Speaking of the War on Women…

Social change almost always happens slowly and unevenly, and while it is occurring, people who were socialized into older worldviews must co-exist (uneasily) with those who have adopted the emerging paradigms.

I am old enough to have seen enormous changes in the way women participate in American society. With the exception of a brief period after high school and before marriage, my mother was a homemaker until my father’s death required her to enter the work force in her 60s. She was one of a legion of intelligent, talented women who should have had a career; she chafed as a housewife and was much happier after she went to work. Working for pay during the marriage, however, would have reflected poorly on my father’s ability to support his family, so like most of her middle-class peers, she stayed home.

Girls were supposed to be demure and decorative when I was growing up. I once overheard a cousin tell my mother “It’s nice that Sheila reads so much, since she’s unlikely to date. Boys like girls who are pretty, not smart.”

Later, when I went to law school, many “friends” let me know they were troubled by my choice; I had three young children, and according to the social mores of the time, my place was at home tending to them. I still remember people warning me that my children would all “do drugs” if I pursued a career–and I vividly recall a partner at the firm I joined (as the first woman ever hired) reassuring me that “There’s nothing wrong with being a woman. Why, we hired a man with a glass eye once!”

So–as the commercial says, we really have “come a long way, baby.” But as the “me too” movement, the persistence of the glass ceiling, and statistics about earning discrepancies all attest, we also have a long way to go.

In 2016, a substantial number of Americans didn’t find Trump’s taped admission of sexual assault reason to disqualify him from the Presidency–and a not-insignificant number of voters explicitly based their rejection of Hillary Clinton on her gender. (A friend of our handyman told me that some men he worked with had volunteered that they would never vote for a woman–any woman– because  a woman simply couldn’t “handle” being President.)

Granted, few prominent Americans are as forthright about their misogyny as Philippine President Duarte, who recently boasted that he had ordered soldiers to shoot female communist guerrillas in the genitals.

“Tell the soldiers, ‘There’s a new order coming from the mayor,’ ” the president said in a speech, recalling a directive he said he had given when he was mayor of Davao City. “ ‘We will not kill you. We will just shoot you in the vagina.’ ”

Duterte has repeatedly expressed hostility to women in the country’s political insurgency, saying they should have stayed home and raised children.

Most American politicians avoid expressing anti-women sentiments quite so forcefully, but there are plenty of signs that similar underlying worldviews–ranging from “women should be submissive to men,” to “women should stay home with their children,” to “women really welcome male ‘attention’ and just say no in order to play hard to get”–remain ubiquitous.

These cultural attitudes are a holdover from times long past, when physical strength was needed for most jobs, and families had to have lots of children, both to help support the family and to replace the large numbers who died in infancy.

As any sociologist will confirm, longstanding cultural assumptions are slow to change. As any political scientist will attest, people who enjoy power or status rarely relinquish those privileged positions out of the goodness of their hearts.

When Obama was elected, we saw the depth and persistence of widespread racism that had largely gone underground. As women claim the right to participate in a workforce in which we are both fairly compensated and unmolested, we are encountering equally deep-seated paternalistic resistance.

That resistance will persist at least until the men (and women) glued to Fox News pass from the scene.

Or as I tell my students, once my age cohort is dead, things really should improve.


  1. Let us not forget the biggest factor of the twentieth century that contributed to the advancement of women. I am writing here about “birth control”. Through religion, men have been trying to put that genie back into the bottle ever since.

  2. I often wonder how our generation, that ushered in the dramatic social change of the 1960s, has become the generation of dirty old, racist, gun toting men (and women).

  3. Anne, ” those dirty old, racist, gun toting men ” had their self image tightly wrapped up in their societal position of dominance over women. If they had to kiss ass and grovel at work, at least at home they were king. Any threat to that image of power was to be fought tooth and nail.

    Many men did manage to grow as persons and establish new relationships with the women in their lives. Others did not. Education and intelligence played a big role in these changes and sadly who could accept them and who could not.

    Half of the men you meet have an IQ below 100.

  4. Theresa Bowers – how can you be sure that half of the men we meet have an IQ below 100? It could quite possibly be more than half of them.

  5. Sheila –

    What a rebel you were!

    I imagine that you have put many men in their place over the years by showing them that you are more intelligent and savvy than they could ever hope to be.

    Thanks for sharing your wisdom and talents with the students in your classes and with us.

