Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Makers: 1963-2013

I was close to tears during most of Makers: Women Who Make America, the 2 1/2 hr. documentary on the women's movement from 1963 to the present, inspired by the 50th anniversary this year of the publication of Betty Friedan's The Feminine Mystique.    Buy it now from PBS.  

For women of a certain age, our lives passed before us as we watched.

My friend Sharon Billings wrote "with admiration and delight":

What an experience to watch my life literally unfold before my eyes.  How profoundly we impact history by our efforts, something easy to miss in the moment.  Kudos to all who participated.

The optimism of the early 1970s was so moving, when we thought our nation could add women to the Constitution as a matter of course--and then we saw the rise of misogyny led by Phyllis Schlafly, the Harvard-educated mother with hired child care to permit her to fly around the country opposing the Equal Rights Amendment.  

I used to hate Phyllis Schlafly, but now I almost never have to think about her.  When I do see her snarling, lip-sticked, bee-hived image on my television screen, that hate springs right back.  She is the snake in the Garden of Eden, speaking to the male:  "Of course you were made to rule.  Shut up, Eve."

Back on June 30, 1982, when the ERA went down in flames with only three more states needed to make the 38 needed for ratification, I was heart-broken.  My first daughter, Roz, sat in her baby seat on the kitchen table as I tried to explain the significance of the day to her, but my earnestness face-to-face only made her smile and laugh.

The perplexity of whether to incorporate defense of lesbian women into the mainstream fight for equal rights also kept my emotions on edge: reliving Betty Friedan's initial unwillingness to risk all by including gay rights, followed by the enthusiasm at Houston in 1976 when inclusiveness was adopted.  

In the Christian feminist organization I've been a part of, Evangelical Women's Caucus, we went through this same process of "No, we can't succeed in our mission if we support our lesbian sisters" to "Yes, we will stand--or fall--together."  Those who left in 1986 then formed Christians for Biblical Equality, which has prospered.

The interwoven fight for reproductive choice was also moving and the statistics were shocking: 5000 deaths a year in the US pre-Roe v. Wade.

Faces of the movers, shakers, and makers made this history come alive, such as a young Patricia Schroeder entering the 93rd Congress in 1974, to bring the total number of women to 14 out of 435.

How could we live and breathe in such a sexist, male-controlled world?  

Shirley Chisholm was one of those Congresspersons, and my first vote in a presidential election went to her in 1972.  

Bella Abzug was another of our sheroes;  I heard her speak at a demonstration for the ERA in San Francisco in the 1970s.

"I have a brain and a uterus and they both work," said Pat Schroeder when asked how a mother could possibly serve in Congress.

Another riveting moment in the documentary was mention of the UN's Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, 1995: "Women's rights are human rights, and human rights are women's rights"--not the diversion of the privileged few.  Friends attended it--I was there in spirit.

Then I relived the horror of the 1980s and 90s when women realized that jobs and men were not changing to accommodate our numbers in the work force.  Arlie Hochschild wrote The Second Shift about this problem while President Nixon vetoed a bill for day day of children. 

Makers ended with interviews of prominent women today such as Cheryl Sandberg, CEO of Facebook.

Today's statistics: women still earn only 77 cents for every dollar earned by men.  

One fifth of our Senators are women and 81 out of 535 Representatives are women--15%.  In order to match the 20% in the Senate, we would need 107 women in the House.

Compared to many nations, these totals are pathetic.  Compared to our past only 50 years ago, they are improved.  Compared to equality--50/50 men and women in our Congress--the statistics are still humiliating.

My own work history attests to the 77 cents statistic.  I fought to stay employed and to succeed in my career, but time out for childbirth and child care and moving to accommodate my husband's employment opportunities took a huge toll.  My various salaries tell the story.

This part of Makers also kept me close to tears. 

Hillary Clinton appeared throughout the documentary, from a young wife to a senior statesperson.

"The 21st C. is about ending the pervasive discrimination and degradation of women," she asserted.

Meryl Streep speaks as the unseen narrator throughout, and at the end she says, "The revolutionary moment is gone, but it goes on--the biggest social movement in the history of the planet."  

More tears, of course.  It has been my privilege and my pain to be a small part of that movement.

"There is a maker in all of us," notes the narrator.  I realize that the title chosen was not "Women Who Made America" but "Women Who Make."  

Present--and still tense.

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