Nel's New Day

August 26, 2016

Women’s Vote Can Change the World

Pickets-Women-White-HouseMy mother was born on November 12, 1899, just ten days too late to vote the United States legalized the vote for women. After 72 years of ridicule, imprisonment, forced feedings, and other forms of opposition to women gaining their full citizenship rights, the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution passed on August 18, 1920—thanks to one state legislator from Tennessee who followed his mother’s advice. Secretary of State Bainbridge Colby signed the proclamation after the certified record from Tennessee arrived at the capitol.

it's a woman's worldIn the first election, only nine million women, about 35 percent of those eligible, voted, compared to almost twice as many men. Public sentiment followed one of the headlines about the event: “Is suffrage a failure?” For the next 45 years, black women in the South joined black men to eliminate literacy tests, poll tests, and other voter suppression activities. Since 1980, however, women have been the majority at every general election, electing Bill Clinton in 1996 with 11 percent more women’s votes than from men up to 13 percent greater number of votes from women for President Obama in 2008. Whoever thought that the feminist movement failed after 1920 is wrong.

As historian Jo Freeman wrote in A Room at a Time:

 “[Women behind the scenes] prepared women for political work and enlarged their sphere of activity. They did this through education, legitimation and infiltration…. And by doing what was possible, women went into politics the same way they got suffrage: slowly and persistently, with great effort, against much resistance, a room at a time.”

This evolution laid the foundation for women’s progress throughout 96 years, leading to Hillary Clinton’s nomination for presidential candidate this year. The biggest move forward after 1920 was the 1964 Civil Rights Act, initially created to deal with race discrimination. At the last minute, however, the category of sex was added to those of race, color, religion, and national origin that are outlawed in employment discrimination. While no one is sure that this story is accurate, a tale has been told of Virginia’s Howard W. Smith, opponent of all civil rights legislation, adding “sex” to Title VII in order to kill the bill. After the laughter, the Civil Rights Act—with the addition of “sex”—passed.

The first two years after the Civil Rights Act didn’t show much movement forward to support women until another milestone occurred 50 years ago on June 30, 1966. That was the day that the National Organization for Women (NOW) was founded. Thanks to this group’s actions, President Lyndon B. Johnson expanded affirmative action to include women in 1967, and the 1968 Equal Credit Opportunity Act allowed women to get credit—including credit cards—without their husbands’ signatures.

Even so, women weren’t guaranteed an equal education during the late 1960s, and sexual harassment was legal. Domestic violence favored men over women. The movie Twelve Angry Men represented the way that women were barred from serving on juries or had difficulties in being selected as jurors. A clerk advised Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren that permitting women to serve “may encourage lax performance of their domestic duties.” Women were also not employed as TV news anchors, airplane pilots, astronauts, firefighters, movie directors, CEOs—the list was endless.

When women were paid much less, the excuse was that they were single and living with their parents or married and earning “pin money” as a supplement to husbands’ earnings. (The same excuse is used 50 years later to excuse companies from paying teenagers the same wage for the same job as older people.) The medical and law schools that didn’t bar females from being students greatly limited the number of women in classes.

The “pill,” available in 1960 and to all married women after the Supreme Court ruling in Griswold v. Connecticut, was still kept from unmarried women until the Supreme Court ruled that unmarried women also could purchase contraceptives in Baird v. Eisenstadt (1972). The next year saw a Supreme Court ruling in Roe v. Wade that legalized abortions on a limited basis. By 1978, employers were required to hire pregnant women. For the first four decades of NOW, women won pay discrimination lawsuits, and courts decided that the law covered sexual harassment.

The 21st century, however, brought reversals of women’s rights in health and finances. The Supreme Court allowed states to pass unbelievably restrictive anti-abortion laws and even prevent women from getting contraceptives from their insurance. In 2011, the John Roberts’ Supreme Court ruled that thousands of women bringing a class action lawsuit against Walmart for discrimination at work couldn’t sue as a group. Since the Dukes v. Wal-Mart ruling, judges have sided with employers so often that women are now finding it impossible to even find lawyers to take their cases.

Fifty-two years after the equality declared in the Civil Rights Act, women on the average make only 79 cents for every dollar made by a man, and breaking down this statistic by race makes the picture even worse. Black women have to work an additional seven months—19 months—to make the same salary as a man does in one year. That’s a lifetime pay gap of $877,480. one-third of all women in the nation—about 42 million people—live in or on the edge of poverty.

