THE BLOG
02/25/2013 03:25 pm ET Updated Apr 27, 2013

New PBS Program Makers Puts Women's Movement in Context

MAKERS: Women Who Make America is debuting on PBS on Tuesday night, February 26, at 8 p.m. and has established a strong and ongoing web presence at www.makers.org . Thus far, the media coverage has focused on Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook. She is included in the third hour of the show and makes salient points about the need for fathers to be co-participants.

Yet, the media stories have used this as an opportunity to draw attention to Sandberg's forthcoming book, where she expresses hope that she will establish a new social movement, via "Lean In Circles," leading women to the next stage.

What is missing here is context. Men and women should all watch this program to understand where we have been and then to decide where we are going.

MAKERS, narrated by Meryl Streep, provides badly-needed context and does so perfectly by explaining what has happened with the women's movement over the past fifty years.

Context: 46 Years Ago, Women Were Not Permitted to Run In Marathons
Kathryn Switzer is the first woman introduced, and she is notable because she was the first woman to ever run in the Boston Marathon. The year was 1967, and she gained entry by using only her first initials on her entry form. She completed the marathon in 4 hours and 20 minutes, but what really surprised her was that newspapers were filled with coverage of her -- the first woman to run a marathon. Switzer says: "I started the race as a girl and finished it as a woman."

Context: 50 Years since Betty Friedan's Book; 49 Years Since Civil Rights Act
Betty Friedan's book, The Feminine Mystique, was published 50 years ago and gave voice to housewives who were beginning to realize that cleaning house and doing laundry wasn't exactly fulfilling.

That same year, 1963, President John F. Kennedy receives a report indicating widespread discrimination of all types in the workplace.

Kennedy had no time to do anything about it but his successor, Lyndon Johnson, put through a sweeping civil rights bill in 1964 in response to the report. Congress made a last-minute addition and added that it was also illegal to also discriminate based on gender. (Insert your own comment here about what it would be like to have a "do something" Congress.)

Context: Stewardesses Led the Way
One of the first class fights actually occurred in the airline industry. Stewardesses, as they were called at the time, operated under strict rules. To be hired, they had to be between 21-28 and the top age at which they could work was 32. They had to be single, between 5'2" and 5'6", of "normal weight" and when interviewed, they were evaluated as to whether they had attractive legs. Once hired, they followed a careful beauty regimen and strict uniform requirements.

On their 32nd birthdays, they were called in by a supervisor and fired. One former flight attendant said: "The message was clear. At 32, we were too old to be out in public."

In July 1965, stewardesses made an appointment to meet representatives at the offices of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The commission expected to be meeting a group of black women, and were surprised when white women arrived.

Nonetheless, the EEOC refused to take action. The airlines had been in touch.

Context: O'Connor and Ginsburg Could Not Find Employment When They Started Legal Careers
In the film, we also hear from both Sandra Day O'Connor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, neither of whom could find employment with legal firms after law school because "the firms were only hiring men." Both women went on to be Supreme Court justices, but it is important for society today to acknowledge that it is harder for women (and minorities, for that matter) to dream big dreams if it looks as if they won't even be able to get a foothold on the lowest rung of the career ladder.

Context: First Gender Discrimination Case Came Out of Georgia
One of the first test cases of gender discrimination in the workplace was brought by Lorena Weeks of Wadley, Georgia. She was a mother of three and working as a telephone operator. She and her husband had dreams of sending all three children to college, and the family needed her income if they were to do so. Weeks was well aware of the fact that the jobs held by men paid better. When a switchman's position opened up, she knew she was the most senior person for the job, and she put in an application. She was denied -- told the job was reserved for men. The year was 1966.

Weeks sued Southern Bell. Soon NOW (the organization had just been formed in 1966) became involved and provided her with legal representation. One of the issues was whether women could lift 30 lbs. The attorney, Sylvia Roberts, a particular petite woman, had boxes weighing 30 pounds into the court room and she demonstrated multiple times how even she could lift 30 pounds. Initially, Weeks lost her case, but eventually, a federal appeals court heard the case and ruled against Southern Bell. The year was 1969, and Lorena Weeks was given the job.

Moves to Campus
The message of the movement began to be picked up on college campuses where civil rights campaigns and anti-war marches were going on. In the process, the movement became more radicalized, which began to cause factions. However, Gloria Steinem stepped forward as a leader who could bridge different groups, and her creation of Ms. Magazine society-changing. One example was the subject of battered women.

Context: Domestic Violence Was Not Discussed Openly Until 37 Years Ago
In 1976, Ms. Magazine featured a photo on the cover of a woman whose face was badly bruised. It was the first time the subject of domestic violence had been addressed by a national magazine. Rose Garrity, a mother in Binghamton New York, tells her story in MAKERS.

Garrity was a victim of spousal abuse; she felt very alone and kept hoping "things would get better." When she saw the article, she suddenly knew she was not alone. "Ms. Magazine was my only window to the outside world."

And There Is More
The subsequent hours of the program go on to provide more context:

• Women did not have reliable control over their bodies until the Pill was made available to all women (by prescription) in 1972.

• Roe vs. Wade legalized abortion in 1973. Until that time, women who were desperate to end a pregnancy for all sorts of reasons (rape, already had four children, unmarried, unable to care for a baby) had to resort to backroom medical options, many of which were unsafe, even leading to death. (Note: Today, these hard-won abortion rights are slowly being chipped away.)

As Gloria Steinem says in the program: "Whether or not you can decide to have children is the whole ball game [in being able to choose a future.]"

And there is more:

• Title IX was not passed until 1972. This has primarily affected women in providing greater access to sports opportunities, but the provision requires equal opportunity in all aspects of educational life if a school is receiving federal funds.

• Young women today might be quite shocked to learn that we do not have an Equal Rights Amendment guaranteeing women equal opportunities. The constitutional amendment was passed by Congress in 1972 but then could not get ratified by the required number of states. What was the wording that couldn't get ratified? "Section 1. Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex." Couldn't get ratified? What's going on here?

• It was only 1991 when Anita Hill was dragged through the mud by the public and press for bringing up the fact that she was subjected to sexual harassment by Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas. Thomas was still appointed to the life post of being a Supreme Court Justice.

• Women still make only 77 cents for every dollar earned by a man.

Eleanor Holmes Norton, delegate to the U.S Congress representing the District of Columbia (a non-voting position), places our lives in some perspective toward the end of the program: "The revolutionary movement may be gone but the world for women has changed forever."

Watch the Program and Then Look Forward
If men and women understand that only 50 years ago, it was still "all about the engagement ring" and that we are still fighting to claim equal opportunity and equal pay for equal work, then women will be better prepared to decide whether Sheryl Sandberg's forthcoming book and her suggestion of "Leaning In" is the only solution.

Perhaps it's just one part of a package that involves continuing to demand equal pay for equal work, better opportunities for both men and women to balance work and parenting and to work generally for a less biased world toward all people.

MAKERS: Women Who Make America is produced by Kunhardt McGee Productions, Storyville Films and WETA Washington, D.C., in association with Ark Media. It will air Tuesday, February 26, 2013, at 8:00 p.m. ET on PBS (check local listings). Visit MAKERS.com to access more than 1,000 videos of remarkable stories of groundbreaking women.

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