If you you know Fiona Shaw only from her film work, then you don’t know Fiona Shaw. Her overpoweringly impressive solo performance in The Testament of Mary is – I’ll just say it – searingly brilliant. I’ve quipped to people who enthuse about “searing” performances that I’d rather theatre not burn me. However, if it’s done as expertly as Shaw does it, I truly have no complaints.
Category: Women’s Issues
For today’s young feminists, the name Phyllis Schlafly may be totally unfamiliar; if anything, it triggers a distant memory of a footnote in an AP US History textbook. Those activists who lived and fought during the Second Wave are, however, all too familiar with the uber-conservative activist.
Ever since the 1940s, Schlafly has preached that women should be barefoot, pregnant, and in the kitchen. She has said things like “By getting married, the woman has consented to sex, and I don’t think you can call it rape,” and has called Roe v. Wade “the worst decision in the history of the US Supreme Court.” She recently endorsed the candidacy of Todd Akin, of “the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down” infamy. In the 1970s, when states were voting on the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), Schlafly waged the STOP ERA campaign. Although she believes womankind as a whole should be homemakers, she apparently doesn’t apply this rule to herself, considering she traveled around the country as part of STOP ERA. Her efforts were, unfortunately, successful; the ERA, which would ensure that “equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex,” was only ratified by 35 out of 38 states necessary. (Although the ERA was not passed in the 20th century, modern feminists have renewed interest in the amendment have resumed lobbying for its ratification.)
Given the above description, I think it’s impossible to call Schlafly a groundbreaker for women’s rights. For some reason, makers.com seems to disagree.
According to its website, makers.com is a “dynamic digital platform…showcasing hundreds of compelling stories from women of today and tomorrow.” There is also an affiliated documentary titled MAKERS: Women Who Make America that “will tell the story of the women’s movement through the firsthand accounts of the leaders, opponents, and trailblazers who created a new America in the last half-century.” One part of the website showcases “Groundbreakers,” whom the website defines as “firsts in their fields, visionary role models or frontline activists who sparked, and some who opposed, change for women.” To the amazement of feminists, Phyllis Schlafly is included as a Groundbreaker along with women like Gloria Steinem and Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
My mentor, National Organization for Women (NOW) cofounder Sonia Pressman Fuentes, was extremely disturbed by this gross misrepresentation. She asked Betsy West and Dyllan McGee, the producers of makers.com and the filmmakers of the forthcoming documentary based on it, to remove Schlafly from the website and film. They refused, deciding to twice change the definition of Groundbreakers until they settled on the one quoted above. Although the newest definition of a Groundbreaker includes those who opposed women’s rights, it still makes no sense. “Since when are those who oppose progress considered groundbreakers?” Ms. Fuentes asks.
Additionally, although makers.com claims to include women alive today who were instrumental in changing women’s status during the last 50 years, the website and documentary do not include a single one of the nine living NOW cofounders. “This is unconscionable,” Ms. Fuentes said. When Ms. Fuentes complained about Schlafly’s inclusion and the noticeable dearth of NOW members, Betsy West offered to interview her several times in a clear effort to buy her off. Ms. Fuentes declined to be interviewed until Schlafly is taken off of makers.com, or at the very least switched from the status of Groundbreaker to something more accurate, like “opposition.”
To urge PBS and AOL (makers.com’s sponsors) to remove Schlafly from makers.com or, at least, remove her from the designation of Groundbreaker, Ms. Fuentes and I made an online petition. We’ve gotten a lot of support in a short amount of time, and that means so much to the both of us. However, to get the attention of makers.com, PBS, and AOL we need we need to make this thing huge. Sign the petition here. Send the link to your friends, family, neighbors, and any organizations with which you are affiliated or that you think would be interested in this issue. Understanding the history of women’s rights is essential to ending gender inequality. Unless we ensure herstory is preserved correctly in websites and documentaries like makers.com, how can we expect to learn from the past and improve the future?
Today, 17% of Congress is female. While that number is much too low for the 21st century, less than 100 years ago, women were not even a factor in Congress. Jeanette Rankin, the first woman elected to Congress, opened the door for women to enter politics in the United States and worldwide.
Jeanette Rankin (sometimes spelled Jeannette) was born on a Montanan ranch on June 11, 1880. She helped her parents run the ranch and raise her five younger siblings, which gave her the confidence that she could take charge and lead, a mindset she continued to go by in her later years.
While enrolled in Washington University, trying to find her calling in life, she learned about the suffrage movement and got involved in First-Wave Feminism. She joined the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) and helped the campaign for Washington women to get the vote. After the successful campaign ended in 1910, she went back to Montana and rallied Montanan women to fight for their rights. They won enfranchisement in 1914.
Rankin’s work in the suffrage movement set the stage for when she decided to run for the House of Representatives in 1916. Despite fears from leading feminists that a loss would be a blow to the movement, she ran as a Republican on a platform that was pro-suffrage, pro-social welfare, and anti-war. Her family supported her congressional bid, as her politically savvy brother Wellington was her campaign manager and her sisters helped her campaign. Many fellow suffragists also gave her their backing. On November 10, 1916, the votes came in. Papers originally reported that she had lost, but they were wrong: Jeanette Rankin was rightfully elected as the first woman in Congress.
