“A feminist is anyone who recognizes the equality and full humanity of women and men.” Gloria Steinem
He wore this shirt on family vacations, including a trip to Japan, where the shirt, and his wild blonde curly hair drew stares on the crowded subways.
That shirt, and another slogan popular when I attended college, “A Woman’s Place is in the House… and the Senate” serve as mild reminders of the women’s movement, and the many who championed equality for women in the workplace, in healthcare, and in politics.
And it’s true: since the 1970’s, women have shattered the “glass ceiling,” the phrase coined in the mid-1980’s associated with barriers to workplace advancement. Women hold cabinet positions, run for President, manage large corporations, serve as Supreme Court justices, and more.
Yet with all the advancement and opportunities, blatant sexism continues. A young woman, beginning her surgical residency, visiting us this summer, described how some of the male surgeons in the operating room make lewd jokes about her anatomy. I’m sure her experience isn’t unique.
What worries me is how unaware most young people are of the history of how we got here and how much is taken for granted.
I grew up before Title IX, the 1972 federal legislation that requires schools and universities to provide equal athletic opportunities for men and women. My high school offered four sports for girls: field hockey, basketball, softball, and tennis; the boys had more than double those options. Now school sports range from archery to wrestling, open to men and women.
When I interviewed for reporting jobs in the early 1980’s, I was asked my age and when I planned to start a family.
I didn’t wear pants to high school until my sophomore year; a fact that amazed my daughter and my students.
My early television memories include watching Father Knows Best where the daughters learned the importance of letting boys win. “…younger daughter Kathy was counseled …to deliberately lose a ball game. Teenage daughter Betty found happiness when she agreed to stop competing with a male student for a junior executive job at the local department store and settled for the more gender- appropriate task of modeling bridal dresses.” (Collins, p. 14.)
Which brings me to NBC’s new series launching September 19. “The Playboy Club,” a 1960s-era soap opera set in Chicago that tells the story of a woman, known as a “bunny,” who becomes involved with a powerful male lawyer that helps her evade looming legal troubles. (nbc.com)
The producer, Chad Hodge, has been quoted saying the show “will be empowering because it will illustrate “how (women) can use the club to be anyone they want.” (WSJ, 8/27/11)
Empowered dressed as a sexy rabbit? Showing women as objects designed to entertain men?
an icon of the women’s movement, worked as a Playboy Bunny at the New York Playboy Club for a magazine reporting assignment. Her subsequent exposé, “I Was a Playboy Bunny” (1963) is included in her book, Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions. The article lead to the company’s changing many of its policies.
Already the show has spawned controversy and calls for boycotts from both sides of the political spectrum.
Feminists, including Steinem, predict it will be demeaning to women. “It normalizes a passive dominant idea of gender. So it normalizes prostitution and male dominance… I just know that over the years, women have called me and told me horror stories of what they experienced at the Playboy Club and Playboy Mansion, “ she said. (christianpost.com, 8/11/11)
Morality in Media and Pink Cross, are among those protesting the portrayal of women as indecent and the plot pornographic.
I’m with Steinem. Forbes’ Meghan Casserly put it well: “I’m angry. Am I taking this all way too far or is there something just a little weird about women objectifying themselves (and other women) in the name of empowerment?” (8/11/11)
Gail Collins’ When Everything Changed: The Amazing Journey of American Women from 1960 to the Present has become my graduation gift to middle and high school students.
Girls need to know the glass ceiling doesn’t refer to a skylight.