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It has come down to us as legend that when the women of the Abolitionist Movement were not allowed entrance into the room where the discussion was being held, they went off to another room and had another discussion. One eventual outcome of that discussion and other factors was the Declaration of Sentiments which starts out:

When, in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one portion of the family of man to assume among the people of the earth a position different from that which they have hitherto occupied, but one to which the laws of nature and of nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes that impel them to such a course.

This declaration, a small snowball in its own right, began its own landslide...

The "politicized women" within the Seneca Falls Convention? Many of them were wives...some were just wives and mothers, like my great grandmother and great grand aunt, who were spurred on to do something to address the issue of equality...

Remember them?

How about this letter from Abigail Adams to her husband as he took part in the construction of a democracy?

"I long to hear that you have declared an independency. And, by the way, in the new code of laws which I suppose it will be necessary for you to make, I desire you would remember the ladies and be more generous and favorable to them than your ancestors.

"Do not put such unlimited power into the hands of the husbands.

"Remember, all men would be tyrants if they could. If particular care and attention is not paid to the ladies, we are determined to foment a rebellion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any laws in which we have no voice or representation.

"That your sex are naturally tyrannical is a truth so thoroughly established as to admit of no dispute; but such of you as wish to be happy willingly give up -- the harsh tide of master for the more tender and endearing one of friend.

"Why, then, not put it out of the power of the vicious and the lawless to use us with cruelty and indignity with impunity?  

"Men of sense in all ages abhor those customs which treat us only as the (servants) of your sex; regard us then as being placed by Providence under your protection, and in imitation of the Supreme Being make use of that power only for our happiness." Link

Maybe you remember Lady Byron who made sure that her daughter Ada Lovelace received an education in mathematics in the 19th century?

The Lady Byron strongly believed in mathematics as a discipline of the mind and saw to it that Ada was well grounded in this subject. She felt that it would be a way to provide a stable mental state and a good antidote to the "heedlessness, imprudence, vanity, prevarication and conceit" that Ada was bound to have inherited from her immoral father.link

How about this incredible woman?

In marrying a man committed to civil rights, [Coretta Scott] King knew that she would not live the life of a quiet minister's wife. Their first child, Yolanda (Yoki), was born in 1955, just two weeks before the beginning of the Montgomery bus boycott. With the boycott came danger — the King house was bombed in 1956 —and from then on King had to be constantly alert on behalf of her children as well as her husband. The Kings were to have three more children: Martin Luther III, Dexter, and Bernice.

The next few years saw Coretta King sharing as full partner in her husband's work, walking beside him in marches, travelling abroad with him, and giving speeches when he was unable to do so. She also made her own personal contribution. On behalf of the Women's Strike for Peace, she was a delegate at the Disarmament Conference in Geneva in 1962, and she often gave concerts on behalf of the civil rights movement, for she was still keeping up with her music.

When her husband was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee, in 1968, Coretta King took it for granted that she would continue his work. Just four days after his death she led a march of fifty thousand people through the streets of Memphis, and later that year she took his place in the Poor People's March to Washington.link

Maybe you remember this old joke?

Hillary Clinton's Home Town

Bill and Hillary Clinton are driving in the country near Hillary's hometown. They are low on fuel, so Bill stops at a gas station. The man at the gas station comes out and looks into the window.

"Hey, Hillary! We used to date in high school, do you remember me?" he asks.

They talk merrily for a few minutes. Bill pays, and they leave. As they drive, Bill is feeling very proud of himself and looks over at Hillary.

"You used to date that guy? Just think what life would be if you hadn't married me," he says. Hillary looks at Bill and says to him,

"Well, I guess you'd be pumping gas and he'd be President"

Funny, eh? So why does it also feel unsettling as a joke? I read a semantics book once that discussed the fact that we mock things we fear or are uncomfortable with.

It's the same person who during her trip to Beijing in 1995 announced that

If there is one message that echoes forth from this conference, let it be that human rights are women's rights.... And women's rights are human rights, once and for all.

Let us not forget that among those rights are the right to speak freely. And the right to be heard.

Women must enjoy the right to participate fully in the social and political lives of their countries if we want freedom and democracy to thrive and endure.

Remember this lady?

Eleanor [Roosevelt] shattered the ceremonial mold in which the role of the First Lady had traditionally been fashioned, and reshaped it around her own skills and her deep commitment to social reform. She gave a voice to people who did not have access to power. She was the first woman to speak in front of a national convention, to write a syndicated column, to earn money as a lecturer, to be a radio commentator and to hold regular press conferences.

