What women's rights look like when the two sides come together as one.
What women's rights are when women are no longer manipulated by party rhetoric.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

21st Century Feminism----A Call to Action

Cynthia Ruccia

We women's rights and women's equality supporters have a golden opportunity right in front of us these days. I've been writing about it for several years now in a wide variety of venues, and I've decided it's time for us to act. The action right now is phase 1, the first step in our march towards finally achieving the kind of economic and power parity we have longed for and has eluded us.

If you've read my stuff, clearly you will understand that I am not advocating a legislative solution. If we start acting by demanding that new laws be passed, we're going to gain absolutely nothing but derision, and we will end up in the same stalled place we are right now. In my piece Women Are Held Hostage By Party Rhetoric, and also in pieces about sexism from the left and sexism from the right, it is pretty clear that going the legislative route will cause the left and right to take up their positions throwing tomatoes at one another, and our intent will get chewed up in a partisan brouhaha. Worse, say we do put a piece of legislation out there, it could get repeatedly tabled while "more important things" are dealt with. As long as a piece of legislation has been drafted and submitted, it becomes a great thing for people to hide behind saying that they're working on women's stuff while doing absolutely nothing and blaming the inaction on the other side. Taking that approach would be insanity-----it has rarely worked in our favor of late.

I'm not suggesting any street theater either. The value of demonstrations and the like can be dicey. Although you might be able to stage these actions, it's alot of work, and the message you send out isn't always the message you'd intended. For women, we'd invariably fall into yet another stereotyped image of derision, that of "women's lib types" and "bra burners" that would not only detract from our mission but would lose the message altogether.

The way I see it, our opportunity lies in creating a cultural shift in the way we are thinking as Americans. This shift is something that our country is ripe for. More women are getting closer than ever to the glass ceilings, and more people are thinking that we should be shattering them.  We are lacking a couple components in this breakthrough and we can make these corrections, each and every one of us, in our daily lives.

The answers to this phase 1 of action lie in 2 things:

1. educating people about where women's progress really lies
2. stopping all sexist stereotypes dead in their tracks

All of us who believe that women are underrepresented at the top need to just start talking about it to everyone. Here are some ways to do it.

First of all, I have noticed a few things in these conversations. One is that most people are shocked to learn that women haven't advanced as far as they thought they had. It is very powerful to tell people the statistics on that score. Here is a list of these sorry stats with links to support their claims:

1) we have never had a woman president of the United States

2) women make 75% of what men make for the same work

3) the U.S. ranks #70 in the world for female representation in government

4. women hold 2.7% of the CEO positions in the Fortune 1000 companies

5. we also hold about 24% of state legislative seats and hold 6 out of 50 governorships

6. women hold 20% of senior management and board positions, down from 24% in 2009, and there are more companies with NO females in management than ever before

Sadly, we could spend all day compiling lists and lists of these types of stats. It's depressing. But I use the ones I've listed above often, and I mention them every chance I get. People are stunned to learn these things. You will discover the same thing when you bring it up. The positive news is that people feel really really bad about it and it pricks their consciences. It is important to get this news out in any conversation you can because people will continue to repeat this information in other conversations they have. It's 21st century consciousness raising. And the good news is that wherever a person is on the ideological scale, their reaction is uniformly the same------shock and disbelief. I believe that by educating people and by repetition, the will to change this situation will grow.

Secondly, we must stop expressions of sexism dead in their tracks whenever they come up. It requires courage to do it. After all, for most of us, it is our instinct to not make waves even when something someone is saying is just plain wrong. But let me give you a few personal anecdotes. I'm 58 years old and Jewish. I grew up in a place where there weren't many Jews. Once I married 38 years ago, I took my Italian husband's name. Between my childhood of being the sole Jew in many situations to my adulthood of passing for an Italian, I have heard tons of anti-semitic slurs. I never let any of them go by without commenting and here's what I've learned. Most of the time when people say such things, it is out of total ignorance. They don't mean it the way we take it. So, I've actually given them an chance to eliminate that expression from their social interactions because most people don't really want to offend. They just don't realize how offensive they are being.

I've adopted the same stance in regard to sexist expressions. It's funny actually. Most people don't think that they are being sexist at all and they don't see themselves as sexist. So I take a soft approach and tell them, "yes, I know that YOU aren't sexist at all, but to some, that phrase is really upsetting and I know you wouldn't want to upset anyone. So I felt sure that you'd want to know."

The important thing in stopping sexist expressions is that we need to redevelop a sense of shame in using such slurs. I'm not suggesting we become the PC police here either. It's just that there's a much bigger principle at stake. If a woman can be so easily marginalized by slurring her, and we all know that it happens all of the time, we need to just stop the slurs. Surely those glass ceilings will remain unbroken if we don't.

