Let's Talk: Penny's Blog


Women’s Progress

“On January 21, 2017, we marched. We marched all over the world, in great big cities and in tiny towns….We marched for ourselves. We marched for our families. We marched for our friends. But most of all we marched for you, girls now, women in the future.”

Those are the words I wrote after that amazing day for women, marching for the common themes of rights, respect, and justice. I myself marched as a Peacekeeper in Olympia Washington; for two years I wrote We March for You: Messages to Girls from the Women’s Marches; back in hometown Portland, Oregon, I am on the planning team for the PDX Womxn’s March.

Four years after that huge march day, what progress have we women made? And what are the implications for the future of those girls now? As we celebrate International Women’s Day and conduct our now annual PDX Womxn’s March this weekend, the timing seems haunting.

After the 2016 election, my life changed so much.  Before, I had a fine retirement, visiting family, housesitting in lovely homes, traveling to Latin America, volunteering to teach English, working on my Spanish, writing my first children’s picture book. Then the election and my life’s purpose changed dramatically. I grew up when the expected life for women was very much more limited than now. I was not about to see regression in the progress we have made!

The timing seems haunting in another way as well. Just one year ago, we marched in Portland as our lives were changing in ways we could not imagine. We had our first cases of Covid in Oregon. At 74, ever since that turning point, I have been cautious, wearing my mask, staying in the cottage that has become my cocoon, with meals and groceries delivered to my sunroom porch. As I write, in a minute I will take a shower and dress in a short-sleeved tee so I can get my first dose of the Covid vaccine.

Recent progress for Women

So with all that in mind, what progress have we made during these four years? And now during this single year? Two elections. The Pandemic. The protests. The forest fires here and the snowstorms in Texas.

  • We have discovered again the immense power of the Vote. Women, with critical leadership by Black women, got out historic numbers of voters, won the White House, the House, and the Senate.
  • We have our FIRST female Vice President, and she is African American and Asian American.
  • We are working to confirm the most diverse Cabinet appointments ever, by far.
  • We stand in absolute solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement and assert the female focus of the Say her Name message.
  • We are prepared to participate in the listening, growing, and working that is necessary to dismantle historic racism and oppression experienced by Indigenous, Black, Latino, and Asian communities.
  • We have learned so much more about the profound impact of Intersectional Feminism, women experiencing the world and discrimination differently–with overlapping identities like age, race, class, immigration status, religion, gender identity, and sexual orientation. We know we must march for the respect and rights of all women.
  • We have brought attention to the pervasiveness of sexual harassment and sexual assault with our stories, the irreverent pussy hats, the MeToo movement, and sadly, during the Supreme Court confirmation process.
  • We understand that we cannot live the same way, make the same decisions that have led to ongoing inequities illuminated repeatedly in recent years. Justice means gender justice, racial justice, economic justice. This requires our relentless advocacy for women as we march, but also change in legislation and policy when women “sit at the table” to reimagine our future.
  • From that first day in January 2017, we in the Pacific NW march in connection with our sisters across the nation and world. We march with our sisters in Denver and Atlanta. We march with our sisters in Argentina, Las Madres y Abuelas de la Plaza de Mayo who gather every Thursday for their missing children. We march with our sisters in Myanmar who protest each night by banging woks, pots, and pans.

My Story

Yes, women have made such progress in the recent marching years, but I also want to comment on a longer more personal time period, the whole of my life. Such significant progress for women in just my lifetime! In fact, my major motivation to march in 2017 came from feeling so strongly that we could not regress.

When I was a girl, there were many differences in opportunities. I was expected to go to college but only to be a secretary, a teacher, or a nurse, something to “fall back on” until I married. I never heard one word about high scores on math tests, because there was no point. Women didn’t go into science, math, and engineering. I heard, sorry about your interest in being a lawyer, better reconsider, because neither the male professors nor male students will welcome you. Sure, you can be a teacher, but No, not a principal. Men are principals. And by the way, we worry about you getting married, getting pregnant, even wearing pants.

Education and Career. Just two words but their significance, gargantuan. The No messages I received are now Yeses.  I did become a principal– and I started as a middle school principal when the prejudice was women could maybe be elementary principals but schools with older kids needed a man. The Pandemic has shown us how many women are now respected scientists and doctors. Justice Ginsburg helped mightily to change the status of women in law and by extension, our entire culture.  On a personal note again, my sister’s schooling also illustrates the change in our lifetimes. She followed my dad in choosing to study Forestry. The class before her had two women, her year, nine; and now, there is parity.

