Paying attention – a letter to the new generation

Thinking about history and the stories of people far removed from us can be boring. I heard Sherry Turkle once say how we now can use our smart gadgets to get us through the boring bits of life. I admit it, I pull out my smart phone when I’m bored. We’re encouraged to; besides, receiving emails and tweets from our friends feels great.
But there is a danger to not paying attention. While we are allured into a wonderland of entertainment and companionship, we let others take control, take over, and be in charge with their own agenda. And they have and will take our freedoms.
We live in a ‘rule of the fathers’ system that started thousands of years ago where men had dominion over the public sphere (politics, business, society) and women had dominion over the private sphere (servants, food preparation, child rearing). When you study ‘women and work’, you are studying the way women fight their way out of the private sphere into the public sphere. Since the public sphere is where all the money and power is, men are hanging onto it. They have had the public sphere because they took it, not because they earned it.
In the essay White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Backpack, Peggy McIntosh talks about the unearned advantages and conferred dominance of whites and of men. She says that men ‘may say they will work to improve women’s status…but they can’t or won’t support the idea of lessening men’s.’ Think about it. Women want equality to men, and today most men in the U.S. will agree. But are they willing to give up some of their unearned advantages?
In We Did It For You!, 18th century Mary Wollstonecraft recognized that women were trained to quote ‘be brutes’ unquote, as if they were cute puppies or farm animals. She said women needed a better education, not just sewing and painting. 19th century Susan B. Anthony recognized the problem with being an uneducated second class citizen and said women needed external rights, i.e. political rights. Elizabeth Cady Stanton said no, women needed to first internally believe that they are equal to men. Nevertheless, she stood up in 1848 and suggested the vote for women. Stanton was laughed out of the hall because women were brought up to live in the private sphere.  In the United States of America, the fight for women to get the vote and crack out of the private sphere took 72 years. 72 years of the majority of men being unwilling to relinquish their conferred dominance and an unearned advantage regarding voting. Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton died before women’s suffrage (e.g, voting rights) was realized. It took others picking up the banner and literally putting their lives on the line. Women like 20th century Alice Paul were willing to be tortured and to die so that you in the 21st century can own your gadgets and you could participate in the public sphere. They paid it forward. To you.
Some of you come from other countries and don’t care about the history of the United States. I say this. Tell me who in your country cracked open the private sphere for women. And if it hasn’t yet happened, who is going to do it?
But We Did It For You! is more than just a peek into U.S. history. When I talk before groups of women who come from countries with less freedoms, they say they want blueprints, guidelines for achieving what we have. We Did It For You! is that blueprint. In order to write it, I wove together six categories of rights that women need to break into the public sphere: political rights, civil rights, careers, education, personal rights, and leadership. What I left out is what Elizabeth Cady Stanton complained about: women’s internal rights – the belief they are as good as men. I leave that to magazines and self-help gurus.
I now challenge you. What are you willing to pay forward to future generations? Thanks to ‘the rule of the fathers’, your generation is facing the worse calamity that has ever faced the human species. People have known since 1896 that putting billions of tons of carbon into the atmosphere will have immense consequences. Since the first oil well 150 years ago, we have been ruining our environment. The evidence is clear: our addiction to fossil fuels is destabilizing the planet and pollution is poisoning our common resources. And yet, the powers that control the public sphere act as if nothing is wrong. Where are the Susan B. Anthonys and Alice Pauls of today who will say this is wrong and who are willing to put their lives on the line so that there is a future generation?
I think you know the answer.
We of the older generation cannot help you through the problems you are going to face. But this is my advice: learn as much as you can and don’t be hypnotized by entertainment, whether it’s coming from your smart gadgets, the Internet, television, or the political circus.
What are you willing to do for your daughters and sons? Without millions of women joining the public sphere, this antiquated system of the ‘rule of the fathers’ will continue. In We Did It For You, Hillary Clinton says, “If women are healthy and educated, their families will flourish. And when families flourish, communities and nations flourish.” She went on to say that ‘as long as women and girls are fed last, fed less, overworked, underpaid, not schooled and subjected to violence inside and outside of the home, the potential of the human family to create a peaceful and prosperous world will not be realized.’ (see full speech) No one would ever make a statement like that about men and boys. Why is it different for men? Our system is built upside down with men focused on money and power in the public sphere, smugly unaware of their unearned advantage and conferred dominance. We need you to stand up for a world built right-side up where families are flourishing in a system of ‘rule of the equals.’

