent, even passive. I experienced the same rage at women as I did after the 2016 election. Every time I was out in public, I'd see white women and think, "Did you betray me, sister?" Since I live in red Texas, the answer was probably yes.
I realize that I'm angry at women when I should direct my rage at men. They're the ones in power; they're the ones determined to control us. And I know that oppressed groups have a hard time thinking rationally and acting in logical ways. I get it. But it's still so damn infuriating.
I can't imagine how it's been for you and your peer group, Ramona, since you all have been fighting this for decades longer than I have. Thank you for engaging in the battles and for never giving up. You and your friends are the inspiration I need when I want to abandon the fight.