What is a second wave feminist? We are the women of the late sixties and early seventies who sat in consciousness raising groups sharing our stories of growing up female in the late fifties and early sixties. We are the women who fought for, lobbied for, and marched for the Equal Rights Amendment. I still have my ERA bracelet that I wore at all times. We are the women who demanded equal pay for equal work. My response to the #MeToo movement is YES, thank you, and it is about time. Almost fifty years later this may be the tipping point for women to be able to tell their truth and be heard.
I was an educator throughout much of my career. In 1978 I was offered and took the position of Sex Equity Coordinator for a large school district. My role was to develop and implement policies to insure the district was in compliance with Title IX. My position was a federally funded Ciivil Rights Title IV grant. Title IX was written to insure girls had equal access to classes and sports. I relished taking this position as it combined my passion with my job description. This position allowed me to work with staff and administration in opening long closed doors for young girls and women.
One of the directives of Title IX was to write a sexual harassment policy for students. At this time in history there was no recognition that district staff also needed a sexual harassment policy to protect them. As women we understood sexual harassment, as we experienced it in our daily work life. We didn’t use the term sexual harassment, we just accepted it as part of being a woman in the workplace. Title IX gave us permission to address student sexual harassment. We knew there were staff that made inappropriate comments, or inappropriately touched students. What a victory to be able to write a policy protecting students from harassment. Working with the teacher’s union, staff, and administration I wrote the first sexual harassment policy for students for our district.
With help from the teacher’s union we were able to get the policy out to all of the schools. We publicized the policy in the newsletters sent out to the parents. Complaints began to come into my office. I noticed there was one teacher/coach who was getting numerous complaints from both students and parents. I took the complaints to Personnel, now commonly called Human Resource. They looked at the complaints and said “we’ll take care of this.” As complaints continued to come into my office, I was getting no information from the Personnel Department. Finally I took the complaints to the Superintendent. He looked at the complaints, opened a file drawer in his desk, and pointed to a large file saying “I have all this information on him, and I’ll take care of it.”
He did take care of it. The teacher was transferred to another school. I was devastated. My idealism came face-to-face with institutional sexism. What we called back then the “old boys system” and now call systemic sexism. It is this institutional sexism that continues to protect men. It goes so much deeper than just telling men to not say blah, blah, blah, or touch inappropriately. It is who we believe. It is who is running the organizations. It is our continued objectification of women. It is policies that continue to discriminate against women. It is all the good men being uncomfortable with this conversation and staying silent.
What I want to say to the courageous women in the #MeToo movement is “Don’t give up, change takes time.” I am so hopeful that our country is at a tipping point in bringing about equal rights for all. The intersection between the #MeToo movement, Black Lives Matter, the immigration fight, and the March for our Lives movement points to a society that no longer abides discrimination. Yes, we have an administration and its followers that are fighting with all their might to keep the status quo and return to “a better time.” I believe they represent the death rattle of the old. These movements are vital to bringing equality to ALL our citizens. Do not quit, do not give up, you are being supported by a vast number of Americans who are waking up to saying no more business as usual.