Fifty years later, women still struggle with many of the same issues as in the 1960s, frequently through the combination of racism, sexism, homophobia, and classism. Rape is illegal, but too often men are not punished for their behavior because women are accused of being at fault. Protection for women because of domestic violence can be based on a woman’s race, gender identity, and zip code. Because of this intersectionalism of prejudice, NOW plans to focus on reproductive rights, ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment, and a criminal justice system that puts thousands of female victims of sexual assault—many of them women of color—into prison, especially with newer laws mandating sentences.

Bobbi1The year 2016 marks 50 years of women running in the Boston Marathon. Bobbi Gibbs (left) was told that “women are not physiologically able to run a marathon.” She entered without an application and beat over half the field in 3 hours, 21 minutes. The next year, Kathrine Switzer entered the marathon under her initials and beat her boyfriend, who had thought “if a girl can run a marathon, I can run a marathon.” Her time was only 4 hours 20 minutes, but she was physically attacked by the race co-director. In 1972, the AAU changed its rule barring women from running more than a mile and a half, and Title IX provided equality in education for women.

Women need one more amendment to the U.S. Constitution: The Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). Originally written by Alice Paul and Crystal Eastman, the proposed amendment to guarantee equal rights for women was first introduced in Congress in 1923 and introduced in every session between 1923 and 1970. Yet it reached the floor only once in 1946 when it was defeated in the Senate, 38 to 35. In 1972, however, the ERA passed the Congress and was sent to state legislatures for ratification.

Phyllis Schlafly mobilized conservative women with the fear that they would have to use the same toilets as men, and the amendment failed to get four of the necessary 38 state ratifications by 1977 with a deadline of March 22, 1979. Later five states rescinded their ratifications, which meant that the ERA failed to get enough states although the deadline was extended three years. This is the text of the amendment that so terrified conservatives throughout almost a century.

Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.

Activists have pushed for the ERA over the long haul just as they did for the vote. The amendment has been introduced in every Congressional session since 1982. As of now, 11 states have adopted constitutions or constitutional amendments providing that equal rights under the law shall not be denied because of sex.

When it was founded, “NOW’s purpose was to take action, to bring women into full participation in the mainstream of American society,” according to Terry O’Neill, the president of NOW. After 50 years, we have a start.

On the 96th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, the one that allowed women to vote, think what our country would be like in the 21st century if brave people had not fought for 72 years to make women equal citizens of the United States.

December 7, 2012

NOW Comes to Town, Part 2

Yesterday’s blog dealt with the importance of NOW in the area of women’s reproductive rights, probably the issue that NOW is best known for. But NOW addresses other vital issues of equality for women.

Violence against Women:  In addition to domestic violence, sexual harassment and assault, hate crimes, violence at women’s clinics, violence from poverty, the country’s judicial system also victimizes women, particularly survivors of violence. All these tragedies result from the nation’s attitudes toward women and its efforts to “keep women in their place.” The GOP worked hard during the recent election to do exactly that while convincing women that Republicans supported women and that their War on Women was a ridiculous myth.

The fact that 92 percent of the Republicans in the House or Representatives and over 90 percent of the GOP senators are men, most of them white, is clear evidence of the part that the GOP wants women to play. The first 19 committee chairs that House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) named are men. Ridiculed for this, he appointed one woman to chair a committee—the House Administrative Committee, making Rep. Candice Miller (R-MI) sort of a “housewife.” Men will lead the other committees on science, education, foreign affairs, finance, etc.

The rejection of women is worse in state legislatures. For example, when a Michigan woman legislator dared to use the word “vagina” in speaking out against a horrendous anti-abortion bill, the House speaker’s spokesman accused her and another woman of having “temper tantrums.” The speaker then silenced Reps. Barb Byrum and Lisa Brown, keeping them from addressing the legislature. He compared the situation to giving a “time-out” to naughty children. Nothing like this has ever happened before, and men would certainly never receive this treatment.

The same patronizing attitude clearly emerged during last fall’s political campaign when one after another conservative tried to explain the different permutations of rape—that some rape is worse than others in strata from “easy rape” (thanks to GOP senate candidate Linda McMahon from Connecticut) to “legitimate rape” (from Missouri’s GOP senate candidate Todd Akin) past Richard Mourdock’s pregnancy from rape being “gift from God” when he failed in his run for senator from Illinois.

In 31 states, admitted rapists can legally sue for visitation and custody rights of the children born of their attacks. In California, the Moraga school district blamed an adult woman for having been raped in the school when she was twelve years old.