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Workshop at Irvine Valley College

We were invited by Dr. Pauli Merry to run a play-reading workshop at her class on Women’s Studies at Irvine Valley College. I love working with college students. There were enough students so that everyone had a role. My mother joined in the fun. I assigned her the role of Eleanor Roosevelt because, I explained to the kids, “My mom knew Eleanor from her days volunteering in the canteens during World War II in Washington, DC.” My mom had learned how to eat fried chicken with a knife and fork from Roosevelt. What was going through their minds as I told them these stories? After we went through the script, we discussed the cultural constraints that act on women and hold them back. It’s always an eye-opening experience for them. My greatest prop, though, is my mom. I tell them how my mom, who is turning 100 years old in July, was alive on this planet when women could not vote in the United States. They look at her as the dinosaur they think she is, but then she jumps up and dances around their chairs and tells them “be kind to each other.”

I read their reviews of the workshop afterwards. Dr. Merry made them all fill one out. You can’t tell what the kids are thinking or absorbing, but then you read their feedback and see it: the workshop was a huge impact on them.

I love doing this work.

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Play reading at First Parish UU

Greg started the play by opening up the service as the UU does, lighting the chalice light, reading a wonderful quote and making announcements for the community and then we started.

My smile just makes me feel giddy.  Watching the participants read their lines; watching the audience absorb the words of the We Did It For You character women past and present, watching their faces, listening to them laugh and witnessing their silence.  Alice Paul talking about her hunger strike and being force fed through a tube in her nose strikes silence in the audience.  Singing the songs is priceless with the looks on faces young and old.  Billie Jean King reminiscing about beating Bobby Riggs and Hillary Clinton giving her famous speech about women’s right are human rights!

Presenting this play reading to a UU parish is a great idea.  The congregants are the characters.  it didn’t matter whether they were men or women, young or old.  As long as they can read it works!  Two young boys ran the audio visual; Sam following the script being prompted to change the pictures projected digitally.  Jack was in charge of filming a master shot of the reading.

Radical 60’s woman was played by Chris, Eva’s husband.  He was adorable letting his shoulder length Hawaiian black hair down, wearing sunglasses, a headband, an “I Love the Beatles” T-shirt and a tie-dyed skirt.  He played the part beautifully.  A picture was taken of him and I for posterity.

After we sang I Am Woman, I got back up on the stage and grabbed the hand mic and thanked everyone.   I spoke about where the play has been and where it can go, where it needs to go.  Afterwards everyone was so enthusiastic.  The Peace and Justice Committee at other UU churches were there and they want to do it.  I started a cast list for volunteer people wanting to be in a play production.

The young woman who played Bella Abzug told me afterwards she just experienced discrimination in her job.  She was amazed how she felt, because she’s a women’s studies major and knew about discrimination but never really felt it.  The play had a big impact on her.  Two young sisters under 10 y/o came up to me and said they loved it, especially the beginning.

I feel we are on our way.  I handed out lots of postcards.  Everyone in the audience has become an agent marketing the play and their enthusiasm will sell it.  It’s all very exciting.

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April 10, 2012 – Victor Valley College Performaing Arts Center

We were invited by the AAUW-Victorville for their annual event Celebrating Women in Mathematics and Science. It took about 2 hours to drive out to Victorville, but it was well-worth the trip. There were about 200 teenage girls there, and we were the keynote of the day. The kids were pretty excited about our performance. To them, our characters are from a far away history. But we were able to tell the stories of powerful women making a difference in the world because they fought back.

The kids thought we were awesome. You can see their comments on the students’ testimonial page. They said things like:

“This was wonderful!! I learned even more than I thought I knew. Thank you!” - high school student

“The show was very informative, making me understand the role of women. I liked it very much, especially its wonderful actors and humor.” – Oak Hills High School student, San Bernardino County

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March 28 – Ft. Irwin National Training Center

We were invited to perform at the Ft. Irwin National Training Center. Since it was 3 hours away, we drove up the night before, grumbling about the distance, not knowing what to expect. We didn’t know if it would be for women soldiers only or men and women.

Cast rehearsing beforehandIt was a long drive. We were met at the Welcome Center by our host Sargeant. It didn’t take too long to realize she was 8 months pregnant. What a perfect example of the steps women have had to go through to be part of the men’s world.

