Monday, August 8, 2011

Women's Rights: There Are Still Battles to be Fought and WON

Contributed by Katie Foley

This weekend I met a stunning young woman from a primarily Buddhist, South Asian island nation.  She has been educated in the United States, earning both her Bachelor’s degree and Master’s degree from a state university.  She is now doing whatever she can to extend her stay in the U.S. because she knows that if she returns to her island home it is likely her parent’s will have picked a husband for her. 

It’s only natural for a flaming liberal and rabid feminist such as myself to contemplate at length the state of Women’s Rights, not only in this country but world-wide.  Women have come so far since we were finally given the franchise in 1920 [1], a *mere* 133 years after the Constitution was adopted by the Constitutional Convention. [2] Thanks to World War II, when women were needed to produce supplies for the men fighting the war, women learned the satisfaction to be gained from financial independence.  However, I know for a fact my grandma had to hide that she was married from her employer lest she be fired for being derelict in her house-wife duties.

But even though we have entered the second decade of a new millennium, there are still innumerable strides to be made in order for women to gain the full equity of U.S. citizenship.  It’s no secret that women earn substantially less than men for comparable work, 78 cents on the dollar according to the latest census data. [3] Even if women find themselves in a position of equality with men they are still expected to present themselves as feminine and desirable, perhaps even demure.  This is true of women in any professional capacity, from lawyers to doctors to politicians such as Michele Bachmann.  I may not agree with her politics, or even think her completely sane, but I resent that she has to strive to appear feminine amidst what must be an exhausting bid for the GOP nomination. 

The continued subordination of women is not limited to cultural or economic phenomena. In February of this year the GOP in Congress wanted to limit abortion funding by inserting the word “forcible” before the word “rape” in federal legislation. [4]  This implies that there may be some types of rape that are okay, as long as they are not “forcible.”  Then again, I cannot think of a way that rape could be anything but forcible, given that the common law definition of rape is “unlawful sexual intercourse with a woman…through force and against her will.”

Now, thanks to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care act, women will have access to free birth control, including the “morning-after” pill, through their private insurers.  Those of us who have been perturbed for years by the fact that insurers were more interested in ensuring old men can still get erections than helping women with family planning [5] find the new mandate to be a step in the right direction for women’s rights and women’s health.  In fact, studies indicate that as many as 2/3 of women believe contraceptives should be covered by private insurance plans.  Yet the vociferous right-wing has indentified this as nothing more than a battle tactic by the culture warriors on the left. This is not about women’s health, it is just liberals looking to impose their immorality on the pocket books of private insurers. [6]

The last example I'll give of the stagnation of progress for Women’s Rights advocates was in the form of a decision by the U.S. Supreme Court.  The Court failed to allow a sex discrimination case against Wal-Mart to be certified as a class action, splitting 5-4 over the issue of whether all of the women alleging employment discrimination on the basis of sex had a common claim, a requirement in class action law suits. [7] What this means is that each woman will have to individually litigate the issue, a daunting and expensive task when you’re fighting a global super power such as Wal-Mart.  The bottom line is that Wal-Mart will be able to continue its *alleged* practice of employment discrimination on the basis of sex because the likelihood of being sued successfully for having done dropped significantly with the Supreme Court’s decision. 

I don’t pretend to know the solution to the problem of the continued efforts of those in power to subordinate women.  I don’t know what we can do to liberate women in South Asian island nations and the Middle East from the religious and cultural chains that bind them.  What I do know is that what we have been doing has not been enough, and for a nation committed to “Equal Protection of the Law” we are sadly lacking in the area of Women’s Rights.  Just as all people should be allowed to marry who they want regardless of gender, women should not be told to be more feminine in the work place and should have insurance coverage for family planning. Women should not have to fear a forced marriage or wonder whether the rape they experienced was “forcible” or not.  As the old Cheris Kramarae quote says, "Feminism is the radical notion that women are people." Women are over half of the population, it’s time to make the less-than-half part of the population truly acknowledge and value our humanity. I will not let my uterus dictate where I go in life.  No other women should have to either.    

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