This I Believe
This I believe. I believe in equity for all women and men in the world. Not equality. Equity is justice, freedom from bias, the opportunity to use your capabilities to their fullest. Equality is sameness, one mold. Thomas Jefferson wrote in 1776: all men are created equal. This is precisely what he meant. All men, that is all white men, who owned assets. Slowly those caveats have been removed. By 1860, white men could vote whether they owned property or not. Men or all races were granted the vote in 1870, but not until 1920 were women allowed to vote. We were all of us to become like white men.
I was brought up to believe that man was the measure. As a child, when I saw posters for the National Recovery Act passed under President Franklin Roosevelt, I told my parents that I wanted to go to Harvard, as he did. They laughed: Harvard is only for boys. When the song “Slow Boat to China” became popular, I dreamed of sailing away.
I refused to admit I was not a boy: I climbed trees and never played with dolls. Eventually I went to Radcliffe, and drove from London to New Delhi, and back to London from Mombasa. I earned my doctorate and immediately was employed at the University of California Berkeley. But only as a researcher. Women were not professors then.
Much later I learned that in the 1920s there had been women professors at Cal; but the prevailing ideology of the 30s was a woman’s place is in the home meant that all these professors of chemistry or sociology were forced to move to the department of home economics!! How easily society constructs assumptions about correct behavior for women. The war promoted women’s work; but post war myths called for Rosie the Riveter to return home. At the time, I was too young to understand this manipulation of gender roles. When I looked for a job in Washington DC in 1960, I was told by the Brookings Institution that only male college graduates were hired as researchers; despite my degrees and experience, I could only by a secretary.
The myth that equality meant male was alive and flourishing. This realization fueled my passionate embrace of the women’s movement. We women in Washington advocated for equality under the law; civil rights were much easier to put into law than topics that underscored difference. Even the medical community was reluctant to change the protocols that resulted in breast cancer studies being done on white male college students. Attempts to fund rape crisis centers or safe houses for battered women were unsuccessful. This distinction between civil law and family or customary law permeates most countries, exposing their patriarchal roots.
As the global women’s movement grows, women everywhere are demanding equity, their rights to be treated with justice throughout their lives. As long as man is the measure, women will be second-class. So I believe in equity and justice for all persons, everywhere.