Also I am aware that defining a sexist slur is in itself a difficult task. I remember when I made the rounds of the TV news shows and every single one of the interviewers from Bill O'Reilly to Jake Tapper to Larry King on down wanted a definition of what a sexist slur would be. It was a tough thing to answer. I was somewhat relieved when I saw the likes of Geraldine Ferraro and Gloria Steinem hemming and hawing about it as badly as I was. But I've decided that for our task of stomping out every sexist slur that comes up, I use the following guideline----if it feels sexist, speak up. It would be better to err for the moment on the side of going with your gut. Any other way would be the same old folks just trying to shut us down and silence us.

It's an enormous task. But sentiment is on our side. We just need to speak up courageously. It might seem that one person educating and standing up to another really is too small a thing to matter. I disagree. I believe what Buddha said:

Thousands of candles can be lit from a single candle

And also what Confucius said:

To put the world in order, we must first put the nation in order. To put the nation in order, we must first put the family in order. To put the family in order, we must first cultivate the personal life. We must first set our hearts right.

And finally, Mother Teresa:

We ourselves feel that what we do is just a drop in the ocean. But the ocean would be less because of that missing drop.

Each and every one of can create an amazing ripple effect. That ripple effect will multiply into a tsunami. And that tsunami will help us break every glass ceiling once and for all. But step 1: we need to educate and we need to stop the sexist slurs. Everywhere. Everyday. Each one of us. We are all in this together, and believe me when I say it-----YOU MAKE ALL THE DIFFERENCE. Let's get busy!!!


  1. Daisy Mae CrackerAugust 7, 2011 at 6:15 PM

    It is important to help people along with the "words" to say. This also means giving them the email address where to write. For example, if you find the new cover of Newsweek making Congresswoman Bachmann look crazy, write Newsweek/Daily Beast and say why you don't like this. Also, that you are going to stop subscribing, or won't buy it any more, or disapprove. Write advertisers of your disapproval. And it is important to be reasonable, brief, and polite. Networks, politicians, advertisers don't read your letters in detail. They note approval or disapproval. It's the ratings talleyed up.

    Newsweek: To send a letter to the editor about a Newsweek magazine article, please email letters [at] newsweek.com.

  2. Sorry, but no one can make Michele Bachmann "look" crazy.

  3. Anonymous----I don't want to debate Michele Bachmann. But marginalizing women by using their looks to put them in their place is sexist in the extreme. If you don't like her positions, fine. That's a worthy debate. But it's the oldest trick in the book to knock down a woman with the following stereotypes: witches, bitches, nuts, and sluts. And doing it by using a picture is the same thing as using words. I hope you remember that for the future because I'm sure you're not a sexist.

  4. Daisy Mae CrackerAugust 7, 2011 at 9:29 PM

    The discussion by Cynthia in this blog centered around calling out sexism and gratuitous dumping on women, in part. My response above is neither for nor against Congresswoman Bachmann.

    It was to offer to those who wanted to call out sexism an example of what to do and whom to contact. I have found that many people do not know how to give voice. And I have been inspired by many (inc. here on WW2) who are very expert.

    Anonymous' comment is off topic and gratuitous. Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn whether you like Bachmann or not. Irrelevant to the discussion.

  5. I have always called out sexism when I see it and as a result I am no longer friends with a lot of the Democrat women I used to associate with. Your point about pointing out the facts of sexism is a good one. Another thing we women can do is demand our consumer rights. We should be able to call the cable company and drop and not pay for channels we find sexist. Instead when you sign up for Basic Cable you are forced to subsidize a one size fits all men 18 to 45, bundle of channels and it is hard to tell what is more sexist and offensive, the men's channels or the "Women's Content" channels. Women's groups should be encouraging women everywhere to stop subsidizing sexism in media and save themselves a lot of money by cutting the cable TV cord and going with Roku or Google TV or a combination of Netflix and Hulu. As long as the Corporate Media can extort money from us they aren't going to clean up their sexist ways.

  6. My 2 cents on the Michelle Bachman comment.
    If we as women put down the "othersides women" then the cycle continues.
    You do not have to like Her, Sarah Palin...or agree with a thing they say or represent.
    However, to open the door to the personal attacks invites their supporter to do the same to let's say Hillary, etc... There is no one that makes my stomach turn more than turn-coat Nancy Pelosi. and wow she just...ugh...; but I will not allow myself(as much as sometimes I want too...), to get in the mud because this needs to stop if as women we advance to equality.