But. It. Was. Not. Always. This. Way. We simply cannot go back. Because I have lived with another way, I know these incredible changes may be fragile. We must seek opportunity immediately to address the current setbacks of women leaving the world of work, of applications for college, plummeting.

What a critical area for reimagining our future this is: the role of community colleges, admissions to college, the cost of higher education, and supports for students who are older, who work, who have families. This benefits the individual woman who can pursue her dreams though schooling, and it also benefits the country needing its next CDC Director, early childhood educator, high school principal, electric car designer, bridge builder, forester, or NASA engineer.

Girls, Teens, Young Women

And what are the implications of progress made, for you girls, teenagers, and young women? First, I think you can count on a system that increasingly values your right to an education and a life’s purpose be it career, family or both. That is huge. But you will also have your own challenges, your own opportunities to create a more caring and just world.

You will likely have moments you will want to stand up for what’s right even at a young age. When boys assume they will do the tech work for a group project. When it bothers you to see a student who just arrived from another country is ignored. When your classroom views on climate change are disparaged by someone whose parents don’t believe.

When you are older, you may want to become involved in some causes that are important to you like expanding LGBTQ rights. For sure young people like you have often led the way on Climate Change and Gun Control. We have so much respect for your leadership as youth activists and are grateful for how you will help us make progress.

I think a special contribution of your generation could be the economic well-being of women. This has been advocated for a long time, but never achieved. And this is even more at risk now that millions of women are out of work, with many more women leaving the workforce than men. So many programs will be needed. An appropriate minimum wage. Creative approaches to the high cost of college. Equal pay for equal work. Paid leave. Affordable, high quality childcare.

We know all this is needed to be fair to all women, women in many life stages and in different life circumstances. High school student in first job. College student. Single mom. A professional woman living solo. A woman trying to share responsibilities with a partner, husband. Never forget that you deserve to be valued for your skills and hard work. You deserve to live without the terrible exhausting fear that you cannot pay the next bill or feed your child or ever get the training you long for.

“You are such a precious person, and your life will move us forward too. You can march forward for yourself, your friends, your own daughters and granddaughters, girls you do not know. Always forward, never back – no, never back.” From We March for you: Messages to Girls from the Women’s Marches

Women's progress, radical feminism
In order to pay respect to youth activists, I commissioned my 15 year old granddaughter for this blog. Here is her Artist Statement:

“This art piece was inspired by female superheroes because they are not represented enough. Her cape is made of red rose lace to represent the city of Portland and RBG, the pearls for VP Kamala Harris, and the earth on her chest represents Earth Day, helping heal the Earth.” -Skye

Our Work is not Done

Girls, teens, young women, women, we all are marching against a backdrop of a very dark time when we see immorality, hate and anger, cruelty, denial, ignorance, and lies. It would be so easy to give up. But we won’t give up; we will continue marching because our work is not done.  Grab a sign, join your sisters, take your daughter’s hand. There is right There is wrong. We are stronger together. We march in honor of the suffragists and the feminists who have preceded us, for our dignity as women, and toward the limitless futures of the girls that follow us. 

Blog post coming April 22, Earth Day:

Lessons Learned from the Pandemic: The Schools we Need (Education Part II)

Lessons Learned from the Pandemic: The Schools we Need

(Education Part I)

Lessons Learned from the Pandemic: The schools we need.
Image from Freepik

For over 50 years, I have been an educator. During our year of distance learning, I have been flooded with memories, ideas, and feelings about education. What have we learned? What is essential? What should we let go of? Do differently?

As we reopen schools, we have a tremendous opportunity to imagine the schools we all deserve (that’s Education, Part II).

But this Valentine’s weekend I want to simply pause to send out love to everyone who has done valiant work with distance learning.    

Valentine’s Wishes to…

Families (including mine)    

Families reorganized living spaces, made desks, purchased white boards, post its and planners to create school at home. Moms and Dads, you have tried so hard to support your kids. Some of you had to put your own work aside to do this; some of you had to leave kids home while you worked. Both were hard. And kids, how do we ever pay you enough respect for grabbing your computers, your earbuds and distance learning day after day?

Educators    

State departments of education took on a far more directive role than we are used to in the US, trying to provide clarity when federal, state, health, safety, equity, finances have been in a changing, confusing mix.