We could not believe the reception to our performance. There were hundreds of soldiers — Susan B. Anyhony with soldiersmostly men — in the audience. Some of their wives were there. There were women soldiers as well.

Plaque we receivedThey laughed, they applauded. Our performance was spot on, and they loved it. Our host – a colonel – gave us a framed picture with the cover of the program and a dedication to us. And then he gave us a Certificate of Appreciation.  We took pictures of the cast with some of the soldiers and officers.Certificate of Appreciation

Receiving lineAnd then they all descended upon us and shook our hands. We were suddenly in a receiving line listening to person after personal telling us how they appreciated it.

We also thanked them. We stood at the podium and thanked them for what they are doing for us. It was incredible to have a standing ovation from them, while we were also applauding them.Woman colonel with Susan B. Anthony In the receiving line, we met with some women officers. They were very aware that they were a product of everything we had just presented.

We got lots of feedback. See the testimonials above to see what they said.

Members of the cast have some of their own memories:

“I’m still in awe of it all – what a wonderful group of people and an awesome experience. WOW!  The Colonel gave EACH OF US a Medal for Excellence!!  Mine is on display and will continue to be.” – Beverly (aka Radical 60s)

“I was pleased with the gracious reception we received. The group of soldiers were completely present with our play; their enjoyment of the characters we presented was evident in their laughter and applause. I was especially impressed by the “reception line” in which each of them filed past every one of us and personally thanked us for our play. Easily one of the best and most appreciative audiences we have ever had. It was wonderful to serve those who serve us…”  - Ginni (aka Eleanor Roosevelt and others)

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March 25th in Santa Monica

We were invited by the AAUW-CA to perform in Santa Monica at the YWCA. Unfortunately, it rained! When does it rain in Southern California? Like once a year, and that’s the day we had to drive 60 miles up the 405. We almost got hit by a sign being pushed by the rain and wind, and then another car started fishtailing in front of us. Driving on freeways in the rain in SoCal is no fun and dangerous because there is no drainage.

But what was fun was performing! We had two new cast members Nancy Klann and Mary Schmidt to replace Shirley (who moved to Massachusetts). It was their first performance and they were a little nervous. They did fine, as did everyone else.

Before the performance, we acknowledged Ginni for winning the Ms Senior Orange County contest. A friend of hers had gotten her into the contest and she was totally shocked that she won. We weren’t surprised at all. After all, she plays Mary Kay for us.

The AAUW-CA presidents were in the audience for our performance. They were very impressed by the show, even though it was the third time they were seeing it.

It still amazes me how we are doing this. Ten women, ranging in skills from first time performers to seasoned actors, ranging in age from 40 to — well, beyond. They gather their energy, they rehearse, they travel, they schmooze, and they sing and act no matter with whomever else is on the stage with them. We’re all doing it, yes, because it is fun, but more importantly, we believe in what we are doing.

When we started this two years ago, women weren’t equal to men, but there wasn’t the viscious attack on women the way there is today. Our doing this is growing in importance, not lessening. People tell us high school students need to hear this show, but it’s more and more important that voters here this message. Do we want a political climate that further subjagates women? Or should we be out there educating women about their political power as a block? More women in the US are voting than men. They have the power to change the political discourse of this country.

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Women’s History Month – March 2012

March is our busiest month. With our connection with the National Women’s History Project and word of mouth, we are getting more and more visibility. On March 6th, we had a “mini-tour” going to universities in two counties to perform the play.

First we drove out to Cal State San Bernardino. The student center has a beautiful theatre that the Women’s Resource Center rented in order to have our production on campus for the women students. But it wasn’t just women in the audience! We had quite a mixed showing. It’s always hard to tell what students think, they kind of internalize their reaction. But we got a lot of positive feedback and an invitation to return in the future.

We took ourselves out for a relaxing dinner afterwards at Rutabegourz, an incredible restaurant in Orange County. We had a bit of fun especially when I handed out awards to the cast. Marty got the “Who Am I Now Award” since she plays four roles.

Cal State Fullerton – we were welcomed by Dr. Renae Bredin of the Women and Gender Studies Program, along with her students. They were so glad to see us and made our visit with them great. The audience was packed with Women and Gender Studies students — both men and women — and they were very, very appreciative of the play. See just some of their comments on the “Student Responses” page.

It was a long day. We left Orange County at 8:30 am and returned at 10:30 pm. Very tired, but we were glad to do it.

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