THE FIGHT FOR FREEDOM, EQUALITY AND SOCIAL JUSTICE
(FIRST PUBLISHED AS A GUEST COLUMN IN THE HERALD-ZEITUNG, MAY 30, 2020, AND RE-POSTED HERe by AUTHOR, LYNN SILVER’s permission)
As an inquisitive young girl growing up in the deep south, my endless questions about life were often stifled or ignored. Examples: Why can’t I drink from a “colored” water fountain? Why do men have one title, Mr., and women have two titles, Miss or Mrs.? Why does a woman change her name when she marries?
My need for understanding these social norms was only satisfied by looking closely at the subtleties of everyday living and researching the history of human behavior.
The Civil Rights Movement and Women’s Movement peaked in the l960s and 1970s.
When the first issue of ‘Ms. Magazine’ was published in 1972, I felt I had finally found honest, concrete and rational answers. In particular, the title Ms. became an equalizer with Mr., a beginning in the drive to de-emphasize the marital status of women. The issue of titles personally surfaced when I was working as a traveling court reporter in 1975. On my first travel voucher, I noticed the blocks next to the signature line had two choices — Miss or Mrs. — so I drew in another block and added Ms.
When I handed the voucher to the presiding judge, he looked up over his glasses, and yelled “What is this?” I answered that it was my travel voucher which required his signature. Again, he shouted, “I will not sign this, I don’t want the folks in Atlanta thinkin’ I’m a Women’s Libba.” I answered “Sir, would you be willing to put that in writing?” He threw the paper down on his desk, signed it, and told me to get out of his office, at which time I thanked him with a mocking smile.
Judith Kovacs-Long, an assertive member of my generation who has a strong grip on effective communication, tells about working on a committee in the 1980s and being assigned to a work group. The man in charge told her she would be the “chairman” of that committee, to which she replied “I will be the chairperson, chair or committee head, but I will not be chairman.”
He indignantly responded, “What difference does it make what you are called? It’s the job you do that counts!” to which she replied, “Fine, I’ll be ‘chairman of my committee’ if you will be ‘chairwoman’ of yours.”
Historically, the answer to discrimination against women lies in an ancient injustice that kept 50% of the population legally, morally and physically under the control of the other half.
In Britain in the 18th and 19th centuries, women had no rights and were considered property. Wife sales were technically against the law but popular, nevertheless. The unwanted woman was led to market in her Sunday best with a rope around her neck and auctioned off. Women in the United States started the fight for equality in 1848, when suffragists lobbied Congress to pass an amendment to enfranchise women. The movement for equality grew and protests were rampant due to inaction by the government.
Women who publicly protested discrimination were beaten, raped, slashed on their breasts and face to disfigure their femininity, and imprisoned.
Female prisoners who went on hunger strikes were held down and force fed through large tubes driven through their nostrils or mouth, leaving them with chronic injuries and permanent disabilities.
These cruelties were painful, degrading and left a moral stain on US history. The fight for freedom became even stronger and women could not be stopped even though it meant physical suffering, loss of income and mental anguish. This onslaught of passion for freedom eventually resulted in many laws that transformed the lives of women: the right to vote, 1918; the right to file for divorce, 1937; the right to contraception for married women, 1965; the right to equal pay, 1970; the right to contraception for single women, 1972; the right to abortion, 1973; the deeming of marital rape to be unlawful, 1991; the right of same sex adoption, 2002, and the right of shared parental leave, 2015.
Culturally we still have a long way to go for women to see a genuine gender balance, but a pink wave is on the horizon for 2020. In the 116th Congress, women currently make up nearly one quarter of the chamber.
The House includes 101 women out of 435 total representatives. The 100-member Senate currently has 26 female senators. Out of 193 UN countries, the United States ranks 106th on political gender parity.
Locally, the Democratic Women of Comal County is a large group of thoughtful, progressive women who continue the fight for equality and social justice who celebrate the power of women by supporting and uplifting each other, and who uphold Democratic values. We strive to be the heroines of our own lives, recognizing that our self-worth is defined by strength of character. This year, we are especially proud of local women who are candidates for office: Stephanie Phillips (Texas House 73), Colette Nies (County Commissioner, Precinct 3), and Lindsay Poisel (County Commissioner, Precinct 1).