School districts made sure kids had Chromebooks, wi fi hot spots, and meals, for families who wanted in person schooling and those who wanted their kids home. Never being sure what would be next, you had to be ready, thinking and rethinking the right combination of masks, social distancing, ventilation, testing, and vaccines.

Teachers quickly taught in a whole new way. You gave up classrooms, gyms, labs, the simple routines understood by all; you gave up eye contact, fist bumps, and a hand on the shoulder. We can’t tell you what it has meant when you sent an I-never- give-up-on-a-student email to a worried parent, or met a shy native Spanish-speaking kindergartener and her mom in the park, or wanted to extend deadlines so the term could “end on a good note.”

And so many others we cannot forget      

Office staff who pride themselves on welcoming and helping who now see few kids and parents– and then with a mask on, at a distance, and during restricted hours. Custodians learning to clean to whole new levels. Lunch ladies who pack sack lunches without the reward of a smiling face and a thank you. IT folks assuring the lifeline of reliable and flexible technology. People who lost work because no one’s riding a bus. Paraprofessionals working without a team. Counselors and social workers supporting students through stress, loneliness, and depression. Nannies, babysitters, childcare workers, pod leaders coaching kids on a computer while parents work. Union leaders representing faculty and staff worried about their students, but also worried about themselves and their families. And all those working for our now and our future in the larger community: scientists, doctors and nurses, agriculture workers, grocery clerks, food banks, social welfare organizations.

Our Country      

At this strange time, we have learned how important our schools are to our country. We have learned that good teaching is hard—and highly valued. I remember when there was no Cabinet level US Department of Education, when many argued there was no Federal role in education, when an appointment to the US Committee on Education and Labor would hardly be noticed. All that has changed now. Thank you for showing such respect for education in our national life.

Happy Valentines to all of you.

XOXOXO,

Penny


Blog post coming in March:

The Progress Women have Made/What this Means for Girls

Blog post coming in April:

Lessons Learned from the Pandemic: The Schools we Need (Education Part II)

Nana on the Inauguration

As we get ready for this Inauguration, I am washed in memories of the last three Presidential elections, with my grandchildren as witnesses.

If only I still had a photo of that glorious moment in 2008 when my oldest grandkids, then five and two, were leaping in joy in front of the tv. President Obama had just been declared President. I’m not sure they really understood much, but they were excited because they could tell Mom, Dad and Nana were thrilled.

Then there is the memory of the day after the 2016 election when I asked my three grandkids to come up to my bedroom one at a time before catching the school bus. I was reflecting on huge issues. Who am I? What do I stand for?  Who are we as a country? What does the US stand for?

I wanted to try to make some sense for grandkids Aidan, Kaitlyn, and Ava. I will never forget what I said:

“I know people have differing opinions, but I believe we have elected a person who will be a bad President and that he is not even a good person. But I also believe that our country is stronger than him, and I expect you to be a good person even though you sometimes see bad examples.”

And now my beloved Washington where I lived for two years is festooned in more barb wire than bunting. Congratulations, President Biden and Vice President Harris. We are happy for you and grateful for your knowledge, experience, kindness and caring. We are thrilled at this moment in history for women. We need you so much.

We are also exhausted. For example, I marched twice in Olympia, Washington as a Peacekeeper, spent two years writing my book for girls, and have been part of the planning team for PDX Womxn’s March in Portland, Oregon for another two years. Before this, I had a pretty great retirement life, just traveling, volunteering, writing, and spending time with family. But like women all over the world, marching for what is right, marching against what is wrong, became paramount.

And things have been so much worse than I even imagined that sad morning post- election. We have such difficult work ahead of us. I keep literally seeing words and ideas all smashed together overtaking one another. I present my sense of this at the end of this blog in the “concrete poem” Hope. Like what you see below, in a concrete poem, part of the meaning lies in the visual presentation. In this case, at this moment, the visual is of a nearly overwhelming set of intertwined challenges and competing views, offering alternately dread and possibility.

Working through these overlapping issues after the Inauguration will be our work as adults all over the country. And if this is daunting for us, how confusing it must be for our children, for my three grandkids, now 12, 14, and 17. They are staying in, wearing masks the few times they go out, distance learning day after day, watching the news.

I finished my poem in hope. We can help our children feel more hopeful too with some simple messages. These are mine. I would love to know yours…

“I love you. You are safe. We are all going through hard times. It has not been normal. It’s going to get better. Our country has been through other hard times. We are all learning more about responsibility and justice. You can help. Find your own voice. I am so proud of you. I love you.”

