Women's silence threatens
equality, Wattleton says
Faye Wattleton wonders why women are turning a blind eye to the erosion
of gains they've made in the last 30 years. The keynote speaker for Emory's
Women's History Month celebration asked, "We are 52 percent of the
population-where are our voices? Why are we electing people who go to Congress
and to our state houses and proceed to chip away at the gains we've made?"
Wattleton's March 30 lecture, "The Women's Revolution: Past, Present
and Toward the 21st Century," brought a large crowd to Winship Ballroom
to hear this former president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America,
noted feminist and "revolutionary woman extraordinaire," as Women's
Center Director Ali Crown called her, speak.
Wattleton urged her mostly student audience to challenge other women
to take responsibility for changing the current atmostphere. "Will
these be times that advance opportunities for women, or will we give in
to people who want to diminish our progress or [give in] to complacency?"
she asked. "Antipathy combined with ignorance is a volatile cocktail
that threatens the gains you enjoy."
Women have made obvious progress in education and business, but it's
the "informal, insidious" struggles that threaten their quest
for equality now, Wattleton said. Women outnumber men in the pursuit of
all postsecondary degrees except PhDs, she said, but the majority of women
workers are concentrated in service, clerical and sales positions.
Women still earn only 75 percent of men on average, Wattleton said, and
"after two decades of a steady narrowing of the [income] gap, there
is evidence that the gap is widening." The dismantling of affirmative
action programs have much to do with this, Wattleton said. "The debate
most narrowly focuses on racial politics, but women have benefited even
more," she said. "We need to figure out how to move from just
racial politics to understanding that the field is not level for all."
The day after Wattleton's speech marked the "end of welfare as we
know it"-to coin President Bill Clinton's phrase-in the state of Wisconsin.
The states are busily dismantling their welfare programs without considering
possible consequences, Wattleton said. "We should fix the system, not
make the lives of women more difficult or challenging." She cited studies
that set out to prove whether women get pregnant to receive-as the state
of New Jersey offers-an additional $42 a month in benefits after the birth
of an additional child.
Researchers found none of the women they studied who were eligible for
the benefits cap got pregnant to receive more income. "Why do we perpetuate
this kind of punishment on the shoulders of women, and why do we allow children's
lives to be diminished because of politics?" Wattleton asked.
Near the end of her lecture Wattleton moved to the area for which she
is best known-reproductive freedom. "We need to [teach our children]
more than 'Just Say No,'" she said. "We have to become a society
that places sexuality within the context of normal human development."
Most of all, Wattleton said, we need to take sex and reproductive issues
out of the realm of politics. She told audience members that politicians
have added family planning to their efforts to repeal the right to abortion.
Three bills on the issue were introduced this year-"one defeated by
no more than 10 votes," she said.
"Women have stood by as restriction after restriction was imposed
on Roe v. Wade, until it no longer resembles the decision as handed down,"
Wattleton said, adding, "Wouldn't it be interesting to see what would
happen if the decision was in regard to male sexuality and reproductive
freedom?" The federal government now refused to pay for abortions for
poor women, 24-hour waiting periods have been imposed, and teenagers in
some states must get the permission of their parents or the court to obtain
an abortion. "But they don't have to get their parents' permission
to bring an unwanted child into the world," Wattleton said.
"You can't get stuck in just caring or learning," Wattleton
told her audience. "Even if you're on the right track, you'll get run
over if you just sit there," she said, quoting humorist Will Rogers.
Wattleton's speech brought tears to one audience member, who called her
a role model and thanked Wattleton for her efforts. "You're all role
models," Wattleton responded. "I'm only one."
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