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)