After Germany declared war on April 2, 1917, President Woodrow Wilson called a congressional session to decide whether or not America should enter World War I. This was one of the most important decisions in Rankin’s life. Friends, family, and suffragists told her to vote for the war to keep hopes of reelection alive, save her battles for times when she could win, and keep the women’s movement from suffering from a worse reputation. Rankin knew she had to listen to heart, though. When it was time for her to vote, she broke 140 years of congressional tradition when she commented as she voted: “I want to stand by my country but I cannot vote for war. I vote no.” She was joined by the minority of congress members, 374 for and 50 against.
Her decision was greatly criticized by her home state and suffrage movement. A Montanan paper described her as “a dagger in the hands of the German propagandists, a dupe of the Kaiser, a member of the Hun army in the United States, and a crying schoolgirl,” and NAWSA stated that “Miss Rankin was not voting for the suffragists of the nation – she represents Montana.”
Despite the suffrage movement’s desire to distance themselves from her, she remained an ardent feminist during her congressional term, creating the congressional Committee on Woman Suffrage. She also managed to pass a resolution in the House on a constitutional amendment allowing women the right to vote, but it was defeated in the Senate.
After her term was over, Rankin ran for the Senate. Despite her pro-war measures votes and new pro-war planks in her platform, she lost the election. After biding her time with pacifism for several years, in 1939, Rankin saw Adolf Hitler rise to power in Germany and knew that America would want to enter the war ripping apart Europe. She knew that she could not let this happen, so she ran for the House of Representatives again, once more as a Republican from Montana. Her platform was similar to her original one, minus the pro-suffrage plank; women across the country became enfranchised in 1920, when the Nineteenth Amendment was passed. “No one will pay any attention to me this time. There is nothing unusual about a woman being elected,” she said at her second election. It was true; dozens of women had been elected to Congress between her first and second terms, and there were ten other women in Congress at the time.
While in Congress, as she expected, she had to vote on American participation in World War II. She was the only person to vote on both the first and second World Wars. She voted no again, once more giving a commentary as she gave her vote: “As a woman, I can’t go to war, and I refuse to send anyone else.” She stood alone, as she was the only person who voted against the war this time. Her previously middling popularity plummeted, with newspapers all across the country rebuking her harshly and individuals sending her hate mail. She had to leave the session escorted by police to protect her from furious bystanders.
Rankin stayed out of the spotlight, continuing her work in pacifist and social fields, until 1968, when she organized a march 5,000 strong on the Capitol to protest the Vietnam War. It became known as the Jeanette Rankin Brigade, culminating in the presentation of a peace petition to House Speaker John McCormack of Massachusetts.
Jeanette Rankin died on May 18, 1973, when she was considering running for a third term to protest the Vietnam War. Without Rankin’s achievements, women would have never been able to shrug off the shackles of typical feminine roles and go on to fight for the right to high-powered careers in business, law, and government. Jeanette Rankin paved the way for women to aspire to rise from the duties of the kitchen to the highest level obligations of the White House.
I think everyone can attest to the fact that it’s a lot easier to say “love your body” than to actually love your own body. We all have our insecurities, and it’s extremely difficult to just leave them at the door. I can get on a soapbox and say how beauty is just a perception that men have created to oppress women and blah blah blah, but that’s not gonna solve anything or make women feel any better about themselves. Honestly, it irritates me when people say that kinda thing. It’s a fact that we all want to conform to societal standards and not be the weirdo, and part of that is the desire to be pretty. We all want to be accepted. God bless the minority of women who have gotten to the point where they could care less how they look, but most of us haven’t gotten to that level yet.
At the end of the day, I just think that we should all feel comfortable in our bodies, and not judge others for how they look. If Sarah is a size 24 and wants to lose weight, then she has my blessing; if Rebecca is a size 24 who loves how she looks, good for her too. Sarah and Rebecca shouldn’t criticize each other’s choices regarding weight, and it’s nobody else’s business, either.
I have a younger friend whose build will never allow her to look like a runway model, but she’s far from fat. There have been a number of occasions where people have said to her (in my hearing, no less) “Oh, you have such a pretty face,” or even flat-out “You’d be so pretty if you were thin.” I have another younger friend who is also not thin, and she’s told me about some of the things that girls and boys have said to her to mock her weight. She tries really hard not to let it bother her, and I think she does succeed. It still really drives me crazy that people feel that they can say whatever they want to impressionable little girls like my two friends, and I really want to give it to them. Like, it’s none of your business what she looks like! Do you want her to feel like garbage because of how she looks? If she’s okay with it, then let her live. If she’s not okay with it, then she’ll diet or exercise on her own – she doesn’t need motivation from you.
I know that these catty people say things like that to my friends to make themselves feel better about their own insecurities. “Well, my [insert body part here] might be horrendous, but at least I’m not fat like her.” Sometimes it’s honestly well-intentioned, albeit completely tactless. It’s these nasty comments are the kinds of things we never forget, that plague us for the rest of our lives. We need to be vigilant against saying mean things about others’ bodies, especially by accident.
My mother has influenced me a lot in this sense. She’s lost more than 100 pounds, and maintained it over a period of several years. Because of her, I know how icky someone can feel because of their body weight. I just wish everyone had that sort of influence in their life.