A recent guest editorial in the Finger Lakes Times by Professor of Women’s Studies Betty Bayer marked significant moments in women’s history and the women’s movement, as well as the contrast between media images of women in power and the reality of inequality for women in today’s workforce.
Quoting Susan Douglas, Bayer writes, “Something’s out of whack here.”
Bayer also points to the Steubenville rape case. “This case confronts us anew with how failing to address women’s history is part and parcel of positioning women as objects more than subjects, of failing to address them as civilly present. Here, I invite schools at all levels to join with Women’s Studies as an ally in building a culture where imagining those who have a place in history as in the world as subjects, as creators of culture, writers, history makers, inventors and full citizens includes women as naturally as men, gays as readily as straights.”
The purpose of Bayer’s article is twofold: to show history as continuing to have activist potential; and, two, relatedly, to inquire into how granting women full constitutional equality (ERA) and not having to fight daily for rights may alter the daily possibilities for women and alter violence and sexual assault against women. That is, this continuing debate on women’s rights (and is the U.S. ready for a woman president?) and denying women and by extension the U.S. a full practicing democracy, creates the conditions, in part, for the Stuebenville rape case.
Serving the Colleges in the Women’s Studies Program, Bayer teaches courses on the body politic, psychology of women, peace and ecofeminism, and core courses such as Introduction to Women’s Studies and feminist theory. Recognized for her outstanding teaching ability, Bayer received the Colleges’ prestigious Distinguished Faculty Teaching Award in 2004 and the Community Service Award in 2009. She has served as the chair of the Women Studies Program since 2001 and directed the Fisher Center for the Study of Women and Men from 2002 to 2009. Bayer earned her Ph.D., M.A. and B.A. in psychology from Carleton University.
Recent publication includes “Enchantment in an age of occupy” (2012, Women’s Studies Quarterly), and two essays forthcoming on critical history and theory of feminism and on spirituality. She is currently working on a book tentatively entitled “Revelation or Revolution? Cognitive Dissonance and Persistent Longing in an Age Psychological.”
Her full editiorial follows.
Finger Lakes Times
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Important anniversaries in march of women’s history
Betty M. Bayer • Guest Appearance
March names the third month of the year and refers to an act of stepping forward. That may make it an apt month, at least in name, to mark women’s history and the women’s movement.
Just this month alone:
Women released pink smoke over the Vatican to step up protests of the Catholic Church’s failures on equal roles for women. Academic Claire B. Potter tweets women’s history daily to protest the absence of women in Wikipedia. One is reminded of Virginia Woolf, who, 85 years ago, observed women’s missing roles in history books, even as they “lived” lives of glory and fancy in line after line of poetry, song and fiction. “Woman,” she said, conjures an “odd monster – a worm winged like an eagle; the spirit of life and beauty in the kitchen chopping up suet.” Modern day counterparts abound. Susan Douglas’ “enlightened sexism” frames the paradox of female power thriving in popular media images (“Grey’s Anatomy” or “The Good Wife”) while female inequality persists in the labor force, with the top job for women being the same today as it was in the 1950s – secretary or administrative assistant (and a predicted increase by 2020). Whereas 1950s media conveyed that women’s aspirations weren’t changing all that much (despite Betty Friedan, a half- century ago, chronicling their discontent), today’s media, argues Douglas, relies on a sleight of representation that equality has been achieved. To quote Douglas: “Something’s out of whack here.”
Things out of whack prompted Elizabeth Cady Stanton to act on her long accumulating discontent. The 1848 Declaration of Sentiments as her address to the House Judiciary Committee was expansive, as was Sojourner Truth’s querying who counts as a woman and what vision of equality was being brought forward. Stanton’s phrase “civilly dead” captures students’ attention today as they seek to chart what goes into making the constellation of equality and justice take the shape and form of liberty. Alice Paul’s soon-to-be 90-year-old proposed Lucretia Mott Amendment, renamed in 1972 the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), offers summary vision: “Men and women shall have equal rights throughout the United States and every place subject to its jurisdiction.” What liberty has lain fallow in the wake of decades of stalling on this measure? What possibilities foreclosed? How might girls and women have experienced day-to day life had they been expected to take the first steps on the moon? Enter educational institutions at will? Become president?
Place these questions alongside those typically posed today of women’s worth, of her full inclusion in the military while leaving reproductive rights and wider occupational access and wage disparities intact. This is where the longue du rée is made paramount. Cases in point are plentiful: Larry Summers’ (former president of Harvard) failure to know his history of women and science (echoing, as he did, backlash debate of the late 19th century and ignoring women’s place in science in the early 19th century); challenges to Planned Parenthood (100 years strong) as if women’s sexual and reproductive rights (40 years since Roe vs. Wade) are something of recent concern only (and a contrivance at that); and debate most recently this month on American rape culture following the court trials related to what is referred to as the “Steubenville rape case.”
This case confronts us anew with how failing to address women’s history is part and parcel of positioning women as objects more than subjects, of failing to address them as civilly present. It asks one to rethink education and curriculum at all levels everywhere, including locally where a high school closed the door on collaborating with a group of William Smith and Hobart Women’s Studies majors.
And, this is where Woolf got it more than half right: To ignore women’s contributions is to impoverish imagination, creativity and future possibilities. Here, I invite schools at all levels to join with Women’s Studies as an ally in building a culture where imagining those who have a place in history as in the world as subjects, as creators of culture, writers, history makers, inventors and full citizens includes women as naturally as men, gays as readily as straights.
Surely that is what news stories on Steubenville are telling us as they and bloggers enjoin us to build a compassionate future to aid a victim’s recovery by changing a culture bent on misogyny, bullying and racism. That makes women’s history a partner in re-envisioning the world rather than serving as an artifact of history or a museum piece to be looked at on occasion and in passing. March on! March on!
Betty M. Bayer is a professor and chair of Women’s Studies at Hobart and William Smith Colleges