  6. Shiela, I am male, I will stand behind you and your Sisters all the way – but YOU WOMEN are the ones that have the power to SHUT THIS NATION DOWN! I think it is time you did so – that is the only way these fucking idiots are going to learn! When the women put their foot down and STAND UP TO THE MEN – in congress – at home – at work. About that ‘stand behind you’ – I would step to the front should a man try to stop you! And that you can bet you life on. It is time for Women in this country to get a grip and realize THEY ARE THE BACKBONE of the WORLD! Ms. Kennedy – please I mean this – the insanity we are seeing increase daily has to be stopped or it is going to eat us all alive and if you want those of us out here who have been expecting this, to make a move – well all I can say is you don’t want that. At that point all bets on this country remaining a strong nation go down the toilet and we will be the Lebanon of NA. (Hey! Russia had nukes and a huge army – and look what happened to it in 48 hrs!)

  7. In 2016 the US population was 51% female and 49% male. Women are the majority, but we have non-college-educated white women who were mostly supportive of 45. Women are our own worst enemies. Until that cohort comes to believe in their own value, we won’t achieve parity.

  8. There is still a considerable amount of sexism, domestic abuse, and misogny in the land. Thankfully there are more and more young women coming into the workforce who see those old biases as neanderthal. There are also more and more men who are GLAD for modern contraceptionr (rather than keeping their wives home and pregnant) partly because most families can’t afford our standard of living on one income.

    Modern media shows a healthy diversity of more than just white men on television news programming. We ARE making progress, though the Trump administration is striving mightily to reverse progress of the last 70 years in so many areas. Nevertheless, the good news is that the women aren’t having it. They have rallied by the hundreds of thousands. Pollsters show they hold politicians to more exacting standards than do men. They are showing up in droves to run for office. There’s a new day coming, and I can hardly wait.

  9. I wish there was an edit function on here so that I could correct my typos in the previous message. Can you wave a magic wand to make that happen?

  10. Mother was born in 1900. She earned a two year teaching certificate, taught til she married (marriage made her dangerous in a classroom, or whatever). Then came WWII-she substitute taught, worked in a meat, then a credit bureau under a mysognist boss and several women co- workers. She alone spoke up and defied him which caused some changes. Go, Mom!

  11. Unfortunately people come in predatory, authoritatarian flavors and collabratory ones. I don’t believe the sexes are the same in the distribution of those traits.

    In today’s complex crowded service oriented world collaborative people are more likely to be “useful” to progress. I wouldn’t say that the predatory authoritarian people are obsolete exactly but they are used to being in charge and that’s become less valuable more of the time.

    As time goes on, assuming it does for the species, more and more will adapt to that reality and we’ll move on to the next problem.

    Like adaptation always new traits start among a few and spread over time as they demonstrate a better fit with current reality.

    Unfortunately the athoritarians did not die off at a rate necessary to avoid the TrumPence era. It was one of those almost but not quite situations.

  12. Go, go, go, Sheila! My mother was like yours and others described here. They were truly amazing and they deserve their hard-won place in this society. Thanks for being so strong, Mama!

  13. Painful honesty, I’ve yet to figure out how we go about securing “true gender equality”. I am wholeheartedly thankful I was born in a country, where women are more liberated than some other countries. But, hearing my elected representatives tell me, and the generations of women after me.. that we need to “have babies to fix the economy”.. it fills my heart with a sadness I don’t think will ever pass. No amount of marching can change that kind of ignorance.

    So, I’m voting with my womb and not having children. There’s no way I will chance having to subject one more baby girl, to a world where she is so… unappreciated, undervalued, and overlooked. I know that not “all” men act/believe this way, but it sure seems that the “important men” do. When I see a pregnant woman in public, I immediately think “sucker” and pity her for the long road ahead. I am not the only woman in my circle with these views.. and heaven help humanity, if the majority of women ever decide to do the same.

  14. One funeral at a time … “A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.” – Max Planck

    Sheila, this blog is both informative and refreshing. Thank you for your fine work.

  15. Awesome. More FoaF data on why Hillary didn’t get elected. My friend’s handyman’s coworkers? Well, my sister’s cat’s grandmother says you’re still projecting.

  16. Both of my sisters are professional women and may have made their professional bones in education and law in the same time frame that you did, Sheila. Their biggest obstacle was our father. But I’m sure they climbed over some obstacles in their careers, too, but neither has become a misandrist. Consider that left-handed people could complain that everything is systematically stacked against them, and they can offer a number of examples. But left-handed people enjoy some advantages, too. I have never heard of a left-handed baseball player who was willing to give up the advantage of batting two steps closer to first base, nor give up the comfort of getting the left corner at a dinner table instead of being crowded between two other sets of elbows. Likewise, I have never heard my sisters volunteer to give up advantages they already enjoy. Sunday, a woman reprimanded me for wearing my hat indoors. My response was, “I know; I do it on purpose; it’s my protest. Besides, I just learned in Fire and Fury that we are defined by whom we piss off.”

