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From Our Files on Equality:
This edition of On The Issues Magazine looks at the continuing challenge of achieving gender equality, including from social, political, legal, religious and cultural perspectives. Over the years of its print versions (1983-1999) and online editions (2008-present), On The Issues Magazine has tackled equality from various angles.
Here is a round-up of some articles from our archives.
Our featured archival story points to the irony of women's equality in North America. The U.S. Constitution never mentioned women at its inception and only 143 years after it was signed did women finally secure the right to vote. Today, Women's Equality Day on August 26 celebrates the anniversary of the 19th Amendment, granting women suffrage. But a fascinating 1996 article explains that American Indian women had rights far earlier.
Is Equality Indigenous? Iroquois Influence on Feminism by Sally Roesch Wagner, Winter 1996, said: "A common myth held that Christianity and civilization meant progress for women, but [Elizabeth Cady] Stanton and [Matilda Joslyn] Gage saw through it. At the 1888 International Council of Women they listened as Alice Fletcher, a noted white ethnographer, spoke about the greater rights of American Indian women. Fletcher made clear that these Indian women were well aware that when they became United States citizens, they would lose their rights. Fletcher quoted one who told her: As an Indian woman I was free. I owned my home, my person, the work of my own hands, and my children could never forget me. I was better as an Indian woman than under white law."
Achieving women's full equality in the U.S. through an Equal Rights Amendment is still a hot-button issue, according to what turned out to be one of our most popular articles in the two years of online publication.
Equal Rights Amendment Still Brings Out Ranters by Jennifer S. Macleod, Spring 2009:
"What is opposition to the ERA really all about? It is a frantic attempt to block, and then reverse, one of the most extraordinary and mighty tides of change in all of human history: the emergence, at last, of the long suppressed female half of the human race to full and equal participation in society and the shaping of a better future for all."
Seventeen years earlier, Heather Rhoads discussed the Religious Right's devotion to repressive patriarchal family values and how it had been unleashed around a campaign to defeat Iowa's ERA – a devotion and activism that's only intensified in the years since.
"Racist, Sexist, Anti-Gay," How the Religious Right helped defeat Iowa's ERA by Heather Rhoads, Fall 1993:
"When the Rev. Pat Robertson sent out his now infamous fundraising appeal for the Stop ERA Committee last summer  declaring that feminism 'encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism, and become lesbians,' the Iowa Women's Equality Campaign hurriedly faxed copies of the letter to the national press, feeling certain that publicizing what they considered 'absurd 'accusations would help their cause.
"But like the anti-gay fight in Colorado, provoking homophobic hysteria proved to be a winning strategy for the Religious Right. Although polls initially showed Iowa's equal rights clause with more than 80 percent approval, by election day talk of gay marriages, adoption rights, and even 'hiring quotas' under the ERA succeeded in catching the spotlight and stirring up enough fear to kill the referendum 52 to 48 percent, a difference of a mere 45,000 votes."
The inequality that women experience in health care led publisher Merle Hoffman to call for a Medical ERA in 1985. Hoffman formulated the philosophy of "Patient Power" to empower women as consumers of medical care as active participants rather than passive recipients of treatment:
"Women who are concerned about power, who are in positions of power, must go beyond their own self interest to see that their having a perfect baby, their being super women with careers and families, is not the ultimate positive result of the revolution! Just as the notion of power in the women's movement must be one of the universal collective rather than the individual personal, 'Patient Power' must begin to move from the individual patient's relationship with her physician to a broader, more active political and class consciousness. The power of women as patients, and as medical consumers, cannot exist only within the limited confines of family or the home."
The Chilling Of Reproductive Choice by Janice Raymond, Spring 1990, considered how in vitro fertilization technology might be used against women's reproductive freedom and to elevate the demand for fetal rights.
"I believe that technologies such as IVF, embryo transfer and embryo freezing are extremely invasive to women's bodily integrity and require women to adapt to painful and debilitating procedures; situate women on a reproductive treadmill; medicalize not only the processes of pregnancy and birth but women's very lives; are experimental and treat women as raw material for reproduction; and beg the question of why women are channeled, at such cost to themselves, into reproducing. In this article, I underscore the fact that these technologies focus medical, legal and media attention on the status and rights of fetuses and men while rendering the status and rights of women at best incidental and at worst invisible."
