We Aren’t Going Back

Friday night, I spoke at a local synagogue about women’s rights. They were very nice to me. Here’s my talk. (Apologies for the length.)


I don’t know how many of you remember when it was considered tactful to refer to older women as “women of a certain age.” I’m one of those women, having attained and then passed that “certain age,” and I’ve seen a significant evolution in women’s rights in my own lifetime. Not too long ago, someone asked me if I had experienced discrimination because I’m a woman. I responded that I’ve really been lucky; I’ve been able to do pretty much anything I wanted to do. But when I began to think about it, I realized that my entire life has played out against the restrictive laws and patriarchal social expectations of the times. A number of options that were available to males simply weren’t options for me. As noted, some of those options were legally unavailable, but many other limitations were products of prevailing, deeply-rooted social attitudes. To the extent women accepted those attitudes, we didn’t see discrimination—we just saw “the way things are.”

My mother—who was born the year women finally got the vote–didn’t work, although she was a woman who would definitely have been much happier pursuing a career. But for middle-class women, participation in the workforce was seen as evidence that one’s husband  wasn’t an adequate breadwinner—so it wasn’t an option.

When my sister and I were in grade school and high school, there were no women’s sports. Girls were cheerleaders, boys played team sports. When I went to college, my parents wanted me to choose a profession I could “fall back on” if my eventual husband died. I could choose among the three professions suitable for women—I could be a teacher, a nurse or a secretary. Three times in college, I switched into the school of Liberal Arts, and three times my father switched me back into the School of Education. (I get nauseated at the sight of blood, and I was never a good typist—so voila—I was a teacher!).

When I got married the first time, women still couldn’t get credit or establish a credit rating separate from that of their husbands. Later, when I went to law school, my sister’s brother-in-law told me I should be ashamed that I was taking the place of a man who would actually practice law. A cousin who was a lawyer was more supportive; he told me that if I really excelled, I would probably get hired, but the only lawyer job I could expect would be in the “back room” of a large firm, doing research. I wouldn’t be allowed to work directly with clients. A “friend” told me that my selfish decision to go to law school meant that my children would end up being drug addicts.

When I was interviewing for my first job as a lawyer, the EEOC was only a few years old, but lawyers at the firm knew that certain questions were off-limits. I had three small children, a fact disclosed by my resume, so I volunteered my childcare arrangements. (It seemed reasonable.) One of the lawyers was so visibly relieved that I evidently wasn’t going to burn a bra then and there that he blurted out “Not that there’s anything wrong with being a woman! We hired a man with a glass eye once!”

When Bill Hudnut appointed me Corporation Counsel, I was the first woman to head the city’s legal department. That deviation from the norm evidently triggered a lot of speculation. The Indianapolis Star identified me as a “divorcee” and the Indianapolis News ran a “gossip” item, asking “Did a city official just appoint his most recent honey to a high city position?” Evidently, the notion that a woman might be a good lawyer never crossed their minds.

When I ran for Congress in 1980, I was told by a number of people that they wouldn’t vote for a woman with young children, because my place was at home with those children. (I don’t need to remind you that men with young children are never the subject of similar sentiments—nor do I need to share my strong suspicion that they wouldn’t have voted for any woman, with or without small children.) When I joined a small law firm after losing that election, one of the partners suggested that I stick to wills and divorces, which were areas deemed appropriate for women lawyers. That actually represented progress, since by that time there were at least some limited areas in which it was acceptable for women to be lawyers …

Virtually all of these examples seem ridiculous today, when girls excel at sports and law school classes are more than 50% female. So there has been progress—actually, a lot of progress.  I am always bemused when female students assure me that they aren’t feminists—a word that some of them evidently associate with beefy women who don’t shave their legs.  The young women who don’t think of themselves as feminists simply take for granted that they will get equal pay for equal work, that they won’t have to “put out” for the boss in order to get that promotion, that they can choose the number and spacing of their children, and that there might even be a pediatrician whose office hours don’t reflect the assumption that mom is home all day.

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 depressing statistics about earning discrepancies all attest, we still have a long way to go.

