March 8, 2021

Stop for Women 

The news of the day – notwithstanding Meghan and Harry’s interview with Oprah Winfrey last night, of which I have no opinion except to say that if I wanted to “settle into the privacy” of my community, as their spokesperson said when they moved to the exclusive enclave of Montecito, California, I don’t know that I’d call Oprah – is that today is International Women’s Day. 

I know, I know, every day is a named day these days. Tomorrow is National Proofreading Day. And National Get Over It Day. For those of you who plan to cook tomorrow night, it’s National Meatball Day.

But ignore the nuttiness. Today is a real named day. If we pair International Women’s Day with March as Women’s History Month, we end up with a powerhouse of a moment to remember and honor ground-breaking women. 

Take a minute. Think of one woman in your life who has inspired you. This is the day to send her a text, an email, a letter (!) or a phone call. And if she is no longer with us, send a message to the heavens to pay her tribute. Somewhere out there, she will hear you. 

Then think of all the women who came before you, and what they did, specifically, to help women out. They helped pass the 2005 Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, which, granted, many domestic partners failed to read. More than 85 percent of all violent crime suffered by women are cases of intimate partner violence. That compares to 3 percent of violent crimes against men, according to a study from the National Institutes of Health. 

We still have work to do.

Women fought for the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, which forbade employers for firing women for getting pregnant. Here’s a crazy story: in 2007, a Motherhood Maternity clothing franchise refused to hire three qualified women because they were pregnant. If you were pregnant and shopping for maternity clothes, wouldn’t you want to see those clothes modeled by the pregnant saleswomen in the store? 

The United States is the only developed country in the world that does not mandate maternity leave, even though we have a law that looks like it mandates maternity leave. It doesn’t. We still haven’t assured women equal rights in the workplace, from family leave to equal pay to sexual harassment. Which is why we need International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month, to remind us that even though we have come a long way, thanks to all the hard-driving women ahead of us, we have a long way to go.  

Here’s the theme of International Women’s Day: Choose to Challenge. When you see gender bias, challenge it. When you see inequality, speak up against it. When you see what looks like abuse, report it. Granted, if we are women, we have long feared being seen as whining, and if we are men, less than macho. But times have changed. 

“Balls,” said the queen. “If I had them, I’d be king.”

A better, more elegant statement, perhaps, for Women’s History Month, comes from the indomitable Abigail Adams, prolific letter writer, adviser and wife to statesman and second U.S. president, John Adams. 

In one of her many letters to him, she wrote, “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 (sic). 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.”

Those words were penned in the late 1700s. I sit here, more than 200 years later, grateful to the likes of Abigail Adams. To Susan B. Anthony, who in 1878 joined with other women to present an amendment to Congress that would give women the right to vote. (Forty-two years passed before it was ratified as the 19th Amendment.) Writer and suffragist Julia Ward Howe, who wrote “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.” Former slave, political activist and suffragist Harriet Tubman, who guided escaped slaves to freedom. Civil War nurse Clara Barton, who founded the American Red Cross. Amelia Earhart, the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic. Eleanor Roosevelt. Every woman poet, writer, author, journalist. The women of the Supreme Court.  Of course there are too many to list: many courageous and brilliant women have led our way. 

We, female and male, need to continue the work. 

Celebrate Women’s History Month and International Women’s Day by reading about at least one notable woman. Speak out. Achieve to your fullest potential. Then remember the women in your life – and salute them too.