Bros and Cons: A Glimpse into a Dystopic Present

Must admit, upon first viewing the Saturday Night Live sketch about The Handmaid’s Tale, I found it appalling. OK, so I’m old, but I can’t believe how those guys got it on so easily with women. Sounds like one big party, with “epic blowouts” where people of both sexes hung out and had fun together naturally. In my time, you really had to work at meeting women, making the rounds of smoke-filled flesh palaces or joining some social club to feign shared interest, only to be shot down most of the time.

But what really got me was the utter cluelessness and insensitivity of the guys toward a member of the “girl squad” who just had her eye cut out for not playing by the rules. In their world of the not-too-distant American future — a dystopian society based on religion — women have lost all rights, including control of their own bodies, existing only to be impregnated like cattle by their owner-husbands. The hard-partying boys feign concern, offering lame suggestions and offers to help. But you know they won’t, for they don’t see a problem. Instead, they blame the woman, asking why she doesn’t just leave the guy if he’s so cruel to her, completely ignoring the fact that she can’t.

Thankfully, The Handmaids Tale is pure fantasy. It could never happen here. America is nothing like that. Unlike in Margaret Atwood’s book, women today hold down jobs and spend their own money. They can marry or not marry whomever they choose and have complete control of their bodies. Religion doesn’t tell us what to do. And don’t forget, women can vote now. Continue reading

October 11 Is the Day of the Girl

hannah

Photo courtesy Hannah Hildebolt

October 11 is the International Day of the Girl Child, a United Nations observance begun in 2011. The day draws attention to the state of girls in the world, which is often a grim picture. Perhaps most important, it also involves girls directly in the work of making change.

In this country, the observance is called the Day of the Girl, and is a movement led by girls. Their website lists their central beliefs:

  • Girls are the experts on issues that affect girls. The solutions to these issues must come from girls. Their voices need to be centralized and elevated in social justice conversations.
  • Girls from marginalized communities must be central in conversations about social justice issues involving those communities.Truly effective social change cannot come without girls’ leadership.
  • Girls’ issues are intersectional. We must intentionally include people who are different from ourselves in our social change work. Otherwise we will not be able to make a meaningful impact — in fact, we could even do damage to huge populations of girls.

This list impressed me as I began my research, and I was curious to meet these girls who understood so clearly a process many of us are still learning. So I contacted them and asked if someone on their Action Team would be interested in doing an interview with me for the Planned Parenthood Advocates of Arizona blog. I quickly got a reply from someone who said she would bring my request to their planning meeting.

A week later, I got the news that Hannah Hildebolt, age 17, of the Day of the Girl Action Team would talk with me. We made our arrangements, and I am happy to present that interview here.

How did you get involved with activism, particularly the Day of the Girl (DOTG)?

My activism stems from two things: my AP World History class and the camp I used to attend, the Center for Talented Youth (CTY). CTY is a very liberal community, and many of the attendees are activists, so I picked up a lot of interest in social justice while I was at camp. During the school year, this interest was heightened because I was taking a world history course over two years, and the teacher was quite clearly interested in axes of oppression and activism in general. You could say that CTY gave me the modern context for my activism and the history class gave me the historical one. In late 2015, one of my CTY friends recommended that I join DOTG as a way of turning my social justice interests into action. After checking out DOTG’s media, I applied and was chosen for an interview. The rest, as they say, is history. Continue reading

Meet Our Candidates: Tammy Caputi for State Representative, LD 23

The Arizona primary election will be held on August 30, 2016. Reproductive health care access has been under attack, both nationally and statewide, but Planned Parenthood Advocates of Arizona has endorsed candidates who have shown strong commitment to reproductive justice. To acquaint you with our endorsed candidates, we are running a series called “Meet Our Candidates.” In order to vote in the primary election, you need to have been registered to vote by August 1. Missed the deadline? You can still register online for November’s general election. Make your voice heard in 2016!

Tammy Caputi scaledTammy Caputi’s business, Yale Electric West, buys and distributes lighting and electrical supplies for large commercial construction projects. It’s also a metaphor for what she says she intends to do as a public servant.

“For the last 15 years, I’ve provided light fixtures that light up our valley, and now I want to help light up our state House,’’ she said to us in a July 31 email.

The New England transplant, married for 12 years, lives in Scottsdale, where she’s active in the Jewish community, her Democratic legislative district, and physical fitness activities.


“Women’s voices matter. I cannot and will not be shushed.”


“I am an outspoken feminist and a fierce advocate for women’s rights, particularly reproductive rights,’’ she said. “How can anyone possibly run for public office and not be a feminist?’’

Below are her answers to Planned Parenthood Advocates of Arizona’s questions.

Tell us a little about yourself.

I’m running for the House of Representatives in District 23, Scottsdale/Fountain Hills/Rio Verde, because I want to make a difference. I’ve lived in Scottsdale for 20 years; Arizona is my home. I’m a successful local business owner, homeowner, and taxpayer. I have three children in the public school system and I want the best for them. I also want the best for the people in our communities. Our current representatives are not representing all of us. I want everyone in our district to have a voice. Continue reading

The Roots of Resistance: The Social Justice Context of Sexual Harassment Law

wga_posterEarlier this year, Scandal star Kerry Washington brought sexual harassment into the spotlight with her portrayal of the embattled Anita Hill in HBO’s Confirmation. The movie dramatizes how Hill herself made sexual harassment a topic of high-profile, nationwide debate when she came forward to speak out against Clarence Thomas during his 1991 Supreme Court confirmation hearings.

