(click) I Am Woman
By Barbara Baptiste
The United Nations declared 1975 to be National Women’s Year and chose as the theme song, Helen Reddy’s first hit, “I Am Woman.” (…hear me roar in numbers too big to ignore and I know too much to go back and pretend…….).
With women’s rights and freedom being a main issue in this year’s presidential election, perhaps we should all revisit the sentiments the lyrics of this song present. It best expresses and defines the 1970’s new-found freedom for women. It is as timely today as it was 36 years ago! Inspiring for women and strong men, alike!
Cultural sexism in the United States originated in the gender roles brought by the English and other European colonists. These gender roles shaped our culture’s ideals for masculine and feminine behavior in ways that have been modified but not radically changed since those early years.
Gender roles are both consciously and unconsciously transmitted to children; also conveyed are the inequalities inherent in those roles. The dual-career couple has become the dominant family form in the United States, but while women are sharing the financial burden, do men and women share the domestic responsibilities? Not much! I was married and raised a family in the 1970s, but having grown up in the 50s and 60s, I had one foot in each generation’s conflicting, feminine mindset. Sometimes I wondered if all the bra-burning was worth the effort. What exactly did we gain? I was working in Manhattan when the Women’s Liberation Movement began. My salary did not change. My job description did not change. I still was not invited (or allowed) in the Traffic Club (I worked for a railroad car executive sales office). Oh, and, yes, let me not forget….We were then able to stand, with spike heels, on busses and subways, as the men comfortably (and sometimes smugly) sat their sorry **** right down in front of us!!! Of course, the above, though very true, is a euphemism for much more important issues.
Sexist language, for decades, has influenced viewing professions that are male dominated with traditional terms such as policemen, firemen, and mailmen, implying that these jobs are exclusively for men. This language has been replaced with nonsexist alternatives: police officer, firefighter, and letter carrier. Has this helped attitudes bent on male superiority? Not much! Studies suggest some evidence of changing attitudes among youth.
To address sexism in our language, feminists have lobbied professional organizations, businesses and institutions to promote the use of inclusive language; i.e.; manmade to handmade; using “his or her,” instead of the traditional verbiage of using only “his.” While women have made great strides in leadership over the past few decades, the United States still ranks 90th in the world for women in national legislatures.
The Media: Sexism is learned through images, especially everyday images in advertising where women have historically been presented in stereotypical roles or as sex objects to sell products. Every Super Bowl has those one or two ads that everyone is talking about around the water cooler the next day. Polls suggest that men are regularly more satisfied with the ads than women. Why? Because many Super Bowl advertisers turn to sexist, racist, and otherwise offensive stereotypes to market their wares. I thought the following was a very interesting means of affecting a change. Some folks choose to skip watching the bowl altogether rather than rage at the ads. But there’s a way to voice your displeasure and make a real change in the way Super Bowl ads are framed. Miss Representation, the movie turned movement to challenge the portrayal of women and girls in the media, called for Super Bowl viewers to tweet their displeasure with sexist Super Bowl ads by using the tag #NotBuyingIt.” Bravo! Clap clap clap………
Last year, I became friendly with a young woman who sat next to me in class. In one of our class discussions, she spoke about how she knew that, though she wanted a family someday, she would also HAVE to work outside the home. It was like she was brain washed. She didn’t even have a boyfriend, yet; so, it was not as if she had had any sort of an idea regarding financial status or necessity. It was not because she was planning on a dream career. The next week, I “talked” to her. “Yes, it is most important that you have an education and a career, and if you love your job, then by all means, you should continue after having children. But, and it is a big but, you do NOT have to go into a relationship/marriage feeling responsible for holding two jobs, because that is what a working mother is all about—TWO full time jobs. It should be a choice, perhaps a necessity, but it is NOT a responsibility designed to make it easy for the man (not unless you find the needle in the haystack who actually “shares” the domestic responsibility and the children). This is not something you go into with a sense of having both responsibilities. Having babies and working outside the home is something that is discussed (before marriage and children), understood, and agreed on with financial circumstances at the forefront and, then, your choice.”
Women have not fought for their place in this world to make it easier for men. NO, that was not the purpose of it all. You’ve come a long way baby? Sometimes, I really wonder. (OK, now I shall leave the soap box!)