Monday, March 08, 2010

Women of the World

If you had asked me as a young girl in the early 70s that the first time a woman would win a Best Director Oscar would be in 2010 I would have laughed in your face. By 2010 I would have imagined we would have had a least our first, if not our second woman president, had seen significant enhancements in the economic equality for working women and watched the quality of life for women all over world improve.

Yes, as a young girl growing in the 1970s, I believed women were on their way.

Last night I was proud that Kathryn Bigelow won the Oscar for best director not only because she deserved it but because she was honored for making a film about men in wartime. The success of The Hurt Locker is evidence that sometimes the best person to tell a story is a woman.

Today is International Women’s Day. We should pause to think of how far women have come in having their voices heard and we should also think about how much further we need to go.

I am one of the lucky ones. I was raised by a working mother and a father who believed in the equal rights of women. My parents did not bring me up to believe there was only one role for me. I did not grow into adulthood thinking I had limited opportunities. Unfortunately, the experiences of my life have revealed something very different. Too often, being a woman is a liability.

While I felt tremendous pride in the election that brought us our first African American president, I also felt sad that it took as long as it did and even sadder that it would take even longer to see a woman in the White House. (For the first time I wondered if it would even happen in my lifetime.)

These are minor concerns when you look at the statistics of women in this country that continue to be abused, and/or sexually assaulted, by the numbers of single working mothers that live below the poverty line and by the gender disparities in high ranking positions in government and corporations. Yes, we have made progress but we have miles to go and perceptions to change.

According to the website, the purpose of International Women’s Day is to celebrate the positive advances women have made in their fight for economic and social equality. The website goes on to explain that recently the tone of IWD has shifted from being a reminder of the negatives to a celebration of the positives.

While I’m all for celebrating the advances women have made I think that’s missing the point. It reminds me of taking a tour of a plantation in the South and hearing the guide boast that the slaves on that property were educated, this was after visiting the squalid conditions of the slave quarters. Was that really supposed to make us feel better?

Maybe we should spend a little less time patting ourselves on the back and little more time listening to the voices of women crying out for recognition and respect. I’m pretty sure that the rising number of Afghan women who set themselves on fire to escape a life of domestic abuse and torture would prefer it if we paid attention to their plight and did something about it.

When all is said and done, treating women with respect and as social and economic equals boils down to one thing and one thing only, when women do well, the whole world prospers. When women suffer, we all suffer.

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