Hill’s testimony gave resolve to others who had experienced similar treatment in the workplace, ushering in a 40-percent increase in the number of sexual harassment claims filed with state and federal agencies in 1991 and 1992. But as inspiring as her testimony was, Hill stood on the shoulders of brave women before her who confronted sexual harassment and helped advance a body of law that makes workplaces, schools, and other institutions safer spaces. That body of law now protects people against “unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature,” as the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission summarizes.


The fight against sexual harassment is closely connected to the long struggle for freedom among African Americans.


The breakthrough cases in sexual harassment law provide a revealing look at the short and surprising history of the battles, both in and out of court, that brought the issue into public consciousness. It is a history that shatters popular perceptions of feminism’s second wave and brings to light an overlooked dimension of another fight for social justice: the Civil Rights Movement.

Two Landmark Legal Decisions

When Mechelle Vinson applied for a job at Capital City Federal Savings in 1974, she was only 19 years old, but she had already had part-time jobs at several businesses around Washington, D.C., including a shoe store and an exercise club. For Vinson, lessons in supporting herself had come early. A strained relationship with her father had led her to drop out of high school and make repeated attempts to run away from home. She got married at “14 or 15,” because, as she recounted later, “I thought if I get married, I don’t have to go through problems with my father.” Continue reading

HeForShe: Why We Need Gender Equality

Emma WatsonOn September 20, a declaration was made to all male-identifying individuals worldwide: Feminism is for you, too. I am, of course, referring to the speech given by Emma Watson launching the HeForShe Campaign, a solidarity movement for gender equality backed by UN Women. When any celebrity endorses a social cause, they are putting themselves in the line of fire for critique, often coming from both sides of an issue. This issue is no different in that powerful messages for social justice frequently become overshadowed by critical rhetoric.


What we do today is what will help us achieve gender equality for the generations that follow.


As a feminist, I am grateful that Emma Watson has used her privilege to deliver this message, but like many, I also believe this is just the start of many conversations that must be had before this movement can see progress. Feminist ideals by and large have made considerable strides in the last several decades, but as Ms. Watson pointed out, we are absolutely not where we need to be. As a woman who was born in Arizona and has lived in the Valley her entire life, I can attest to the accuracy of that statement.

While it is easy to pick apart what Emma Watson didn’t say, and how she said what she did, I believe it is more important to reflect on her call to action, and how we all can embrace gender equality and what that looks like in our individual circles. Continue reading

The Feminine Mystique in Retrospect: An Interview with Stephanie Coontz, Part 2

Last month we featured Part 1 of our interview with historian Stephanie Coontz about her book A Strange Stirring: The Feminine Mystique and American Women at the Dawn of the 1960s (Basic Books, 2012). A Strange Stirring looks at the history of Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique, which has been widely regarded as one of the most influential books of the last century.


“Work is still organized on the assumption that every employee will have a wife at home to take care of life.”


Published 50 years ago in February of 1963, The Feminine Mystique was Friedan’s response to the unease and dissatisfaction that she learned was common among American housewives at the time. Friedan hypothesized that the root of their unhappiness was their confinement to domestic roles, which prevented them from finding meaning and identity outside of their roles as homemakers, partners, and caregivers. Entering the workforce and professions, Friedan believed, would provide them the fulfillment they were missing.

Although social conservatives blamed The Feminine Mystique for sowing marital discontent, that was never Friedan’s intention. As Stephanie Coontz explained in A Strange Stirring, Friedan’s book “made a point of not criticizing husbands for their wives’ unhappiness.” Instead, it suggested that “marriages would be happier when women no longer tried to meet all their needs through their assigned roles as wives and mothers.” In Part 1 of our interview, Coontz discussed the accuracy of Friedan’s insight, noting that “today divorce rates tend to be lowest in states where the highest percentage of wives are in the labor force. Marriages where men and women voluntarily share breadwinning and caregiving tend to be very high quality.” Continue reading

The Feminine Mystique in Retrospect: An Interview With Stephanie Coontz, Part 1

Award-winning author Stephanie Coontz has published a long list of books and articles about the history of family and marriage. She has written about the evolution of those two institutions from prehistory to today, in works that have been widely praised for their intelligence, wit, and insight. In her most recent book, A Strange Stirring: The Feminine Mystique and American Women at the Dawn of the 1960s (Basic Books, 2012), Coontz takes us back 50 years to a breakthrough that changed the role of women in American households.


“Equal marriages require more negotiation than unequal ones.”


In 1963 it was clear that a revolution was beginning. After its approval by the FDA at the beginning of the decade, 2.3 million American women were using the birth control pill, the oral contraceptive that Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger had been instrumental in pioneering. And on February 19, 1963, 50 years ago today, Betty Friedan published The Feminine Mystique, a book that sold millions of copies in its first three years. It quickly became the object of both derision and acclaim for awakening women to aspirations beyond what discrimination and prejudice had long defined for them. If oral contraceptives were the breakthrough in medicine that finally enabled women to plan their reproductive lives around their educational and career goals, Friedan’s landmark book was the breakthrough in consciousness that gave many the resolve to do it.

Friedan was a magazine writer whose experience surveying women at a college reunion was the spark that drove her to uncover “the problem that has no name.” She was referring to the dissatisfaction and depression she found widespread among housewives, not just at the reunion but in many other encounters she had with them as a writer. Convinced that it would help married women — and their marriages — if they sought their own identities outside of the home, Friedan synthesized a wealth of research to make her case in The Feminine Mystique. Stephanie Coontz’s A Strange Stirring is a social history of The Feminine Mystique that takes readers from an era of far-reaching sex discrimination in the early 1960s when Friedan made her breakthrough, to the contemporary era when many of Friedan’s appeals have been realized but new challenges hinder equality. Continue reading