  7. Bes---I lost alot of Democratic friends over the whole sexism thing too. I think that they might be more amenable to hearing the sexism thing again. I don't see too many of them defending Obama the way they did. There are a few who still do defend him passionately, but the koolaid is definitely wearing off. Those Dems were out of their minds in 2008.

  8. I see such a rift between women and I am trying the impossible task of trying to mend it. I know I will never get the far left or far right to come together but I think I can get the moderates to stop believing the lies the media, men, churches and politicians have brainwashed into them long enough to convince them we are more alike than dissimilar.

    My goal is to unite enough women to form a majority and achieve power where there is none so we might assume higher office and more of them , attain the ERA, have violence against women adjudicated as a hate crime, take the target off of women’s backs to restore respect for women. As it is now you can’t say anything about anyone but a woman. Everyone is off limits except women. Imus was fired for calling gals nappy headed ho’s- It was the nappy headed that got him fired – ho should have been enough.

    Sarah was hung in effigy for Halloween and wound up on bus tours to see it. Hanging Obama would have ended in court. Tee Shirts read Hillary is a BITCH and Sarah is CUNT but there were no Obama is a PRICK Tee Shirts to be found!

    No-- it is open season on women who are killed at a rate fast approaching 5 a day. Nearly every woman is harassed or otherwise demeaned, degraded and/or humiliated numerous times daily by someone somewhere if not in person then on TV, the radio, or in printed ads. No one seems to care enough to rise up and stop it and the reason is women are not a united force to be reckoned with.

    The right sees Liberal women as; men haters, lesbians, whores, home wreckers and baby killers. The left sees Conservative women as one man prostitutes, baby making machines, slaves who don’t know it, woman haters, as idiots who vote as their husbands tell them, and against women’s rights.

    Of course these things are not true for all of these people but some of these things are true for some of these people – we have to get women to stop painting all women with two brushes! What’s more women must learn to accept other women for who they are and how they chose to live their lives, freedom of choice!

    That is where I come in. I am out to do the impossible. I believe most women only lean right or left rather than radically fit into those roles. I want to find those typical women leaning left and right leaning woman and unite them! In order to do it – women must agree not to focus on divisive partisanship issues they have been brainwashed to hone in on. The majority of women, need to shed their partisan skins and join the Independents (the fastest growing group) and encourage each other to unite for the sake of womankind and our country rather than for party politics, religion or to please men.

    Most of us already have a political past, were have been brought up on what we have come to believe are “women’s issues” but the truth is – all issues are women’s issues and if we are to be equal, every issue is of equal value—there are no women’s issues beyond equal rights, which should afford us equal justice under the law and provide us equal representation in our government. Once that is resolved we are empowered to stop the injustice, inequality and violence against us- the majority.

    We are both Pro Life and Pro Choice. We have to walk a fine line- sometimes --like walking on eggs but so long as we abstain from debating the social issues which have kept us from uniting and instead concentrate on gaining our equality and equal representation in our government we will become empowered to make the gains that matter to womankind.

  9. As of 2011, there were only 72 women out of 435 members in the U.S. House of Representatives, and only 17 women out of 100 members in the U.S. Senate. That’s just 89 women, or a mere 16.6 percent. Since Congress was established some 222 years ago, only 268 women have served in either house of Congress.
    Among U.S. Fortune 500 companies, only 15 have women Chief Executive Officers (CEOs). That’s a trifling 3 percent. Most of those 15 are in “women-focused” companies in the food and cosmetics industries, with no women CEOs among the top 20 U.S. Fortune 500 companies. There are only 28 women CEOs among the U.S. Fortune 1000 companies.
    The 2010 census shows that the United States is home to 308.7 million people, with females representing 50.7 percent of that number. So, for nearly 157 million females, there are only 89 women Congressional representatives, and only 43 women CEOs in the boardrooms and executive suites of top U.S. companies. These are 132 very special women who’ve demonstrated what empowered women can do. Sadly, their numbers are appallingly and frighteningly inadequate.

  10. Way to Go...freemenow, Cynthia and all the woman on this post & beyond. I am fully aware of the tireless efforts of yourselves and others to get the message across; about how we all need to leave our political feelings aside with issues that pertain to us all as women & girls.
    Hopefully, people will "get it"!!

  11. freemenow----there is indeed much work to do within the sisterhood but I believe we can be successful as long as we keep speaking up about the right things. I believe that a large majority of Americans regardless of party hunger for more women in power positions, mpre female representation in government, and for women to make the same as men. We've been split by tactics but we don't have to fall prey to those tactics. Just a little more education----people will see the sense in it. Not all of course, but the majority will.

  12. tpt/ny.......keep talking where you are!! I'm doing it too and we all just have to keep speaking up. And don't let anyone get you down!!!

