Almost a century after women gained, through the 19th Amendment, the right to vote and other protections followed, America faces a new era of racism, sexism, nationalism and knee-jerk reactions to the concept of “other.”
The feminist movement is a historic, but sometimes-tenuous, thread in the fabric of America. The current hammer of misogyny proves there will always be a campaign by women to support individual rights. The appointment of Amy Coney Barrett to the United States Supreme Court is not going to change this. She was not chosen just because she is a brilliant woman. She was chosen because she will follow the mandate of men who consider themselves more brilliant than she.
We must never forget these things: Women had to be granted the right to a safe and legal abortion. They had to be permitted to vote. Women had to be invited into the arenas of medicine, finance, media, politics and big business. Women had to be defined as more than chattel. They had to be accepted by those in law enforcement and the military. The fight for women attending and graduating from The Citadel, for example, was not that long ago.
For thousands of years, men have had power and control. It is now time for women to lead. Imagine my surprise learning from a first cousin conducting research on our family (my mother’s father’s maternal side) that I am a direct descendant of a woman in Germany, Margaret Nin Faust, who was accused of witchcraft in the 1500s. She is my 13th-generation grandmother. Records show she was tortured, tried, imprisoned and her tongue was ripped out. She hung herself in the Witches Tower Castle, Büdingen, Wetteraukreis, Hessen, Germany, on July 2, 1597. Later my German ancestors would emigrate to America and eventually settle in Ohio. They had strong Lutheran roots.
I don’t want the United States to be filled with leaders who use intimidation and caustic policies, language and narratives to preside. Witch trials throughout the world emerged from religious dissension and were used as despicable political tools. They were designed to single out people others feared or create scapegoats who could be rounded up during times of strife.
This administration regularly tries to rely on targeting people as “other.” We must acknowledge that Kamala Harris is a black woman running for vice president in a country that has been divided partially because of the angst of white men.
Many women want equal salaries, good healthcare, a healthy planet, widespread access to good education, funding and programs that advance diverse communities, safe cities and towns, and a global voice.
These facts are important:
* Overall, women in the United States are paid 82 cents for every dollar paid to men, amounting to an annual gender wage gap of $10,157, according to the National Partnership for Women & Families.
* Worldwide, as many as 140 million girls and women alive today have suffered genital mutilation or cutting, according to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services.
* The decades-old Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) has not been federally reauthorized because of disagreement on expanding transgender rights and lowering the criminal threshold (misdemeanor convictions of domestic abuse or stalking) to bar someone from purchasing a gun, reports National Public Radio.
* Nearly 1 in 5 women has experienced an attempted or completed rape during her lifetime, says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
* U.S. Census Bureau data showed that of the 38.1 million people living in poverty in 2018, 56 percent, or 21.4 million, were women, according to the Center for American Progress. And this was before the pandemic hit.
Beyond the legal world, countless women — including scholars, writers, musicians, poets, journalists and painters — provided a base for the modern feminist movement. They exposed both the resilience and struggles of women, the grittiness and beauty of their lives, and how the responsibilities of womanhood could slam up against the need women had to work or create their art. Men still rarely encounter this.
Anne Sexton, who took her life in 1974, has always been one of my favorite confessional poets, albeit one whose drafty mental health contributed to a continued examination of her profound writings and life. The details stun. But a parallel to famous men who were or are flawed, and still revered, reveals how different standards can be. Pablo Picasso brutalized his muses. Elvis Presley married Priscilla Beaulieu when she was 14. Frank Sinatra was violent and abused his children. Bill Cosby was convicted of drugging and assaulting women. President Trump admitted to grabbing women in their private parts.
To understand what feminists like Sexton were building, alongside their male peers in the literary world, is climacteric. Subjects like postpartum depression, alcoholism, motherhood and sex demanded a look at women’s lives on a more personal level, and beyond bohemian enclaves such as the Algonquin Round Table in Manhattan.
Society looks at feminism in terms of women’s rights that are collective. But feminism is also about self-realization and individualism too.
Women have had to excel (not just show up) at what they say, do and strive for to protect themselves and their futures. They are still fighting for property rights in some countries. They still are denuded in the workforce and at home. There are women who are still mere reflections of their husbands — manipulated to adopt what they think — or plucked by males and molded by their standards.
There is nothing wrong with chosen domesticity, but everything wrong with expected domesticity.
The story of women through millennia is a multiplex of some power, but also subservience. Queens had babies who were whisked away to be nursed by other women to keep monarchs intact. Women had to decide on careers or family and could not always do both. Society has praised things in males, such as assertiveness or outspokenness, that are criticized in females. Women endure the worship of their youth, but also face ageism and blockades by other women and institutions.
And women were called witches and persecuted. So today I speak for my late ancestor Faust.
Hundreds of years after Faust died, poets like Sexton spun words together that haunt, caress and pierce, and their deaths left us raw. I love this one poem below by Sexton. It especially triggers something in me today as I wonder about the trying times we are in and what tomorrow holds.
For some reason, the suicides of Faust and Sexton still make me think of the possibility of women everywhere surviving hardship and being healthy. We must be aware of the safe-houses that have been erected, the warriors, sages and healers women are, the policies feminists have fought for, and the continued strides they will have to make with Orwellian women like Barrett at the top.
“Yellow” By Anne Sexton
Sept. 23, 1972
When they turn the sun
on again I’ll plant children
under it, I’ll light up my soul
with a match and let it sing. I’ll
take my bones and polish them, I’ll
vacuum up my stale hair, I’ll
pay all my neighbors’ bad debts, I’ll
write a poem called Yellow and put
my lips down to drink it up, I’ll
feed myself spoonfuls of heat and
everyone will be home playing with
their wings and the planet will
shudder with all those smiles and
there will be no poison anywhere, no plague
in the sky and there will be a mother-broth
for all of the people and we will
never die, not one of us, we’ll go on