JP Morgan is also using the “slut shame” defense after Kimberly Shultz sued the company and vice president/senior project manager, Derrick Gilliam for extensive and coercive sexual harassment followed by forcible rape. The complaint also says that the police refused to help. According to the complaint,” JP Morgan’s Human Resource Department engaged in an unconscionable course of conduct, including making illegal inquiries into Schultz’s sexual history and background, making unauthorized disclosures of Schultz’s medical conditions in violation of Schultz’s HIPAA rights, and in general preparing the company’s defense to what it perceived would ultimately become a lawsuit.” JP Morgan is blaming Shultz.

Rape in the military has become a major issue as more and more frequently women service members are willing to be upfront about the men in the military who raped them.  Last Tuesday, the Senate finally adopted a provision sponsored by Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) to lift the ban on women in the military using their health insurance for abortion care in cases of rape or incest. The bill will almost surely fail in the House because of that chamber’s anti-woman culture.

Eighteen years ago, Congress passed the Violence against Women Act (VAWA), designed to improve criminal justice and community-based responses to domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking in the United States. A recent report from the Bureau of Justice Statistics shows VAWA reduces intimate partner violence. From 1994 when VAWA was passed to 2010, rates of intimate partner violence for women and men decreased by more than 60%. Unanimously reauthorized in 2000 and 2005, VAWA reauthorization passed the Senate in April but has been held up in the House because that chamber doesn’t want to protect college students, LGBT victims, immigrants, and Native American women abused by non-native spouses on tribal lands.

An example of how insensitive people are to the need for extending VAWA  came yesterday from Dana Perino, Fox News host and former George W. Bush White House press secretary. While discussing Kansas City Chiefs’ line backer Javon Belcher’s murdering his girlfriend before killing himself, Perino said that women should “make better decisions” to avoid being beaten or killed by their abusers.

We are ending the 16 Days of Activism against Gender Violence that began on November 25, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. Soraya Chemaly has provided 50 facts about domestic violence.  #50: Number of members of Congress who have gone through an educational training program on health, economics, violence, and gender norms: 0.

Racism: Since a “black man” (who happens to be half “white”) was elected to the White House, racism in the United States has become more common and overt. Conservatives blame President Obama for the rising level of racism in the country, yet the racist attitudes result from his being elected to the highest office in the United States. An example of racial hostility toward him is when  John Sununu, while campaigning for Mitt Romney, described the president as “lazy” and “incompetent.” The racist attitude toward the president has also transferred to all the people who might vote for him, leading to the states led by Republicans passing a large number of voter suppression laws.

The GOP refusal to extend VAWA, primarily because it would protect Native American women, is another indication of the conservatives’ racism. One of the additions to this act would fill the legal gap in which tribes cannot prosecute a non-Indian, even if he lives on the reservation and is married to a tribal member.  A provision of the extension act provides tribes with concurrent authority to hold domestic violence perpetrators accountable for their crimes against Native women–regardless of the perpetrator’s race. Conservatives have claimed that protecting Indian and immigrant women is “unconstitutional.”

In addition, women of color are paid less than white women—who are paid less than men—and are forced to pay more than any other classification for such items as automobiles. (More about that tomorrow.)

Lesbian Rights: Today is a ground-breaking day: the U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear two marriage equality cases this term, Hollingsworth v. Perry opposing California’s Prop 8 ban on marriage equality in the state and Windsor v. United States, in which the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Section 3 of DOMA (Defense of Marriage Act) discriminates against same-sex couples. SCOTUS has not yet declared whether it will hear the Arizona case where lesbian and gay state employees challenged the elimination of equal health care coverage for their families. The court’s ruling will decide whether lesbian will have more rights or lose the ones that they have now in the nine states that have legalized marriage equality. (That’s a subject for another blog!)


Jane Abbott Lighty, 85 (left), and Pete-e Petersen, 77), of West Seattle were the first same-sex couple of hundreds to have their marriage license signed in King County (WA) after being partners for 35 years.

Tomorrow, Part Three will deal with more lesbian rights, economic justice for women, and the proposed Equal Rights Amendment.

December 6, 2012

NOW Comes to Town, Part 1

Filed under: Uncategorized — trp2011 @ 3:31 PM
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When I moved over 20 years ago to my home in a wonderful small town on the Oregon Coast, I joined the local chapter of NOW (National Organization for Women). Only five years old at the time, the chapter was involved in community education through marches, consciousness-raising meetings, celebrations of women’s accomplishments, and a regular newsletter.

As the organization expanded, we fought for a sexual harassment policy at the school district, sent packets to the women of Yugoslavia during their violent wars, increased knowledge of domestic violence (DV) and sexual assault (SA) through participation in a national Clothesline Project, and instituted a “court watch” to observe attitudes in court toward victims of DV and SA. After a large Catholic hospital organization wanted to purchase the local public hospital, we were on the forefront to oppose this action, protecting women’s reproductive rights and the Death with Dignity law in Oregon and hiring a lawyer and take the case to court.