  17. Peggy Hannon at 8:20am:

    ” we have non-college-educated white women who were mostly supportive of 45″

    Archie Bunker would name them *Ding-Bats*

  18. In 1988, the U.S. Supreme Court put a stop to all clubs that restricted their membership to men. At the time, I belonged to two clubs that reacted to that edict in totally different ways. One immediately formed a committee to find the most active women in the community and invite them to join their club. The second club fought the edict tooth and nail. They did everything they could to keep women out.

    The first club’s approach paid immediate dividends. The women jumped in and did what women always do: work harder than men. After maybe four years, the second club saw what the first club was doing and switched gears. They, too, got an enthusiastic group of women who showed the men how to get excited about supposedly menial activities.

    In my opinion, which is the only one being expressed in this comment, women have always been smarter and harder workers than men. They’re definitely more diplomatic. Women are something men can never be … mothers. Mothers who do their best to keep their families well-informed and well-fed.

    Let’s put the NRA under the control of women and see how long it takes to get out nation on a more peaceful course.

  19. Nancy Papas notes in her commentary that “most families can’t afford our standard of living on one income” and (due to wage inequality) she is right. I think that in general women’s social and political “rights” have improved in rough proportion to the bacon they bring into the household budget. I would prefer to think that such improvement (though still inadequate due to wage and gender inequality) came about through the goodness of male-dominated corporate boards, but then I remembered that they have no heart. There is a certain truth in the old saw that “Him what’s got the gold makes the rules” and I think Him also includes Her.

    I understand that the women’s movement cannot be described solely in economic terms and that much more is involved in their move to gender equality than in the marketplace of work and equal compensation for equal work. To me there is the overriding democratic principle of justice and fair play for all of our citizens (and even non-citizens) irrespective of race, color, gender, religion, national origin, sexual orientation etc. At bottom I consider any move for equality by people who fit such descriptions as a moral issue encompassed by our Constitution for secular enforcement.

    Yes, Sheila is right; there is social momentum from the past that tells us men are in charge and that women should cook supper and bear children and cater to male whims. That wasn’t right on the frontier and certainly isn’t right now. Women are now and always have been absolutely essential and vital to any human society, and it is high time that our laws, folkways and mores in the making reflect that truism in ours.

  20. Bravo Sheila!!! As the grand nephew of two Suffragettes and the member of a family loaded with professional women, like my Mom – a journalist, bravo!!!

  21. Aristophanes wrote a comedy titled “Lysistrata” wherein the Greek women formed a pact to not have sex with their men until they stopped fighting their damned war. The result was….peace. Instantly. Very funny. Very poignant.

    In World War II, our relatively unskilled female population filled the slots in factories across the country left by men gone to war. THE WOMEN built the war machines (“Rosie the Riveter” just passed away.) that brought their men home and defeated the true evil on our planet. In the Soviet Union, women fought on the front lines AND the factories because so many men were killed or captured by the Germans. Clearly, women’s roles were re-defined by desperation.

    When I worked in the aircraft industry in California in the late 60s, I met “Rosie” several times over. They were still making warplanes. Amazing people. My father supervised an entire department of women in a machine shop in Cleveland during the war. They too were very awesome people. In fact, they helped baby-sit me when my parents went out. Those women worked 11 MONTHS without a day off during the war. Ask anyone to do that today and watch what happens.

    Looking at today’s politics, it will be the women who save our democracy. The testosterone cocktail (no pun) that men have been swilling for so long, is about to become useless as we change our paradigm – again – and must have our democracy once again rescued by those who lead with their minds instead of ….. well, fill in the blank.

  22. I find it disturbing some of the sentiments today, such as: Or as I tell my students, once my age cohort is dead, things really should improve; Half of the men you meet have an IQ below 100; The women jumped in and did what women always do: work harder than men; or I often wonder how our generation, that ushered in the dramatic social change of the 1960s, has become the generation of dirty old, racist, gun toting men (and women).

    First, as a part of the Boomer Generation, we inherited a world designed by and run by the Greatest Generation and it’s predecessors. The Boomer Generation did not solve all the problems, but we sure made a great leap forward.

