Do we still need a women’s movement?

I came of age in the 60s. I graduated high school Class of ’66 and went to Nursing School, graduating Class of ’69. I remember the protests and bra-burnings; the anti-war protests; the Civil Rights marches. But none of it really registered with me until I was out in the real world after nursing school. Here’s where I began to see why the women’s movement was necessary.

I could not get birth control pills unless I lied to a doctor to say I was getting married soon and wanted to get on the pill before the wedding.

When I was searching for jobs, I could only apply for the jobs in the column under the heading “Jobs for Females/Women”.

I was turned down for a job because I was pregnant.

I could not have a checking account or any kind of credit in just my name; my husband had to co-sign.

When I had a job and discovered I was pregnant, I had to transfer out of the unit where I was working into a ‘safer’ work environment.

I was sexually harassed at work by the doctors, who called me honey, sweetie, girlie, and lots of other things not as innocuous.

If a doctor came into the nurse’s station where I was sitting writing notes, I had to stand up as long as he was present.

I was turned down for jobs because ‘those jobs need to go to men who have to support their families’ even though I was the sole support for my family at the time.

The list is almost endless.

Today, we seem to be devolving back to those days. There are certain legislators who think that women are second-class citizens. Our culture of rape is alive and well. Women are still being abused/raped/killed by their significant others. And what’s most alarming is that many young women accept this. I had a discussion today with a young women in her 20s who saw nothing wrong with a t-shirt that proclaimed “Keep Calm and Rape”. I have talked to other young women who think if their boyfriend hits them or verbally abuses them, they must have done something to deserve it. There are women, young and old, who think Feminism is a dirty word.

There are days I feel totally discouraged. Days when I think we are losing the war. I feel as if I am a lone voice of reason against a sea of ‘good ole boys’ and their followers. I wish I were more articulate, more charismatic, more able to voice what is wrong with a culture that thinks rape and abuse of women is okay; a culture that proclaims a corporation is a person; a culture where suppressing voters is acceptable. Today is one of those days when I am feeling disheartened almost to the point of tears. I am feeling too overwhelmed by comments from those who think women who have been raped can’t get pregnant; who think it’s okay for a rapist to sue for visitation rights for the child he helped create when he raped someone; who think that women don’t deserve legal protection against violence; who think that women should not have to be paid the same as a man for the same job; who think that any woman who is raped did something to provoke the rapist by the way she dressed or comported herself. And I am most disheartened by the women who think this is all okay.

I never, ever, want to go back to the days when abortion was illegal and deadly, even though I will do whatever I can to make sure an abortion doesn’t happen; when birth control was not legal for unmarried women; when women were confined to a few low-paying jobs; when abuse of women was acceptable and not prosecuted; and on and on. There are those, men and women, who say we need to ‘get over it’ and we need to stop whining and get on with our lives. But until we are truly free and considered as equals, we can’t and won’t ‘get over it’ and we will not stop fighting. We owe it to those who came before us and to those who will come after us.

Tomorrow is another day and “once more into the breach, dear friends.”

Musings on Compassion

When I was 20 and newly graduated from Nursing School, I went to work at a State Psychiatric Facility in New Jersey. After a brief orientation, I was put in charge of the evening shift (3pm to 11pm) in the acute admissions ward. Besides myself, there was one technician to give medications, four other aides, and upwards of 90 patients. The ward was segregated with one wing for women and one for men. Each wing had a ‘locked unit’ for the more disturbed patients who were mostly locked in a room all day and all night. There was also a lock on the door to the rest of the wing so when these patients were let out of their rooms, they were still locked away from the rest of the population. Being the compassionate person that I was back then, I would spend most of my time with those in the ‘locked units’.

One evening, I was spending time with a 16-year old who was in the locked unit. He had been admitted for observation and was said to have violent tendencies. He had been in the unit for maybe a week and had shown no violence. I had taken him out of his room and we were walking down the hall to the dayroom. Without warning, he grabbed me around the neck and dragged me out of sight of the nurses’ station into the dayroom. I don’t remember how long we were in there, but I do remember staying calm and explaining to him, over and over, why what he was doing wasn’t a good idea. I was finally able to convince him to let me go and I locked him back in his room.

Once out in the nurses’ station, I started shaking uncontrollably. A couple of the aides came in and asked what was wrong. When I told them, they wanted to punish the patient in some way, and once again, I was spending time convincing someone that what they wanted to do was not a good idea.

The next evening, I went back to the patient to spend time with him again and acted as if nothing had happened; he never tried it again and was gone a few days later.

I was thinking about this incident today and wondering if I was still the same person I was back then; I think I am in many respects. I am still compassionate in spite of all the people who have hurt me, physically, mentally, and emotionally, over the course of my lifetime. It would have been so easy to become jaded and close myself off to the rest of the world, but how much I would have lost! So no matter how much you have been hurt by others, you are hurting yourself more by becoming callous and putting up walls. I see so many people every day who I can only describe as the walking wounded. They have no joy in life; they are angry at the world. I feel so fortunate that I am not one of them.