Oregon is considered a very blue state: all the elected state officials are Democrats, and both the state House and Senate are Democrat-controlled after the House was evenly divided between the two political parties during the last session. At the end of the twentieth century, the country appeared to be moving toward equality between men and women, and we were more comfortable about women gaining rights. That combined with some of the active members leaving the community led to the disappearance of the local NOW chapter.

What a difference ten years makes! After eight years of oppression under George W. Bush, women’s rights have eroded so badly that we even face the possibility of losing contraceptive rights. Pregnant women who miscarry are now imprisoned, and “stand your ground” laws protect strangers who shoot a possibly innocent person while an abused wife afraid for her life is in prison for shooting a gun into the air.

It’s time for local NOW to reform, and we are fortunate in having a new member of the community who is willing and excited about doing this. Since I started Nel’s New Day, with the hope that it might both communicate attempts by conservatives to control people and share positive events, I have concentrated less on women’s rights that I had intended.

Watching our chapter of NOW reform has made me look at NOW’s priorities and evaluate what we are losing because of the Republicans’ domination of Congress through the majority in the House and the filibuster in the Senate. National NOW has six priorities for its actions. During the next three days I will explain how these need work from all of us if we reach NOW’s goal of equality for all people, not just one set of white men.

Reproductive Rights: After Roe v. Wade became the law of the land in 1973, women gave a sigh of relief: women had rights over their bodies. In the almost 40 years since that Supreme Court decision, the same court has hacked away at women’s rights established by the highest court in the land, but it is within the past decade that state legislatures have decimated women’s rights to have abortions.

Almost two years ago, the House of Representatives set the tone refusing women their reproductive rights with its first bill of the 112th Congress—an anti-abortion bill. Following H.R. 1, past candidate for vice president, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) continued to co-sponsor 8 anti-abortion bills, several of them redundant with exiting laws. The entire House voted on 55 anti-women bills, a very high number considering that this chamber passed only 196 bills leading into the last few weeks.

In just one year, 2011, state legislators introduced more than 1,100 reproductive health and rights-related provisions, enacting 135 of them in 36 states. That number is in comparison to 18 anti-abortion laws passed in the year that George W. Bush first ran for president. State by state, more and more women have no place to go for an abortion.

These anti-abortion laws included earlier and earlier prevention of abortions, sometimes before a woman knows that she is pregnant. A Colorado organization has promoted “personhood” amendments across the nation with a “person” defined as an embryo from fertilization. Such a law, like the one that Mississippi rejected last year, would prevent not only abortions but also most hormonal contraception. Other laws created waiting periods—up to 72 hours—so burdensome that women who live in many states could not follow them.

Not satisfied with these laws, states required ultrasound mandates, even transvaginal ultrasounds, and prevented insurance policies from covering abortions. The icing on the cake was clinic regulations that keep clinics from providing abortions under the new high level of standards.

Conservatives also passed laws allowing doctors to lie to pregnant women. In Arizona and Kansas doctors are exempted from medical malpractice suits if they withhold medical information even if the woman suffers an injury from a pregnancy because of the doctor’s lies. Kansas also forces the doctor to falsely claim a link between abortions and breast cancer.

Although the majority of voters in the United States support women’s right to abortion, states haven’t stopped their anti-abortion work since the election. Ohio was the first state after the November election to try to kill Planned Parenthood. More states are working to ban “telemedicine” which makes medical abortion more accessible to rural women—or women in states with no clinics.

States are also trying to ban abortions being covered in Obamacare federal health insurance exchanges. Another ongoing issue comes from the so-called crisis pregnancy centers working to receive federal funding in spite of the fact that the sole purpose of these centers is to prevent abortions.

All the states trying to pass more and more laws against women’s reproductive rights are controlled by Republicans—both legislature and governor. For example, Michigan’s super majority of Republicans has a proposal to give tax credits for fetuses while removing these from children.

With the restrictions, at least one state has no provisions for providing abortions, and over 90 percent of the counties in the country have no facilities. Within the last decade, anti-abortionists became more violent, killing Dr. George Tiller when he went to church on May 31, 2009. Tiller treated patients who discovered late in pregnancy that their fetuses had severe or fatal birth defects.

Part Two will cover more NOW issues with violence against women, racism, and lesbian rights; Part Three finishes with economic justice and the Equal Rights Amendment.

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