WOMENSENEWS–At the beginning of each month, Women’s Enews presents a snippet of information at the bottom of a news story called Our Story. Written by Louise Bernikow, each item recalls significant events in which women were the primary actors. The phrase is meant to be inclusive. Women’s Enews chose not to use the word "history" because for many of us that phrase refers to narratives that made no mention of women’s leadership and movements. Nor did we like the word "herstory," because that phrase seemed to exclude much of what has occurred to all of us. Thus, we settled on Our Story.
Nevertheless, March is Women’s History Month, and the editors of Women’s Enews believe that regardless of what we call the past, we must recall the past. Thus, this month Women’s Enews will celebrate Women’s History Month by bringing to its readers the living stories of women who three decades ago were caught up in the civil rights and women’s movements of the era and were forever changed, becoming dedicated to improving the lives of women–all women.
What Were You Fighting For?
We approached a handful of women–from an incredibly long list of potential contributors–who have been deeply involved in some of the key women’s issues for the last 30 years: boosting political representation, improving women’s health, protecting reproductive rights, recognizing lesbian rights, stemming domestic violence and prosecuting sexual assaults. We asked them to reflect on their work in these early years of the second wave of the U.S. women’s movement and answer three key questions: What were you fighting for? What did you get? And what remains undone?
In 1972, Oakland’s Barbara Lee was a young volunteer in the presidential campaign of Shirley Chisholm, the first African American woman to serve as a member of Congress and still the only black woman to run for a major party’s nomination. Ruth Surgal, a member of Chicago Women’s Liberation Union, was on a dangerous campaign to secure safe, if illegal, abortions for poor women in Chicago. Jane Pincus, one of the founders of the Boston Women’s Health Book Collective, held a key role in publishing the first major commercial edition of the benchmark "Our Bodies, Ourselves," which sold close to a million copies of just that first edition.
Also that year, San Francisco’s Del Martin, broke one kind of silence with her book "Lesbian/Woman." She did the same for battered women in 1976 with "Battered Wives," the first comprehensive expose and feminist analysis of domestic violence in America.
While Lee, Surgal, Pincus and Martin were doing their work, Philadelphia’s Carol Tracy was in the process of transforming herself from a secretary who had been fired for marching to mourn the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King to an attorney dedicated to fighting for women’s rights.
Today, Lee is a member of the U.S. Congress. Surgal, at age 64, is returning to social work–a field transformed by women–and Pincus’s collective has just issued "Our Bodies, Ourselves For the New Century." Martin, now 80, is an activist in San Francisco and the co-founder of Lyon-Martin Women’s Health Services with Phyllis Lyon, her partner of nearly 50 years. Tracy is a head of Philadelphia’s Women’s Law Project, which most recently made headlines by exposing the manipulation of rape statistics by city’s police intent on assuring the public that women were safe.
The incredible ferment of ideas and commitment of 1972 continue to shape the events of today. Lee is spends each day in a fight for equity across racial and economic lines, including her current battle against the punitive 1996 welfare reform legislation. Martin’s shattering the silence on domestic violence was the first step in a process that has enabled agencies such as Tracy’s law project to participate in multi-state initiatives trying to find comprehensive solutions for abused women and families. Violence against women is now the linchpin of global feminism. And none of it would have happened without the work of the women who are lending us their voices this month.
These surprisingly optimistic essays demonstrate women’s shared priorities for the future: ending violence against women, making significant improvements in reproductive health care–including access to abortion and contraception–and raising women’s economic status.
Women’s Enews is delighted to present these additions to Our Story. The first essay, by Barbara Lee, will appear Monday to be followed each Wednesday throughout the month by our other contributors.