As a young feminist who was not there to witness the trials and tribulations of feminists like Betty Friedan or Gloria Steinem, I am easily frustrated with the current state of the world. I am aware of the long history of feminism. I know how long we have been fighting to achieve parity, but there are days when I honestly do not believe that we ever will.
When 101 women were sworn into Congress this year — 81 in the House and 20 in the Senate — there was a lot of talk about how history was being made. I was happy, but I was also unsated. There are 535 members of Congress. We’ve been at it for years, so I have to wonder when it is going to be time to celebrate 50/50 representation.
That is why watching the documentary Makers: Women Who Make America, which premiered on PBS Tuesday night, changed my perspective dramatically.
I thought I knew a lot, but it turns out that there is a lot I didn’t know. For example, I didn’t know that there was a time when women were not allowed to run marathons. It just didn’t occur to me. But there was.
In 1967, Katherine Switzer became the first woman to complete the Boston Marathon, despite being physically attacked by a race official. With that tidbit in mind, all of a sudden women as 18% of Congress isn’t looking so bad.
Does that mean that we’re done? Absolutely not. Does it mean we back down? No. But in 1967 when women had to fight to run a marathon things probably felt pretty dismal. Most likely, they felt that they had been fighting for too long to put up with being physically attacked by race officials. They probably felt that 2% female representation in the 90th Congress was heart-breakingly low.
But if they had given up, as I sometimes want to do, women would be in big trouble. As a person who has only been actively involved in the feminist movement for a little over a year and a half, watching that documentary had a profound effect on me.
Seeing women who devoted their entire lives, and in some cases careers, to fighting the good fight made me realize that being discouraged and giving up this early is unacceptable. The women in the documentary had it right. Even Phyllis Schlafly, who vehemently opposed the women’s movement, kept her head down and fought for what she believed in.
The result of Schlafly’s crusade was stopping the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment in the 1970s. But the result of the women’s liberation movement is that we have more women in all aspects of public life than we used to. Women now have the legal right to safe abortions, even though that right is under attack. We have the right to control when and how we become mothers.
But we need to channel the energy of the amazing women from the Makers documentary so that we can protect those reproductive rights, even as conservative leaders attempt to take them away. We need to continue to fight to eliminate the epidemic of violence against women around the world. We need to combat the rampant objectification of women in the media.
There are definitely scores of fantastic women who have worked toward making America, but it’s not made yet. Let’s look to them to find the strength to continue to fight the good fight – no matter how hopeless Seth MacFarlane makes it seem.
Guest contributor Leigh Ann Renzulli is a senior journalism major and women’s studies minor at the University of Maryland, College Park. She is a feminist with a blog and is on Twitter @lerenzulli.