Three ways not to celebrate Women's Equality Day
As second wave feminism gathered peak velocity forty years ago, the late bombastic and behatted Congresswoman (D-NY) Bella Abzug persuaded Congress to designate August 26th as Women’s Equality Day. It recognized the 19th Amendment to the Constitution that in 1920 gave all U.S. women the right to vote.
There are many reasons to celebrate the 91st anniversary of women winning the ballot, which some suffragist leaders mistakenly believed culminated the struggle for women’s rights. But it turns out the solution to a problem changes the problem–creating uncomfortable new questions about the value of equality and what to do once we get there.
We’ve come a long way, maybe.
Yes, women now hold the majority of college degrees, but better education hasn’t brought equal pay. Nor has the fact that women are now starting 38% of entrepreneurial businesses moved the percentage of venture capital they garner above the 5% mark.
Yes, more women hold seats in Congress, but “more” equals only 17 percent. Despite hard lobbying by women’s groups, Senator Patty Murray is the sole female among 12 supercommittee members appointed to solve America’s budget impasse, showing how hard it is to crack the real power barriers.
And when we do crack those barriers, what happens?
Thanks to the 18 million cracks Hillary Clinton put in the glass ceiling, women are taken seriously as presidential candidates. But it’s feminist heartburn that progressive women like Clinton opened the doors for today’s reactionary female candidates like Michelle Bachmann, who would take away women’s rights, not add to them.
Then, just a women reached numbers parity in the workplace, Rebekah Brooks, deposed Chief Executive of Rupert Murdock’s News International, emulated her boss/mentor’s red-in- tooth-and-claw philosophy. Is this what happens when women reach the C-suite? Ouch!
On Women’s Equality Day 2011, we must ask: how do we make the transformation to gender equality truly transformational? Avoid becoming the men whose injustices we challenged? Embrace powerful leadership roles in work, politics, and personal life without adopting the same hierarchical, power-over model used to hold us back?
Gloria Feldt is the author of No Excuses: 9 Ways Women Can Change How We Think About Power, former CEO of Planned Parenthood, and a JWA Board member.