Crossing The Finish Line

I grew up the daughter of a feminist. Gloria Steinem, Jane Fonda, Betty Friedan… these were my mother’s heros. I remember long conversations among my mother’s friends at our church about women being excluded from ministry and the fight for ordination. It was the 70’s, the height of feminism and the struggle for equality; 50 years after Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony secured the right to vote for women in the United States (1920). According to Wikipedia,

“The Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) has always been highly controversial regarding the meaning of equality for women. Middle-class women generally were supportive. Those speaking for the working class were strongly opposed, arguing that employed women needed special protections regarding working conditions and hours. In 1972, it passed both houses of Congress and was submitted to the state legislatures for ratification. It seemed headed for quick approval until Phyllis Schlafly mobilized conservative women in opposition, arguing that the ERA would disadvantage housewives.”

Missing several extended deadlines for state ratification, the ERA eventually died in 1982.

Along with equal rights, equal pay and equal opportunity, my mother was passionate about a woman’s right to choose, her fundamental right to decide what is best for herself and her body. In 1972, the Supreme Court made the landmark decision known as Roe v. Wade.

“The Court ruled 7–2 that a right to privacy under the Due Process Clause of the 14th Amendment extended to a woman’s decision to have an abortion, but that this right must be balanced against the state’s two legitimate interests in regulating abortions: protecting women’s health and protecting the potentiality of human life,” as stated in Wikipedia.

The TV show Mad Men is one of my favorites. But, it took watching it from the very first episode to appreciate the portrayal of blatant sexism as a sarcastic testimony to the reality of the time. “You’ve come a long way, Baby,” the slogan made famous by Virginia Slims cigarettes, capitalized on the feminist movement to sell, sadly, cigarettes to women.

Watching the events of the past week in Philadelphia, I was struck by the enormity of nominating the first woman candidate to lead a major political party in the race for President of the United States. I cried tears of hope and elation that we just might be able to see a strong, deserving woman in the White House. I don’t think women in younger generations grasp the struggle and fight it’s taken to get to this place. Nor do they understand how long Hillary has fought for the rights we have, the battle wounds she’s endured to get to where she is, and the extra scrutiny placed on her because of her gender.

As a woman in a leadership position with my company, I’ve experienced first hand the discrimination and double standard that comes with my gender. The expectations for women in leadership are different from those of men. We are expected to be nurturing, understanding and forgiving. If we assert our position with strength – as men often do – we are labeled, written up and investigated. But, it makes us stronger. It makes us resilient. It makes us smarter and more capable. If we don’t let it ruin us, we become better communicators and more powerful leaders.

Hillary Clinton pushed hard for health care reform and lost. She learned that she has to involve others more. Hillary Clinton was in office during 911. She learned how to fight for the people of New York and what was right. Hillary Clinton chose to follow the precedent of a private email server. She learned the hard way this was a mistake, but the law of the land deemed this was not criminal. Hillary Clinton sat with the President and his advisors in the decision to take down Bin Laden. She learned how to make the tough decisions faced by the leader of the free world.

Watching Chelsea talk about her mother, I felt the same pride and admiration I have for my own mom. My mother became a minister in mid life, was ordained, and worked to help victims of sexual violence, led congregations during times of transition and continued her fight for women’s rights and equality. As recently as 2005, my mother felt the pain of being ostracized and belittled because she was a woman in a traditional male role.

I heard an interview this evening with Caitlin Moran on Fresh Air about the movement away from feminism. Talking to young women who are repulsed at the idea and deny being called a feminist, Caitlin asks, “What do you mean? And, you run through what being a feminist means, sort of like voting and rape being illegal and not being a legal possession of your husband.” Caitlin says, “Women are feminist by default. And you live in a feminist world. The first world is feminist. You are educated equally to boys. You’re expected to go into equal employment with boys. In a marriage, you are legally equal. So, you know, you cannot deny we live in a feminist world.”

Young women, my sisters, WAKE UP! Our mothers and grandmothers fought hard to create the opportunities we have today. But, we’re not done. We still don’t have equal pay for equal work. We still bump up against the glass ceiling. We still are measured at a different standard. Hillary Clinton is our anchor in this relay race for women’s rights. Join us and let’s cross the finish line together.

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