    Second, concerning IQ- If you believe in the concept of an IQ, than you should understand 100 is the mid point for all human beings. I suppose you could give a standardized American IQ test to a tribe of hunter gathers in some rain forest and they would fail. These hunter gathers would survive in their environment, but drop in some high IQ Americans in the rain forest and I doubt any would survive a month.

    As far as women working harder than men, I have met in many settings human beings who are lazy, mean, backstabbers and just plain nasty. These negative traits are not limited to certain people delineated by sex, race or ethnic origin.

    The people who run this country are primarily people who have accepted Steroid Capitalism (the 1%) and it brother in arms Hierarchical Theocracy. With few exceptions like Elizabeth Warren or Bernie Sanders, the 1% control through their campaign contributions who is a viable candidate for elective office. I suspect the Steroid Capitalists laugh behind closed doors as we proles continue to triangulate among ourselves, smearing each other in some manner.

    I will evaluate people based upon character, rather than some physical or generational traits.

  23. @Larry Kaiser- from the Middle Ages through today(in some places), left-handedness has been less an advantage than a reason to ridicule, acuse, punish, arrest, torture, and a in some cases, execute. If you equate perceived “advantages” women “use” to the two steps a lefty batter gains, you just might be part of the problem.

  24. My mother, a widow with two sons by the time she was twenty-one, was one of the millions of Rosie the Riveters who helped win the war by building airplanes. A strong woman of many (often insightful) slogans, her favorite was, “There’s no man who ever walked the earth who’s one damn bit better than me.” She was a militant feminist long before Betty Friedan began speaking out.

  25. I don’t know, I was “raised” by a woman that had 5 children and I really don’t think she wanted that many. She’s 85 now, tired and miserable and sad. I don’t remember a happy childhood and I’m pretty sure that raising that many children and having to go to work to pay for our dentist visits really wore her out. I remember that I wanted to go to college to become a foreign language school teacher here or abroad. She told me that she would not give me a dime for school because I would just get married and that money would be history. She was so overcome with grief after my father died when I was 15, she barely let me leave the house. Why? Because she was sure that I would get pregnant. I’m the only child that couldn’t provide her with grandchildren and she’s actually told me that I was the luckiest of them all. That’s what I grew up with. I still love my Mother but there are scars from that thinking. It took me 25 yrs to finish college on my own dime. Her only child that finished college and she was the only one in my family that showed up at my graduation. sigh.

  26. AgingLGrl,

    I am so sorry that your childhood was so sad and that you still have scars from it. It sounds like your mother never really wanted any children. I hope that you and your siblings are close in spite of your upbringing.

  27. Thanks Nancy. I am close with my baby brother and none of the rest because two of them are right wing idiots fed by faux spews.

  28. Monotonous,

    I’m sure many of us on today’s blog appreciate your lecture about all things being seen through your lens. As with many of us, you have a jaded view of just about everything here, except IQ. IQ is the most useless of intelligence measurements per your description.

    The thing you missed was that the men who fought in the war laid their entire beings on the line to fight evil. The women stepped up and did what was needed to end the war as soon as possible and bring the men home. How about those women who lost their husbands, boyfriends or sons during the war, but kept on fighting it as best they could? How about those Russian women who picked up a rifle from the fallen men to defend their country? Are you sure you didn’t lapse into denigrating those efforts. BTW, several thousand American women died as a direct result of the war. They, like their male counterparts are also pushing up white headstones around the world.

    Your take on who is running this country is fundamentally incorrect. Take note of the kids in Florida and, now, around the country who are stepping up to plate against that alleged 1% you rage about. It’s not the 1% that is the total problem, M.L., it is the sloths who didn’t vote, or voted from an uninformed position. That’s on all of us.

    So, what are you going to do to fix that problem, or the problems as you see them? How are you going to alter the influence of the 1%? I look forward to your response.

  29. And then we have the wonderful world of Silicon Valley and women’s role in that whole mess.

  30. Vernon, concerning your second paragraph, which war would that be??? The USA has had so many wars since 1941, only one declared war. I presume you mean WW 2. My father was too old. My mother and two of her sisters were the Rosie the Riveter types. Three uncles in WW 2. Since I did have a student deferment or bone spurs, I was drafted and sent to Vietnam.

    As far as your last paragraph, I plan to join in the demonstrations March for Lives on March 24th. By the way in the recent past I demonstrated for Enhanced Medicare for All – Universal Healthcare. I also supported Bernie Sanders with shoe leather and campaign donations. I took my grandson to an Occupy Demonstration.

  31. ML,

    Outstanding on all counts. Yes, THE war was the one I’m talking about. I was born in 1942 and my first memory was of VJ day.

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