Thursday, March 5, 2009

March 8: International Women's Day

Article by Jean Hayworth in Breckenridge American Online:
"March is designated as Women’s History Month in the United States and March 8 is specifically celebrated as International Women’s Day around the world.

By 1978, women historians had begun to take on the task of integrating the accomplishments of women into the study of history by promoting the celebration of a “Women’s History Week.” That week was chosen to coincide with the already established International Women’s Day on March 8.

By 1981 Sen. Orrin Hatch and Rep. Barbara Milulski co-sponsored a joint Congressional resolution proclaiming a national “Women’s History Week” that included the International Women’s Day.

In 1987, Congress expanded the celebration to a month and March was declared Women’s History Month.

The study of women’s history has changed significantly since the 1960s when there was little or no attention on women in history. Now, almost every college offers women’s history courses and most major graduate programs offer doctoral degrees in the field of women’s studies.

Betty Friedan’s book, “The Feminine Mystique,” published in 1963, challenged the traditional roles of women as homemakers and is largely responsible for jump-starting the feminist revolution in the 1960s.

However, Friedan is mistakenly given credit for the Equal Rights Amendment that was passed by the U.S. Congress in 1972 and sent to the states for ratification. The amendment was actually written in 1923 by Alice Paul, a suffragist who founded the National Woman’s Party. The Equal Rights Amendment was introduced to congress every year from 1923 to 1972 when it finally passed. The amendment was given a deadline of seven years to be ratified by the states but that was extended until June 30, 1982, which gave it a full 10 years to be ratified. Even with the extension, the amendment fell short of the 38 states required to pass it by only getting 35 states to ratify the bill.

Two significant factors contributed to the emergence of women’s history. The women’s movement of the ‘60s which caused women to question their place in society. Most women up to that time had no voice and were largely invisible but opportunities and aspirations began to formulate and women seized the moment to find new opportunities made available to women. The other factor was the new emphasis on “social history” that emerged in the seventies and shifted the emphasis to a broader spectrum of American life, including such topics as urban life, public health, ethnicity and poverty.

Since women rarely held leadership positions and until recently had only a marginal influence in politics, the new history focused on the sociological which became the ideal vehicle for presenting women’s history. It has covered such subjects as the history of women’s education, birth control, housework, marriage, sexuality and child rearing. Women historians began to realize they had limited their studies to the white middle-class and should expand to examine the full racial and socio-economic spectrum of women.

Women have come a long way on the political scene, as well. The first woman was elected to the House of Representatives, in 1916; Jennette Rankin, from Montana, before women even had the right to vote. In many western states, women did have the right to vote and Montana was one of the first. The first woman appointed to the Senate was Rebecca Felton in 1922, which was only for two days. It wasn’t until 1932 that a woman was elected to the Senate, Hattie Caraway.

Currently, there are 17 women Senators in the 111th U.S. Congress which includes four Republicans and 13 Democrats. There are 75 women in the U.S. House of Representatives which includes 58 Democrats and 17 Republicans.

Hillary Clinton received a great deal of media attention running for the presidential nomination. However, she was not the first woman to run for that high office as was mistakenly reported nor was she the first woman to have her name placed in nomination for the presidency by a major party.

Victoria Woodhull, an American suffragist, ran for the presidency in 1872 and 1892 under the banner of the Equal Rights Party.

Margaret Chase Smith was the first woman to run a serious campaign for a major political party, the Republican Party, in 1964, losing to Barry Goldwater. Smith was the first woman to have her name placed in nomination for the presidency of either of the two major political parties.

It might be significant that the first bill passed by President Barack Obama was the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Restoration Act which will allow a person to file within 180 days of their last paycheck rather than 180 days from the first discriminatory paycheck and end discriminatory actions against women who have been paid 80 cents for every dollar a male counterpart has received.

I was under the misguided impression that all of this was settled in the Equal Pay Act of 1963 which made it illegal for employers to pay unequal wages to men and women who hold the same job and do the same work. Unfortunately, wage discrimination continued under the guise of different maneuvers that included a slight change in job description or using the “going market rate’ to further discriminate.

I am mystified why it took so long to get these type of discriminatory practices declared illegal. Maybe it is the lack of enforcement or lack of desire by employers who have continued the discriminatory practices and thumbed their nose at the prevailing laws.

The glass ceiling has been cracked in the business world with only 10 women who have top executive positions in Fortune 500 companies and just 15 percent of board seats in those 500 companies are filled by women.

During the month of March, if you are a woman, it might be a good time to take time to evaluate where you are in different areas of your life and what you are entitled to as a women."

3 comments:

Ms. Lucy said...

Fantastic article. Thanks! SDelf evaluation on this day will be most enlightening. I plan to take up your suggestions and use this with my University students. Will make for great discussion- and can't wait to hear what this day means for most.

Sam said...

Great post Jean. In the UK Amnesty is focusing on violence against women for International Women’s Day. We’re asking people to change their Facebook status, Myspace headline and tweet to raise awareness of the fact that each year, around 1 in 10 women in Britain experience rape or other violence. Check out www.oneten.org.uk

Shomila said...

Nice write ups!!!!Happy Women's Day.