And that long way to go was before the hard-won gains for women’s equality came under sustained attack. At the Women’s March, an elderly woman carried a sign saying “I can’t believe I’m still having to protest this shit.” A lot of us old broads feel that way.

The unremitting attacks on Planned Parenthood are particularly troubling, because women owe an enormous amount of our progress to the availability of reliable birth control. Only when we are able to plan our families, only when we are able to be more than baby factories, is it even possible to talk about having both a family and a career. Once women were in control of their reproduction, they entered the labor market in huge numbers, and became less economically dependent upon their husbands. A woman with a decent job could leave an abusive or unfulfilling relationship and support herself. Economic independence is the first step toward equal treatment, and the ability to decide for ourselves the number and spacing of our children is what makes economic independence possible.

That independence is also what has triggered the backlash we are experiencing from insecure men and especially from the Christian fundamentalists who believe that God made women to be submissive to men. Let me be very clear: there are sincere and admirable people who have principled objections to abortion—but anyone who believes that the anti-Choice movement and the assaults on Planned Parenthood are really about abortion is naïve. The real focus of this attack is on access to birth control and self-determination. It is an effort to deny the equal moral status of women. Let me share just one illustrative example—there are many, many others.

In 2009, the Susan Thompson Buffett Foundation donated over $23 million to the Colorado Family Planning Initiative. That was a five-year experimental program offering low-income teenage girls in the state long-acting reversible contraceptives—IUDs or hormonal implants—at no cost. These devices, which require no further action once inserted and remain effective for years, are by far the best method of birth control available, with less than a 1 percent failure rate. (The failure rate for the Pill is higher.) One reason more women don’t use these devices is cost: While they save the patient money over time, the up-front price can be as high as $1,200.

The results were staggering: a 40 percent decline in teen births, and a 34 percent decline in teen abortions. And for every dollar spent on the program, the state saved $5.85 in short-term Medicaid costs, in addition to other cost reductions and the enormous social benefit of freeing low-income teens from unwanted pregnancies and what too often follows: dropping out of school, unready motherhood, and poverty.

When the original grant ran out, the state legislature had to decide whether to continue funding the program. Now, you would think continued funding for so successful a program would be uncontroversial–but you would be wrong. The bill continuing funding for the program passed the Democrat-controlled House, but the Senate Republicans killed it.

And what were the highly principled reasons for refusing to continue a program that reduced teen pregnancies, reduced the number of abortions, and saved money? According to one Republican State Senator, using an IUD could mean “stopping a small child from implanting.”

Another said, “We’d be allowing a lot of young ladies to go out there and look for love in all the wrong places.”

If these lawmakers were really “pro-life,” they would support programs that substantially and demonstrably reduce the incidence of abortion. As the travesty in Colorado clearly shows, however, their real objective is to deprive women of self-determination. If necessary, at taxpayer expense.

A full list of the ongoing assaults on birth control and reproductive rights, from the Hobby Lobby decision to   Mike Pence’s effort to require funerals for miscarried fetuses to the constant efforts of state legislators around the country to outdo each other’s transvaginal probes and other punitive measures would take hours. Just in Indiana, the ACLU is currently challenging at least three anti-choice laws. I want to believe that what we are seeing is a last convulsion of old men who are frantic to retain their male privilege…but the jury is still out.

The ferocity of the pushback against women’s autonomy and reproductive rights is particularly dangerous to those of us in the Jewish community, because it represents the belief that fundamentalist Christian dogma should be the law of the land—that government should favor the beliefs of one segment of the Christian community over the theologies of other religions and other Christians.

One reason that the United States has been hospitable to Jews—and Muslims and Sikhs and other minority religions—is that the Bill of Rights not only separates Church from State, but forbids government from making decisions that are properly left to individual citizens. As I tell my students, the Bill of Rights is essentially a list of things that government doesn’t get to decide. The American constitution and legal system are based upon respect for personal autonomy and the primacy of the individual conscience—not upon conformance with majoritarian religious beliefs. I don’t think it is an accident that so many of the “family values” politicians who seem intent upon keeping women barefoot and pregnant are also anti-Semites who insist that the United States is a Christian nation.