I can go on and on bringing up various and sundry women who've been in the position of "Wife," "Mother," and other roles (Aspasia, anyone?) and went on to accomplish things--great and small. But the fact that I'm doing so here at DKos is fascinating to me.

Well...I am stunned to see another woman and democratic voter turn around and say "Eh...nothing special here" with regards to the accomplishments of any of the current crop of Democratic candidates. Each has accomplished great things in and of his or her own right. And in some cases, they have accomplished things that would have been difficult, if not impossible, a generation or two ago.

Thanks to my great grandmother and great grand aunt, and other women like them, I can walk into my polling center and vote.

Thanks to my great aunt, and other women like her, I can purchase land without having to go through my husband to do so.

Thanks to my mother, and other women like her, I have not been faced with the statement "But you're a woman, we can't possibly hire you."

Thanks to women like HRC, Shirley Chisholm, and so many other women like them, I can run for office and not be laughed out of the campaign.

It is very simple to sit back here in 2007 and look at the accomplishments of women and say "Eh...that's nothing new. And it's not anything that I haven't done. So what's the big deal?"

This all came crashing down around my head when I started teaching my first class at an unnamed university in TX. In a class that was all young women, I was a Yankee and Feminist (As a feminist born in UpState NY, I was both...and happily admitted it). After about a week or so I learned that both words were not considered to be...complimentary. These young women didn't have any use for feminism...and were pretty clear when they told me so to which I asked...

"So why are you here? How did you get here? What are you going to do when you leave?"

The responses came back:

  1. To get an education.
  1. Applied/Was accepted/went to HSchool.
  1. Get a job.

My next question...

"You aren't getting married when you're done?"

Most responses that came back were along the lines of "No...no way...not interested."

My response was something along the lines of "Hmmm...that's very interesting." And then I left a chunk of silence.

Someone bit, "Why is that interesting?"

My response, "Well when my mom went to college one of the things she was expected to do was get married. She was also expected to have kids. A job might be nice...but it wasn't expected. Oh...and she would never have been 'permitted' to wear jeans/pants to class."

The students started laughing...until I started telling them the stories I'd grown up with about how the women had to wear skirts to classes, even in the dead of winter. Sure...they could wear pants under the skirts to get from the dorms to class. But the minute they hit the building, the pants had to come off.

There were other things that we discussed. But as we moved further and further into the semester, different topics popped up including the fact that if it weren't for the women at Seneca Falls and other suffrage efforts, this group of young women would not have the ability to vote in the elections.

By the end of the semester, these young women realised a few things--

  1. They can go, do, be whatever they want so long as they are willing to work for it.
  1. Those people who've come before them have made their paths that much easier.
  1. Their own efforts can help smooth the way for others coming up behind them.

So my response is a simple one--context.

In 196X, my mother graduated from college with a BS in Accounting. Most of the other women in her class, and there weren't many, graduated with degrees in Business. When she went on the market, the response was one of these: crickets, thanks but no, or "We don't hire women for these types of jobs." Had she been a secretary...darn tooting, she'd have had a job. But nope...she was an Accountant.

Now? You can walk into most companies and find women working in a variety of positions from top to bottom--including Accounting.

In 196X, HRC went to Yale Law. She was 1 woman in a class that had 23 women in it. 23? While there, she was told that women did not belong in law school and was asked what she was going to do without a wife if she was in the middle of a long trial.

Now? You can't go into a law school and swing a cat ferret without hitting a half dozen women.

There is a reason that shift. Some from women moving job equity legislation forward. Some from raising the roof with their calls for equity. And others still from actively working their way into the structure, shifting the dynamic, and doing their jobs. What may not now be considered a "special effort" was, at the time, groundbreaking.

There continue to be areas of study that continue to experience a serious lag in the gender equity arena. And as Elise has pointed out elsewhere, we are still experiencing slides backwards even as we try to move forward. We have a lot more to learn. We have a lot more to do. And for every movement forward there will be some out there saying that we are destroying the country, promoting promiscuity, and forwarding a whole host of topics (aka red herrings).

But please remember...

your efforts to change the dynamic so that others can follow in your footsteps is a special effort...even as the generations that follow take the fruits of your efforts for granted.

{Update} Neither cats nor ferrets were harmed during the writing of this diary.

Originally posted to kredwyn on Thu Nov 08, 2007 at 02:37 PM PST.

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