The Once & Only 19th Amendment Centennial Course: A 2020 Blog: The Continuing Struggle for Equality and Empowerment in Private” and “Public” Life

Week 12

As we approach the end of the Centennial Course it is time to think about today. What are the issues that continue to reveal the gaps in equality and empowerment? For this week I simply selected a basket of readings that pointed to some interesting directions. Any number of issues might have been appropriate for that basket, but I picked some that I know from other courses stimulate good discussions, and some that cover problems that are undeniably central to contemporary questions of gender, equality, and empowerment. The readings and some points from the discussion follow:

  • Gertrude Schaffner Goldberg. 2009. “Feminization of poverty in the United States: Any surprises?” In Goldberg, ed., Poor Women in Rich Countries: The Feminization of Poverty over the Life Course. NY: Oxford University Press, Ch. 9.

What are the aspects of domestic gender roles and private and public divisions of labor that leave women in “rich countries” more vulnerable to poverty than men? In what ways are women, even from relatively privileged backgrounds in terms of race and class more vulnerable to poverty? What are the gendered dimensions of homelessness? How do vulnerabilities to poverty change over the adult life course? How well do public policies address the issues of poverty, and take account of their gendered dimensions?

  • Nancy Hirschmann. 2012. “Disability as a new frontier for feminist intersectionality research.” Politics & Gender 8:396-405.

This is simply a very new idea for most of our students although, obviously, not all. We began with a discussion of what constitutes a disability. I asked how many of us can’t see without glasses or lenses. The answer is most of the class. Are we disabled? They agreed we are not. I asked how many are not allowed to drive without their glasses or lenses. Most. I asked again – are we disabled? We discussed the variations in our capabilities and why some, and not others, are regarded as disabilities. We discussed the long-time convention of understanding male capabilities as the norm, and women’s departures from that norm as disabilities, and norms about what constitutes a “real” woman in relation to ideas of disability.

  • Loretta J. Ross and Rickie Solinger. 2017. Reproductive Justice: An Introduction. Berkeley: University of California Press Ch. 2: “Reproductive justice in the twenty-first century.”

The idea of reproductive justice, as compared with reproductive rights, was new to most of the students, and they found it a very useful way of thinking about these issues, and especially bringing an intersectional analysis to questions of gender and reproduction. By considering rights to have a child at the time of one’s choosing, not to have a child, and to care for one’s child, and to place these aspects of life choices into a context of justice and equality cast a very different light on questions of reproduction, both in contemporary and historical settings. We discussed the questions of “capability” and “fitness” raised by the story of Carrie Buck and the Supreme Court case, Buck v. Bell (1925), as well as poverty policies (and their racial dimensions) that imposed sterilization on women. We discussed whether parental leave and child care policies could be understood under the rubric of reproductive justice.

  • Virginia Sapiro. 2018. “Sexual harassment: Performances of gender, sexuality, and power.” Perspectives on Politics 16:1053-66.

I chose my own recent piece on sexual harassment because of the themes of sexual harassment as power performances embedded in other structures and performances of power. The students found this analysis useful. I was especially gratified because (led by a theater student), they were intrigued with the discussion of actors performing scenes from David Mamet’s Oleanna, for which I had the scenes related to harassment played by a male as professor and female as student, then by a female as professor and male as student, then by a male as professor and male as student. Not only did the scenes look very different performed that way, but the actors found it extremely difficult to perform the scene exactly the same way when the characters were embodied by different genders.  (I enjoyed this discussion especially because one of the reviewers of the original manuscript wanted me to exclude that section of the paper because the discussion seemed irrelevant and because I wasn’t able to have the scenes played a 4th time, with two women.)

  • Jami K. Taylor and Daniel C. Lewis. 2014. “The advocacy coalition framework and transgender inclusion in LGBT right activism.” In Jami K. Taylor and Donald P. Haider-Markel, eds. Transgender Rights and Politics: Groups, Issue Framing, and Policy Adoption. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press, pp.108-32.

Although we have seen the theme of what constitutes a “real” woman or “real” man throughout the period we have investigated, these questions, of course, take on new and more pressing importance in this era of increasing recognition of transgender people and transgender rights. We explored some of the dimensions of transgender identity and politics for our study of women, equality, and empowerment. We considered the history of feminist interpretations of gender and women, including  the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival’s policy of admitting only “womyn-born womyn,” and some of the current controversies about women’s sports. The students found intriguing parallels and echoes among (1) white-dominated woman suffrage organizations that adopted the tactic of excluding women other than white women from meetings held in the South because of not wanting to face racist backlash; (2) the fear of some leaders of the National Organization for Women in the early days about the “Lavender Menace,” a view that incorporating lesbian issues into the feminist organizations prime issues because of fears that it would be a diversion, creating backlash from the very homophobic society; and (3) questions about whether trans issues should be incorporated into the LGBQ movement and politics both because it is a different issue and because it is a diversion from the primary emphasis of the movement.

  • Laurel Weldon. 2015. When Protest Makes Policy: Social Movements Represent Disadvantaged Groups. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press, Ch. 4, “Inclusion, identity, and women’s movements: State policies on violence against women of color,” pp. 109-28.

This chapter considers a question that has been an underlying theme throughout the course: What are the implications of intersectionality for women’s political organization, and especially for the potential impact of women’s political organization where there are independent organizations of women of different conditions or identities, for example, based on race? Weldon’s analysis of social movement organization and policies on violence against women shows that “when organizing strategies recognize social divisions, social movements are strengthened” (p.127).  This leads us to think back through the history of women’s organizing on behalf of women, but incorporating the divisions and differences among women. A good place to end this week’s discussion.


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