Opponents of measures requiring equal pay for equal work, pundits who excuse predatory sexual behavior in the workplace (or by the occupant of the Oval Office), voters who reject female candidates for public office simply because they are female, and the politicians and public figures who talk about “making America great” like in the “good old days”—want to take us back to a time when women’s voices were discounted and our aspirations ignored. They want to go back to the “good old days” when women were second-class citizens—a time when being a straight white Christian male conferred automatic social dominance.

I lived through those “good old days.” They are the days I described at the beginning of this talk. They aren’t the reality I want my granddaughters—or my grandsons—to inhabit. We all deserve better.

Thank you.


  1. Thanks for sharing. I plan to keep this post as a reference for future conversations.

  2. Brava, Sheila!

    There is much to absorb from this speech and while “We Aren’t Going Back”, we still have much to overcome. “Another (Republican State Senator) said, “We’d be allowing a lot of young ladies to go out there and look for love in all the wrong places.” No mention that the number of men who outnumbered those young ladies were laying in wait to provide that “love in all the wrong places”. The Constitution, written by men, refers to “all men are created equal” and the Bible, also written by men, begins with the only woman being a secondary citizen, subjective to the only man, and the one punished for original sin. Yet we continue our fight for civil and human rights; encouraged and led by leaders such as yourself, Michelle Obama, Elizabeth Warren, Maxine Waters, Rosa Parks, et al.

    Time to repeat my favorite Dillys Lainge quote, “Women receive the insults of men with tolerance, having been bitten in the nipple by their toothless gums.”

  3. This. Is. Me. Part of my campaign, (actually most), is just this. We “women of a certain age” are the ones who marched and screamed and protested until we were hoarse, to gain the rights that we women have now. The very idea that everything we worked for and marched for and staked our lives on could be taken away is maddening! My grandchildren should not have to go back and re-fight our battles previously won.

    The only thing different about my life was that in addition to nurse, teacher, secretary, I was given the option of “marrying someone who worked at Lilly”.

    Thank you thank you thank you. As Gloria Steinam said, “We stopped an unjust war and helped bring down a corrupt president. We brought forth a sexual revolution that freed men and women from the slavery of your puritanical ideology. We smoked weed when it could get us thirty years in your prisons. If you screw with our Medicare, Medicaid, or Social Security, we will bury you”.

    This is why I am running. We worked too hard for too long, for the rights that we have. We won’t let you take them from our children and grandchildren.

  4. Too many of today’s young women remain blissfully unaware of just how bad things were back in the “good old days.” Even those of us who dealt with discrimination directly now paint a much rosier picture than we should. We all need a reality check from time to time.

  5. Sheila, Hillary Rodham Clinton just endorsed the DINO Cuomo over Cynthia Nixon, a progressive woman running for governor of New York.

    I remember HRC’s assemblage of Steinhem and Albright (pioneers of the feminist movement) accusing young women who supported Bernie Sanders of just wanting to “go on dates with the young men who supported Bernie”.

    They later recanted and apologized.

    Your personal experience displays the male privilege built into our systems. We can toss in white male privilege if you’d like.

    This comment, “It is an effort to deny the equal moral status of women.” says it all for me.

    Women had movements and protested against their oppression. They acted progressively. As you mention while following the religious description of a “moral woman” a woman/ mother was supposed to tend to the home, support the man, blah, blah, blah.

    The comments from the local Indy newspapers at the time must have caused stirred feelings.

    We’ve touched on “morals” quite a bit on your blog. Many excellent writers are going there as well.

    Does the Christian religion own the rights to morality? Are we honestly breaking molds created over 2,000 years ago by men for men and women?

    Tradition is not progressive. How many female Pope’s have we had?

    For the record, you may want to disregard my comments because I’ve been called a “jew hater” for condemning actions taken by Israel in Gaza and was called a “rapist” by a couple of local feminists for condemning Gwyneth Paltrow for her role her perpetuating Harvey Weinstein’s assault on women for decades. The courageous ones are those who took action against him and were “blackballed” from acting in Hollywood. They chose morality over career/profit and paid a heavy price. Those who looked the other way were rewarded. THIS is the problem.

    As long as we define ourselves as a “Christian Nation” we will struggle with morality and a woman’s place in society.