Twisted Treaty Shafts U.S. Women by Janet Benshoof, Winter 2009, points to inordinate anti-abortion influences in order to call for women activists to reexamine their support for CEDAW, an international women's rights treaty. Benshoof, an international lawyer, argues that the treaty has been so watered down by anti-abortion forces that it may cause more harm than good around the world and should not be ratified in the U.S.
"Not only has the U.S. not ratified CEDAW, but most supporters of ratification, including new Vice President Joe Biden, treat its ratification like voting for a national flower, taking pains to reassure the public that ratification would not impose any new burdens on the government. Of course, this is true, because with the full support of the Democratic Congress and the women's movement, the version of CEDAW now pending in the U.S. Senate has been gutted to the core by some eleven reservations, understandings and declarations (RUDs)...The twisted sister CEDAW would preclude women from challenging laws based on the physical differences between men and women, including discriminatory maternity coverage or criminal abortion laws."
In seeking equality on the playing field, women have amassed impressive gains in sports with the help of Title IX, but they also hit the hard rock of arena ceilings.
"Playing like a girl" is no longer an insult by Anngel Delaney, Winter 1998, looked at a whole new ballgame – professional basketball.
"One of the most noticeable differences between the two games [professional men's and women's basketball] is that men spend a lot of time dunking -- it's easier to jam the ball into the hoop when you need to do little more than fully extend your arm. Most women players, who by comparison are height-challenged, have to find more creative ways to get the ball to the basket... But the most striking difference between the men's and women's leagues is not in the number of points or rebounds per game, or the number of injuries, but in salary. In sports, as in the ordinary workplace, women still have a long way to go to achieve parity in income... Even the highest paid WNBA [Women's National Basketball Assocation] stars Lisa Leslie, Rebecca Lobo, and Sheryl Swoopes - receive an estimated $250,000 annually, while NBA players like Patrick Ewing rake in upwards of $17 million."
Women Still At the Hoops, But Parity Scores Low by Mary Lou Greenberg, July 2009, addressed the last decade of hoops, interviewing Kym Hampton, one of the original WNBA players for the New York Liberty
"'When you talk about female athletes,'" Hampton said, 'you're talking about so many things. You're talking about women, about women of color, what's our sexuality, our preferences. It seems we can't get respect for being just good athletes, but all these other things have to come into the picture when people look at us.' And, she added, 'no one ever speculates whether guys in the NBA are gay or bi. Why can't a woman just be considered a great athlete?'"
Breaking Barriers: Women and Minorities in the Sciences, Summer 1990, presented an interview with Paul E. Gray, then President of Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Shirley M. McBay, the school's dean for Student Affairs. That was 15 years before Harvard president (and now Obama adviser) Lawrence Summers lit a firestorm of controversy when he said that women's under-representation in science was caused by the "intrinsic aptitude" differences between men and women.
Paul Gray had a much different explanation.
"OTI [to Gray]: Do you think women have particular difficulties in math and science?"
Gray: Shiela Tobias, an educator, did a lot of research on math anxiety in women in both high school and college. I don't believe there are any gender differences. There's nothing intrinsic in the physiology of women that makes mathematics less accessible or more difficult, but the social expectations which begin at a very early age probably do make a difference."
An entirely different struggle for equality in the Ivy League is described in To Pee Or Not to Pee by Irene Duvall, Summer 1990.
The story is a wry recollection of the 1973 "Pee-in" that forced Harvard to examine its sexism. The issue: a lack of accessible toilets for newly-admitted women. The matter came to a head, Duvall explains, with a demonstration led by activist Flo Kennedy, complete with placards, a poem by Marge Piercy and jars of yellow liquid. "Flo explained that institutions such as Harvard were designed by men for men, but today women outnumber men if one counts all the secretaries who, faceless and nameless as they may be, still are born with bladders." As the jars of liquid were emptied on the steps of Lowell Hall, Kennedy announced to a small crowd, "Let the Dean of Harvard be warned…. next year we will be back doing the real thing."
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