  13. I'm so disgusted that a woman editor (Tina Brown)would allow such a denigrating picture of Michelle Bachmann on the cover of her magazine. Your piece about "trouble in the sisterhood" that you've been referring to Cynthia can't come soon enough for me!!

  14. There are a lot of issues that should be beyond partisanship and the issue of equality of the genders is certainly one of them. As a son, father husband, brother, uncle and great-uncle of a great many girls and women who I love, this issue is very important to me.

    It is important to remember that positive judgments can also be based on prejudice. Without impugning her intelligence I think I can state objectively that Sarah Palin is woefully unqualified to be President, yet she is adored by millions of men who probably are not listening to what she says critically because like John McCain in that famous video, they are paying more attention to her chest.

    A comparable example is when fundamentalist Christians unquestionably back the Netanyahu government because they identify with Jews. Many are quite willing to judge that government while perfectly comfortable criticizing the US government, often with good cause.

    There are many Jews in the US and Israel who deplore the violent suppression, land grabs and apartheid policies of the Israeli government. Because of racial/religious/cultural prejudices, few stand up for the rights of Palestinians and virtually no one in our government is willing to challenge this anti-Muslim/pro-Israeli government prejudice.

    Imagine if women around the world stood together for justice for all peoples rather than for nationalistic or personal self-interest. What a wonderful world it would be.

  15. Maybe YOU can’t listen to a powerful woman with whom you disagree without reducing her to the size of her “chest”, but speak for yourself. On behalf of my husband, my father, and the millions of my sisters AND brothers who both appreciate and respect Sarah Palin for her thoughts and deeds – piss off you arrogant sexist windbag. The grown-ups are chatting and your projected sexist/sexual fantasies and juvenile regurgitated blah blah regarding the Christians/Israel/nationalism etc. are both off topic and boring us.

    Physician heal thyself.

  16. Cynthia, again a great points. As you know I've been a feminist activist most of my life. I hate to say it, but I'm tired of the continuing battles trying to point out misogyny and sexism. Some women I know simply disagree with me and since I'm related to many of them I hold my tongue more often than I used to. I, too, have lost many friends and acquaintances thanks to the 2008 selection.

    Dr. Rick - this is a post about sexism. It is not a post about the ME turmoil, so your comment is inappropriate, and frankly offensive,despite your wanting to use that situation as an example. That Dog Don't Hunt. Please stay on point.

  17. Yes, Thia, I meant to comment on that piece of Dr. Rick's post.

    Dr. Rick, as a liberal feminist, I like Sarah Palin. She is genuine and a breath of fresh air. And I think she is more qualified to be POTUS than the selection currently in the White House.

  18. Rick (Bio: "I am studying comparative religion and attend the UCC in Cedar Hills, OR, the Portland Rizwa mosque.") You must have an interest in hajibs, genital mutilation, and the ever popular Palestinian Honor Killings, and/or could you be anti-Semitic, e.g. Anti- Jewish?
    Why would you, a psychiatrist, want to frequent a blog like this and be so off topic with your comments? I see that my reaction to what you said finds similar distaste in what Thia and Senneth say.

    Your little bio says you want to run for office in OR? Some advice to you, Dr.: Be careful what you say on a blog, because it could haunt you in an election. Now go away, like a good little voyeur boy.

  19. Piss off, Rick. Your comments about Gov. Palin's chest show you have a problem of where you focus on your psychiatric couch. "Great uncle," indeed.

  20. Rick-- Go away! You are barking up the wrong tree here!

  21. Cynthia, Do you ladies have a Blog Talk Radio Show?
    If not - I do and you are welcome to use it to get your word out!
    Let me know how I can help.
    Loved both your piece and Anna belle's blew me away.
    I thought I would not live long enough to see this day!
    Oh Happy Day!

  22. Sarah Palin had more relevant experience for being POTUS than Obama the half term Senator who voted "present" when ever there was a controversy and spent his entire half term running for POTUS. I am Independent (I think both parties are power hungry, multinational corporate sell outs) I love Palin and feel she has intelligent solutions for government. I used to be a Democrat but after the misogyny of the 2008 election I have redirected my votes and donations. Due to the continued sexism in the Democrat party and the cover they give to sexists I no longer listen to them.

  23. FreeMeNow----thanks for your generous offer!! We'll certainly take you up on it at some time!!

    Bes---you know I was thinking about it today. Your position mirrors mine exactly. i have a great deal of admiration for Sarah Palin and for Michelle Bachmann. I wonder if those ridiculous sexists on the left will ever understand how they are underminig all of us by the game that they are playing. I wrote a blog piece about the sexism of the left:


    and the sexism of the right:


    don't know if you've read them, but if you do, I'd love to get your take on them....

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