    As I’ve oft repeated, Trump/Pence’s assault on women is the cause for so many women running for political office this year which also takes me back to HRC’s endorsement of Governor Cuomo over his challenger, Cynthia Nixon.

    HRC is/was a fraud.

    Before the haters lash out, I did vote for a woman POTUS in 2016…just wasn’t HRC. 😉

  6. A superb definitive statement of the problem this country is facing. The clear explanation of the fundamentalists’ position as the effort of men to control reproduction is explicit. That Kennedy
    identifies the specific source of this political position and the cluster of views associated with it, situating it as it violates our Bill of Rights and Constitution, provides the comprehensive view we need to understand the implications of these efforts to control reproduction. Let’s share widely.

  7. The Irish electorate voted by 1,429,981 votes to 723,632 in favour of abolishing the controversial eighth amendment to the constitution that gave equal legal status to the lives of a foetus and the woman carrying it. The result was a two-thirds majority: 66.4% yes to 33.6% no.

    Ireland’s health minister has said he will push forward with new abortion laws after Saturday’s resounding referendum result overturned a 35-year ban on terminations.
    I wonder if our pastor in chief Mike Dense will have a comment on Ireland’s vote???

    It is now quite lawful for a Catholic woman to avoid pregnancy by a resort to mathematics, though she is still forbidden to resort to physics or chemistry. H. L. Mencken
    Of course there is more than birth control, concerning woman’s rights. An excellent movie is Hidden Figures a story of woman’s rights, civil rights and economic equality.

  8. I was born in 1951. I don’t want us to go back. Yes, a woman’s place is in the house. The house of representatives and the White House. I hope Cindy wins. I hope in 2018 we see a lot of women move into the House and the Senate.

    I just gave a donation to Planned Parenthood again. I am certain that when women have access to birth control and prenatal care that the # of abortions markedly decreases. People who are fundamentalist Christians just don’t get this but we progressive Christians do.

  9. Todd,

    Thanks for taking a vote away from Clinton and giving Trump an advantage. Jill Stein is as corrupt as those you despise.

    Throughout written history, women have been relegated to property categories. I think this “thinking” stems from the hearth and child-bearing duties assigned to our most primitive selves while humans were still very tribe-like and necessarily polygamous. With the modernization of societies, the treatment of women by men as lagged far behind the advancements made socially and technologically.

    World War II saw women step into the voids in the labor force caused by the men going off to fight and die. The women built the machines and necessities that allowed us to fight that war. When the war was over, they were re-relegated to the kitchen and the nursery. Only belatedly were our women given full credit for what they did. In Russia, women literally fought shoulder to shoulder with their men to defeat the Germans. Those not fighting in the front lines worked in the factories and the fields as did our women. After the war, Russian women, for the most part, retained some significant positions in society because so many of the men had died in the war. Necessity was the mother (no pun) of duty, honor and country there.

    This time around, too many of the men in our government are antediluvian assholes who use religion to relegate women to the back alleys, casting couches and secretarial pools. The stupid, counter-productive and dangerous attacks on Planned Parenthood and other women’s movements has created the energy necessary for women to run for office. THIS time around, the women running for office will get elected. THIS time around, they will save the country from the slimy clutches of the Trump-like bastards who would dare to call themselves men.

  10. When my grandson was about 12 (now 22), I talked to him about some of this, such as why I had originally been denied a certain education because I was female. He looked shocked and said, “Why?” That it seemed incomprehensible to him is proof things have improved. We can’t backslide!

  11. I was born in 1946, immediately after WW II so am also “of a certain age”. My mom left Toledo to work in New York as secretary to the Secretary of the Army. How she got that job with less than a high school degree is beyond me, but she did. My dad served in the Pacific theater at the time. Mom “tasted” what it meant to be in a man’s world. She taught my sister and me that we needed to use our minds. She taught my brothers to respect everyone. There were and are many strong women who broke through the expectations of the time and may not have paved the road, but certainly marked the trail as they forged through the underbrush.

  12. From Saturday: Thanks, Marv! I also don’t want to be fried and served up!

    C-SPAN held my interest this weekend with James Clapper and Jon Meacham discussing their books and where we go from here. (I’d say ‘to the polls’.)

