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.’