By Marla Boone
Clear off that soap box. I’m climbing aboard.
It is one of the great surprises of my advanced years how the word feminist has come to be interpreted. Right along with “woke,” the word “feminist” may be one of the most misunderstood, mis-attributed, and misogynistically used today.
To me, a lifelong feminist, it means only that people should not be discriminated against based on gender. Pretty simple. Even more of a surprise to me is the number of women who disdain the very term. Most, if not all, of these women, are beneficiaries of those who went before them not so much blazing the trail as slogging along it with a machete, clearing a difficult path. Women who would protest to their last breath if they were not paid the same as their male colleagues shudder at the word. But they’ve probably never given a thought to Addie Wyatt who advocates tirelessly for equal pay for equal work. Women who do not give a second thought to easy access to birth control probably never stop to pay homage to Margaret Sanger, if they’ve even ever heard of her. Ms. Sanger was an early champion of family planning and was jailed for her efforts. Females who stride right up to the voting booth rarely stop to think of the thousands of women involved in the suffragette movement in this county. Hundreds were arrested, with a large number jailed. Many of those went on hunger strikes and were force-fed while incarcerated. One would think women not restricted in their mode of dress would thank Helen Hulick, a kindergarten teacher, who was thrown into jail for refusing to wear a dress while testifying in court against two men who had burglarized her apartment.
The right to equal pay for equal work, the ability to plan one’s children, the privilege to vote, the latitude to wear slacks …none of these were given. They were earned by people who were willing to devote their lives to seeing these basic freedoms come to pass for women. Far too many women just don’t get it. They take for granted that a female applicant to medical school will be given serious consideration. A female lawyer is no longer an oddity. Today, over 48% of medical school students are women. Over 55% of law school students are women. This did not happen by accident. It happened because someone fought for it.
We who argue against discrimination cannot even blame ignorance of the facts for the indifference with which sexism is met. I recently met a woman who was telling a story about a shopping trip. She mentioned she frequently patronized a chain store that is notorious for how it discriminates against its female employees and their access to full healthcare benefits versus the benefits the male employees receive. When I pointed out this disgraceful behavior, the woman replied that she didn’t care how they treated their women employees as long as she got her 60% off coupon honored. I was speechless, but not for long. Didn’t phase her. She was willing to essentially endorse gender bias (against her own gender!) as long as the cashier took $16.74 off her total. That, horrifyingly enough, is the going price for someone’s integrity. Sixteen dollars and seventy-four cents.
As you might imagine, this is not my first ascension onto the soap box. Similar discussions have been held with bigots for years. One man, in all seriousness, declared there was no problem with discrimination because, after all, some women got doors held open for them. That was his threshold for gender equality. We’re not going to pay you the same as a man, but we’re going to open a door for you. A real door, mind you, not a metaphoric one. That, in his mind, made everything okay.
Henry David Thoreau said we should judge the cost of things in terms of how much life we have to expend to get them. The women who paid for their convictions with days and weeks and months of their lives are being cheated.
Marla Boone resides in Covington and writes for Miami Valley Today