    The best line so far, and the one that nailed me and made me laugh when there’s not all that much to laugh about these days, was from James Clapper: “I used to be pushing 70; now I’m dragging it.”

    Thanks, Sheila, for continuing to encourage us as women to go for it!

  13. Since women were excluded from the vote and our mores and folkways under the cover of religion (some dating from Abraham of Ur) came into vogue, the corollary of “All men are created equal” necessarily assumes that “All women are created unequal.” Unfortunately, this idea dates from the first Greek democracy and departure from rule by divine appointment to government by the governed (but with the exception of slaves, women and the young from enjoyment of the franchise – though all were subject to exclusive governing by men, thus cementing their inferiority as somehow unworthy of the vote).

    I agree that women have come a long way toward equal treatment but have a long way to go. The road from Ur to Washington is long and full of obstacles concocted by men and other economic interest groups to maintain social equilibrium and profit-making opportunities for those in charge of the status quo (think fossil fuel, Falwell, Wall Street et al.). The best and perhaps the only opportunity to finally assure equal treatment of all genders and colors is at the polls. See you there.

  14. Betty,

    Thanks for the book referrals and alloying me to have a good laugh about “dragging 70.”

    This is a recent quote from Jon Meacham in the “Palm Beach Post.”

    “Meacham, aside from criticizing Trump’s “singular failure” after Charlottesville, described the president in an interview as “temperamental … prideful … a kind of CONSTITUTIONAL TSUNAMI WASHING ASHORE.”

    Meacham has a terrific background, I think he’s conveyed a powerful, UPLIFTING tone, in his new book, for a Democratic Party win in November.

  15. I don’t believe that there’s a person on earth who doesn’t value their freedom and wish for more. That’s table stakes from being humans with egos.

    The problems in having what we all want is when our freedom comes at someone else’s expense. That explains the potential dysfunction in a culture of gender roles. If we define culture as a person’s observation of how others who they deem to be “like them” behave, then gender roles can be acceptable as models that make life function smoothly and thereby are welcomed as freeing but it also may not be freedom for some people who have adopted a different culture.

    Our government can create laws that restrict our actions to only those that do not victimize others but it has little authority over culture. Our individual cultures are based on who we, each of us, grant credibility to, and pattern our behavior choices after.

    So, there is a messy interface among law, and cultures and freedom and victimhood. Talk about nuance!

    I think that the truth is that life is never easy and the more dense the community is that humans live among the more challanging it becomes.

    Unfortunately the complexity of our world is overwhelming to some people and that fact motivates the urge to retreat to a simpler past but cannot create the means to, only the illusion of it.

    Our dilemma is that the times that drive people to become extremist are the same times that require flexibility and nuance.

  16. Marv,
    Meacham will speak/sign at Square Books in Oxford, MS, in June. I plan to go.

  17. Vernon Turner: “Jill Stein is as corrupt as those you despise.”

    Do you have any proof of this corruption? Or is this an example of your misogynist and antisemitism attitudes finally coming out in the open?

  18. Well, Todd,it just goes to show you the calls of support for women was nothing more than empty rhetoric in support of an establishment candidate. And the party wonders why so many have abandoned the party and have willfully chosen to forego taking the time out to vote.

    There’s no platform. No reality. No opposition against the Republicans. Just empty demands for unity backed by platitudes and canards. Cynthia Nixon is a fantastic candidate.
    The party hasn’t learned a thing from 2016.

  19. William,

    “The party hasn’t learned a thing from 2016.”

    That appears to be the case.

