Just in time to celebrate International Woman’s Day, Catherine Eng contributes this blog post that celebrates a medical solution to family planning that many take for granted and yet remains out of reach 52 years later to millions of women around the world.
Country music legend Loretta Lynn was known for lyrics that bluntly addressed issues in the lives of many women. She believed no topic was off limits, as long as it spoke to other women.
In 1975, Lynn released The Pill, a single considered to be the first song to discuss birth control. The song tells a story of a wife who is upset about her husband getting her pregnant year after year, but is now happy because she can control her own reproductive choices. The song’s frank discussion of birth control was unprecedented at a time when many would have considered contraception a risqué subject matter. Some radio stations refused to play her song on these grounds.
“There’s gonna be some changes made right here on nursery hill…‘cause now I’ve got the pill.”
Be sure to click on the video link below to listen and laugh.
In an interview later in life, Lynn recounted how she had been congratulated after the song’s success by a number of rural physicians, telling her how The Pill had done more to highlight the availability of birth control in isolated, rural areas, than all the literature they’d released.
Fifty-two years after the inception of the pill in America, conservative newscaster Rush Limbaugh felt free to call Sandra Fluke, a Georgetown university student who asked her university to cover hormonal birth-control, a prostitute and a whore. His ignorant comment reminds us that there still exist widespread misconceptions and stigmas surrounding contraception. Let’s take the opportunity on International Women’s day to clear up any misconceptions, to examine the many social benefits of contraception and family planning.
Yes, I made up “philactivist.” But what else do you call someone who combines philanthropy with political activism in a unique way, driven by her power of intention. Barbara Lee is one of the women I profiled in No Excuses because I so admire her drive, her vision, and her commitment to women’s advancement in politics. This continues my series of “She’s Doing It” columns in which I ask women what they have learned since I interviewed them.
Barbara Lee pictured with California Attorney General Kamala Harris
Gloria Feldt: In No Excuses, I asked, “When did you know you had the power to_____?”
What have you learned about your power to _____ during the past year or so?
Going to Girl Scout camp at age 12 was my first time away from home. I vividly recall the sound and smell of fresh pine needles crunching under my feet as I gathered twigs to build a fire to earn my campfire badge. I remember rubbing two sticks together for what seemed like forever and with each spark I learned more and more about the power of intention. I was determined to start that fire. It was the first step for me in knowing my own power. Ever since I have kindled my belief in myself and have used the power of intention to make the world a better place for women.
Barbara Lee: Was there a moment when you felt very powerful recently? If so, please describe the circumstances, what you did, and why you were aware of your power. Was there a moment when you felt powerless recently? If so, please describe the circumstances, what you did, and why you felt your lack of power.
Because my book, No Excuses: 9 Ways Women Can Change How We Think About Power, came out officially in paperback on Leap Day—a perfect day for a book about women’s relationship with power, no?—I’ve been thinking hard about what the next great leap forward for women should be. So I thought I’d better check out the history of the every-fourth-year calendar adjustment that gives us February 29.
Watch Out, Men
Leap Day inspired a leap of vision and blazing hope for women in 5th Century Ireland when St. Bridget persuaded St. Patrick to declare a woman could do the unthinkable: ask a man to marry her.
At a time when a woman was, for all practical purposes, owned first by her father and then by her husband, marriage meant not love but economic survival for her and her children. No doubt many seized their one chance to override gendered power norms and choose their own fates.
The tradition continued, with merry belittlements to remind women how little power they had the rest of the time. Men had to pay a fine or give a silk dress if they refused marriage proposals. Women on the prowl for husbands sported red petticoats as warning so poor beleaguered men could dash in the other direction. Haha.
You may be laughing because Leap Day privilege now seems an amusing anachronism. Not only do the majority of men and women think it’s perfectly fine for a female to propose marriage, the End of Men has been proclaimed, Women’s Nation declared, and New York Times columnist Nick Kristof dubs women “Mistresses of the Universe.”
But such puffery masks how far women have yet to go to achieve genuine parity. The next norm-changing leap must be women creating and earning wealth that places the female 51 percent of the population into power balance with their male counterparts.
“If women want any rights more than they got, why don’t they just take them, and not be talking about it.”
— Sojourner Truth, 1797-1883. Former slave, abolitionist,
women’s rights activist, Methodist minister.
Truth’s admonition seems archaic now. Why are we still “talking about it?”
Is women’s history of struggle for equal rights relevant in a world where women have outpaced men in earning college degrees, equaled their numbers in the workplace, and snatched the family purse to make 85% of consumer purchases?
Since “The End of Men” has been declared and women dubbed “Mistresses of the Universe” shouldn’t young women today, at least those in the industrialized world, feel powerful enough to be and do anything they want?
Women, Power, and Peace: Leadership in a New World
As part of UN-CSW 2012, Women’s International Center Foundation I was part of a panel discussing Women, Power and Peace: Leadership in a New World. We explored both the challenges and opportunities of stepping into leadership across sectors and around the globe.
The other speakers on the panel included:
Ms. Annette Richardson, Senior Advisor, United Nations Office of Partnerships.
Ms. Carla Goldstein, JD, Omega Institute’s chief external affairs officer and director of the Women’s Institute at Omega.
Kimberly King, Senior Vice President and UN Representative for Women’s International, served as presenter and Moderator.
February 29, 2012, 10:30 AM.Women, Power and Peace: Leadership in a New World – Panel Presentation and Dialog at the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women.
February is Black History Month and March is Women’s History Month. This post by Catherine Engh ties the two together in historical context with links to some amazing but little-known women’s stories. Wow. Feel free to add stories of other such women in the comment section.
And be sure to check back here often as I continue my annual Women’s History Month tradition of highlighting many amazing women—some well known and others not—who have shaped our history. And as you know, No Excuses Power Tool #1 is “Know your history and you can shape the future of your choice.”
Wednesday, Oct. 2-Nov. 13, 2013Gloria will teach a 6-week online course "9 Practical Leadership Power Tools to Advance Your Career".This is a Take The Lead event in partnership with Arizona State University Online. Participants will receive a certificate to enhance their resumes along with practical skills and understanding of power dynamics in the workplace. Don't miss this opportunity and register today!