Women Can Change the World

Gloria Steinem noted that women tend to become rebellious and radical as they grow older, while it’s the opposite for men. In 2016, I, along with a group of women, was invited to Dorothy Pitman-Hughes’ home to hear her speak of the years she and Gloria fought for women’s rights. Dorothy is the black woman next to Gloria in perhaps their most famous poster, side-by-side, right arms raised. It’s a reasonable guess to expect that Gloria’s friends were women who I’d call boundary stretchers, pushing beyond the boundaries of societal expectations. Birds of a feather. Our compliance began in kindergarten when we were told to color within the lines. We not only obeyed but took pride in not crossing the lines. What a far cry that is from my three-year-old granddaughter who pushes the limits from sunrise to sunset and is quite pleased with herself. 

But something changed after the election of Donald Trump. At first, we gave him the benefit of doubt. But women’s unease was realized as we watched him remove protections for those down and out, blue-collar workers, Mother Earth, and women’s rights. What took years to accomplish, one-by-one, protections for ordinary people were eliminated. A rule that barred employers from taking some or all of the tips given to service employees—Gone. Requiring employers to maintain records of workplace injuries—Gone.  Limiting methane leaks from drilling on federal land—Gone. Ban on plastic bottles at national parks—Gone. Then he put in place a rule designed to stop home care workers, mostly women of color from paying union dues and benefits through payroll deduction. Pay transparency and bans on forced arbitration clauses for sexual harassment, assault, or discrimination claims—Gone. Drip. Drip. Drip. The barrel of progress is draining.  

Outraged, post-menstrual women rearranged their retirement activities to make time to speak up for Mother Earth and the neglected people not valued in a world where greed and power rule. When one in three women in the world have been beaten or raped in their lifetimes, empathizing comes easy to us. This morning, a friend and a neighbor, Maggie, who attended the Women’s March (2016) with me lamented, “Perhaps it’s time for another march.” We know that silence is consent. We see the betrayal and the spin of the truth. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. The fierceness we feel feeds our courage that can turn into a force for good. Generally, women’s concerns with are for the people, not the pocketbook.

Black women were the backbone of the civil rights movement in the sixties. African American women are an important voting body in the US. The common perception is that black women are strong and confident. I don’t have black women friends that could attest or question this opinion. But color doesn’t make women different from one another, past experiences does. Barriers for women of color are higher than for white women; you only have to look at the pay differences. My gut instincts are that all women experience fear and insecurity, but together we can work together to overcome them and change the world for the better. 

Gréta, my youngest, worked for Wells Fargo for a few years. The same years when she was breaking out in painful boils she needed shots to control. Her promotions meant more stress and more accounts to push on unsuspected customers. So when I watched Elizabeth Warren question Wells Fargo’s Chairman and CEO John Stumpf regarding the fraudulent accounts scandal, I nearly jumped out of my chair. I’d never seen a woman with this amount of courage speak truth to power. My daughter left Wells Fargo, and the boils left her body. She started her own business where she hires moms. (Who better than a mom understands the juggling act of running a family and business?) Today, her rented office space includes onsite babysitting, a place you can bring your dog, and a concierge for errands. Women looking out for other women is progress for all.

When Warren charged Bloomberg in one of the Democratic debates for calling women names and making them sign nondisclosure agreements, social media lit up. (Later, Bloomberg announced he would release the women from the agreements.) Jennifer Rubin, an American conservative columnist but no admirer of the current administration, wrote, “Mean and angry Warren is not a good look.” Here we go again, I thought to myself. But the thing is that we should be angry about sexual harassment hidden from view with money and at big banks committing fraud against unsuspecting customers. Many well-meaning white men fail to see how this misogynist metaphor continues; angry men are powerful, and angry women are unbalanced lunatics—gaslighting at its best. The status quo is not OK. The question for women moving forward is how to channel our energy to improve the world. 

To be a retired American woman looking forward to 20 to 40 more years of life speaks to the progress we’ve made. For the first time in history, “the pill” was available, and we could control how many children to have. We, as in the white women in my social and financial circumstances, can decide where to live, visit a dermatologist to remove unwanted blemishes, hire a person to clean our homes, take cruises, and fly to grandchildren’s graduations no matter where in the world. But to those that much is given, much is expected. Just imagine, if one of ten older women in America found a way to get involved, to find ways to make the world better, there would be almost five million grandma activists. 

So now, the question for us is our legacy. What do we want to be remembered for? I posted this question on my FB page: “What would you want your legacy to be?” Women wrote: kind to everyone; that I’ve loved; that I honored God (or tried to); that I cared; that I was good and kind; I taught my children to carry on respectfully in this world,” etc.. We can make the world better by resisting attempts to divide us and focus on what unites us.