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We Will Never Go Back

“We will never go back, and we will never give up.”

Call to Action, MS. magazine



“Yes, I am a Feminist, Yes, Yes, Yes.” This was the beginning of a blog I started writing right before the Presidential elections. I have come back to this blog notion over and over at critical moments in the past two years. The morning after the election when I spoke to each of my grandchildren privately. After the first chilly but inspiring March. Over coffee with friends, all of us trying to make sense of our world after the election. And now after the Kavanaugh hearings.

Days before the election, I nearly shattered my keyboard pounding out a little social networking piece on “Why I am with Her,” centering on my unabashed commitment to feminism. 

Next was the March to the Capitol in Olympia January 21, 2017. I had debated and dithered: Where to march? Enough miles for my beloved Washington, DC? Seattle for the big city vibe? Back to much loved hometown Portland? I ended up deciding on Olympia where my family had moved. I may have dithered about location, but there was NEVER a question about whether I would march.

Friends suggested two things when we met in downtown Portland and commiserated about the new political situation: 1. Focus and 2. Write. Feminism is my focus. The blog, the first of my writing. I am finally finishing it now after nearly two years. It is written from one woman to other women and men, but it became the backdrop for the children’s picture book We March for You: Messages to Girls from the Women’s Marches. In that book for kids, there is no mention of the election, the President, politics at all; there are no signs with coat hangers in the photo. But my feminism is the motivation.

Let’s start with focusing as my friends advised. I care about so many issues that we have been marching about: immigrants, medical care, racial equality, LGBTQ rights, folks with special needs, education, science, international relations, gun control.   I do know that my life as a white woman growing up in a middle class family is far more privileged than many, but I also do feel I can comment on feminism and the precarious movement toward equality.  At a minimum I have my own lived experience as a 72-year-old woman. I mention my age, because that post-election morning when I attempted to make some meaning for my three grandchildren, I was reflecting on huge issues. Who am I? What has my life been about? What do I stand for?  Who are we as a country? What does the US stand for?

Why march? Because I am a feminist, have been for a very long time. Yes, I am a Feminist, yes, yes, yes. No caveats, no waffling. No, Aw, shucks. No maybe this, maybe that. No blushing and shyness. No meandering down the bra burning, ball busters paths. No nothing, but Yes, I am a Feminist. 

I had planned to say to the young women in today’s feminist movement: It is not just wearing a pin or a t-shirt or even carrying a sign. Silly, naïve me. I was going to caution: Being a feminist has been and continues to be hard work. It requires self-knowledge, advocacy, courage. It can be lonely. It may not be popular. It can seem utterly hopeless. It is a movement that has brought great progress but that can easily return to the limitations of the past. 

Then the Supreme Court hearings and sadly, I hardly need to point out what is evident. We saw lies, condescension, pats on the head, tortured logic. The patriarchy, vocabulary I never thought I would personally use, the perfect description.  

So many women have their stories for embracing feminism. Here are mine. I heard you will go to college but then you can only be a secretary, a teacher or a nurse, just something to “fall back on” if you don’t have a husband. I heard utter silence about high scores on math tests, because there was no point. Women didn’t go into science, math, and technology. I heard, sorry about your interest in being a lawyer, better reconsider, because neither the male professors nor the male students will welcome you. Having chosen education, I heard everything from you can’t wear pants, to we worry you will marry and get pregnant; you can be a teacher, but not a principal, leave that to the men. Later when I was finally a principal, I heard intimidating comments, sexual harassment by my supervisor, something other female colleagues experienced too, that male colleagues heard as well and testified to–yet nothing was done.

As I write this, the vote has been taken; the swearing in, complete with apologies for what HE experienced, is over. During that first horrendous weekend, I crawled under the covers, turned on the electric blanket, baked cookies, and slow cooked a lamb stew. All comforting, but the horrors will not go away with avoidance or denial or the catharsis of tears. 

 I will focus. I will write. I will march again.  This is in honor of the suffragists and the feminists who have preceded us, for our dignity as women, and toward the limitless futures of the girls that follow us. 

(A note about the lace here…Years ago I literally began dreaming about turquoise lace for my website. I have decided it must have been in tribute to our lace-wearing  Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Whenever we have sad personal or national experiences as feminists, we just need to look to such women advancing equality for renewed commitment and hope. Get well soon, Justice Ginsburg!)