    On the brighter side, the following is from: “The Soul of America” by Jon Meacham: The Battle for our Better Angels (Random House, New York, 2018):



    “We have managed, however, to survive the crises and vicissitudes of history. Our brightest hours are almost never as bright as we like to think; our glummest moments are rarely as irredeemable as they feel at the time. HOW, then, in an hour of anxiety about the future of our country, at a time when a president of the United States appears determined to undermine the rule of law, a free press, and the hope essential to American life, can those with deep concerns about the nation’s future enlist on the side of the angels.” pp. 313-14

    “A grasp of the past can be orienting. ‘When the mariner has been tossed for many days in thick weather, and on an unknown sea, he naturally avails himself of the first pause in the storm, to take his latitude, and ascertain how far the elements have driven him from his true course,’ Senator Daniel Webster said in 1830. ‘Let us imitate this prudence, and before we float further on the waves of the debate, refer to the POINT for which we departed, that we may at least be able to conjecture where we are now.'” p. 318

    Definitely good advice for the the country as a whole, and especially the Democratic Party, if it is to prevail in November. FIRST THINGS FIRST.

    On the Brighter side:

    The following is from

  20. William @ 3:06 pm and 3:20 pm good comments. I was talking to an old friend last week. He asked me what I thought about The Trumpet (aka Agent Orange)?? My reply was I would have preferred Bernie. I gave him some supporting reasons, i.e. his platform.

    My friend came from a Union family (steel workers) and much of his working life, he was in a Union. He was very blunt, he said he no longer knew what the Democratic Party stood for, certainly not unions, except to take their money.

    The corporate establishment Democratic Party should hang a sign over the DNC from Dante’s Inferno – “All hope abandon, ye who enter here.” I saw an ad for Joe Donnelly, he appears to be driving a motor home dressed to look like a Hoosier, blabbering on. What next, will Joe dress-up in overalls, and walk through cow manure or slop some hogs???

    Legislators from both parties came together this week to put the finishing touches on a sweeping measure to weaken bank regulations put in place to respond to the 2008 financial crisis.

    In a shock to some observers, 33 House Democrats and 17 Senate Democrats ultimately joined with nearly every Republican to send the bill to President Donald Trump’s desk. Only one GOP legislator, Rep. Walter Jones, R-N.C., voted against it. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., a co-author of the bill, stood next to Trump at the signing ceremony on Thursday.

    The repeal bill was a major priority for industry. Trump, at the bill-signing ceremony, gloated about receiving support from the Democratic Party, a voting bloc that made passage possible in the Senate. “Dodd-Frank was something they said could not be touched and, honestly, a lot of great Democrats knew that it had to be done,” he said. https://theintercept.com/2018/05/26/dodd-frank-repeal-senate-democrats/
    So much for the resistance. A couple of shots fired by the banking lobby and the enough “Democrats” defect to give Agent Orange a victory.

  21. Fabulous speech, Sheila! I remember the days of no credit. My first job in 1973, I was in a trading class at Murphy’s Drugs. They explained that the sixteen year old boy in our group would be paid $1.65 per hour and we girls (also sixteen) would be paid $1.28 per hour. No one argued with the man – he stated this was minimum wage. Isn’t that bizarre to imagine? We of a certain age have many stories and unfortunately so will our daughters.

  22. Monotonous; that bill you referred to, supported by 33 Democrats, was/is S 2155, Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief and Consumer Protection Act. Thinking people would ask how a bill providing Regulatory Relief can also provide Consumer Protection. No surprise about Donnelly’s support but I was surprised to see Mark Warner’s name on that list. It took many years to get this government to provide consumer protection, such as Glass-Steagall Act in 1932, but comparatively few years to remove them a few at a time.

  23. Marv:

    Thanks for the Meacham quotes. Address noted. I’ll do my best for you!

  24. Is this the same Jon Meacham that worked at Peterson Fiscal Summits?

    They have been remapping debate..

    An Excerpt:

    “Remapping Debate” indeed! I’m not even sure whether Peterson’s work comes under the heading of corruption at all (even if many of the journalist were also on Peterson’s payroll as moderators). Is a sincere belief, shared with all one’s colleagues, family, friends, and the usual suspects on the Acela — that is, in the political class — really corruption? And if all the players believe in TINA, no matter which side of the revolving door they are on, does the revolving door really matter that much?

    More Here..https://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2013/05/sheila-krumholz-and-danielle-brian-on-how-money-rules-washington.html

  25. William,

    You’re correct. Jon Meacham was a moderator for Peterson Fiscal Summits. It appears that most of the big name journalists were also moderators at one time or another. Meacham had been an Editor of “Newsweek.”

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