2013 marks the 50th Anniversary of Betty Freidan's world-changing book The Feminist Mystique, published in 1963. As we approach Women's History Month this March, will this contribution be celebrated as the contributions of other society-changing leaders of the era have been?
Perhaps no civil rights activists from the 1960s and 1970s have been so neglected and maligned as the Second Wave feminists who broke down the barriers between women and better-paying jobs.
Even the once-insulted Vietnam veterans and their counterparts the anti-Vietnam-war protestors have now been rehabilitated and recognized for the way they changed America and the world, but the media's portrayal of feminists still too often continues to repeat generations-old insults first thrown against us when we dared to rebel against the male-dominated status quo of the "Mad Men" era.
A friend recently recommended that I join the Veteran Feminists of America (www.vfa.us), a group that is trying to rectify this situation. I had never thought of myself or my friends as heroes deserving respect, even though we'd worked hard on various feminist campaigns during the late '60s and '70s. But then I remembered that we very rightly honor the Civil Rights activists who fought segregation in the South, the marching protestors who ended a war, the gay rights warriors who refused to hide any longer, the environmentalists who fought and continue to fight pollution and planetary degradation and thought, well, yes, why not the women who got sick of being told, "Sorry, we don't hire women"?
Surely, it's time to fully recognize the successes and hard-earned lessons of all earlier protest movements? This not-so-distant history may help us move forward more effectively in solving today's most pressing problems, giving us hope that even the most entrenched regressive ideas and powers can be overcome by dedicated action.
Second Wave feminists certainly didn't do everything right, but we figured out how to shift a deeply held prejudice against allowing women to contribute their talents to the worlds of work, including business, governance and science. We succeeded -- with few resources and little money -- in opening doors for women at home and around the planet. We certainly didn't finish the job of winning equal rights for women -- far from it! -- and that task is now in the hands of brave women from many countries who won't stop until one's gender is no longer a barrier to living a full life and contributing our best to the world we want for our children.
Founder and president Jacqueline Ceballos explains why she and a few friends started Veteran Feminists of America:
In the 1980s I was living in New Orleans, recuperating from ten years of heavy feminist activity in New York. It was the Reagan years, the ERA [Equal Rights Amendment] had failed and feminists were dubbed Feminazis by some. Though, as always, men were being honored for their contributions to society, the feminists who'd changed America were practically disdained.
That struck an unpleasant chord. I keep running into younger women who can't wait to tell me they "aren't feminists" -- while enjoying jobs that the previous generation of feminists opened up to them! In some, there seems to be an unseemly eagerness to distance themselves from everything their mothers and grandmothers accomplished on their behalf.
While I certainly don't think one organization can rehabilitate our reputations, the very existence of groups like VFA gives me hope that some day, some way, there will be a tiny "thank you" for the years of hard work and struggle that changed America from a "men-only" workplace to a still-imperfect but much more level playing field.
After all, in the late 1960s no one could imagine the possibility of multiple female Secretaries of State, just as they couldn't imagine a two-term African-American President. And to get from there to here took a lot of courage and struggle by many, many people.
VFA's goals are "to enjoy the camaraderie forged during those years of intense commitment, to honor ourselves and our heroes, to document our history, to rekindle the spark and spirit of the feminist revolution and act as keeper of the flame so that the ideals of feminism continue to reverberate and influence others."
I hope that it's not just a question of honoring ourselves because no one else will do it - and that at least a few of our fellow citizens, family members, colleagues, daughters, sons and grandchildren will join the celebration.