A few months ago, I was going through a tiny Will Smith jag.
After the song “Gettin’ Jiggy Wit It” (I know, dumb title, dumber song) came on the car radio, I came home and wanted more Smith. I’ve always loved the song “Men in Black,” though I’ve never watched the movie. I then played “Miami,” Smith’s tribute to the city’s tropical climate, fancy cars, lavish homes and beautiful women.
As “Miami” blared, my 16-year-old daughter came into the kitchen. “I don’t like the way he’s talking about women,” she said. “He’s just talking about what they look like. That’s wrong.”
Yes, he was and it is. I wasn’t paying attention the lyrics, which are pretty tame by today’s standards. But she noticed. And though I’ve never discussed objectifying women with her, I’m happy she’s aware of it and knows it’s wrong. Like most teen-agers, she gets a lot of information online. This was one time I wasn’t upset that she spends too much time on her laptop.
But I thought about it, and realized that I’ve dropped the ball discussing women’s issues with her and my 20-year-old son. I realized if I don’t bring up the way things were and are, who will? I shouldn’t depend on others to do my job. I think I was suffering from a bit of complacency like a lot of women today.
Fortunately, March is a good time to change because it’s Women’s History Month, 31 days devoted to recognizing our struggles and accomplishments. Originally launched 40 years ago as National Women’s History Month, the designation expanded to include the entire month of March in 1987. This year, International Women’s Day is Thursday, March 8th.
Women’s organizations, colleges and universities, schools and public libraries are hosting speakers, workshops, essays and poster contests to mark the month. Organizers say this year is particularly important because of the #METOO and #TIMESUP movements. The issue of college date rape is also hitting close to home with the trial of a former Yale student accused of sexually assaulting a classmate while she was intoxicated. Though many colleges and universities are addressing this issue, it remains a deeply troubling problem nationwide.
I plan to seize this opportunity to discuss women’s issues with my kids. I may even bring them to one of the many events being held this month. Connecticut Public Radio’s Where We Live is hosting three conversations with prominent Connecticut women from very different backgrounds.
In the Making Her Story series, host Lucy Nalpathanchil will ask each about the journey that led to her success in business or non-profit work. The series opens tonight with Teresa C. Younger, who has served as President and CEO of the Ms. Foundation for Women, the oldest women’s foundation in the United States, since 2014. The event (reception 6 p.m., followed by talk at 7 p.m.) is at Gateway Community College’s Curran Family Community Center, 20 Church St., New Haven. Tickets are $10.
I’m also going to tell my kids about growing up in the ’60s and ’70s, and the inroads feminists made for us. I didn’t burn bras or march – I was only in my early to mid-teens at the height of the movement – but I do have my own stories. I entered Wheaton College, an all-women’s college (now co-ed) at a time when colleges and universities were still “going co-ed” and grappling with the transition.
People often ask me if I played golf in college, but I didn’t because there was no golf team. This wasn’t the exception back then. Women were treated like second-class citizens. We were paid less than men, barred from joining civic groups like the Rotary Club, and blocked from certain jobs.
I grew up in an era when men and women were treated differently, particularly in sports. I’m old enough to have watched the original Battle of the Sexes between Bobby Riggs and Billie Jean King in 1973. I’m old. Heck, I’m old enough to have played tennis against Patty Ann Meyer, one of the founding members of the Virginia Slims Tour. She can still beat me with one arm tied behind her back, but you get the point. We are not that far removed from those days, but people have short memories.
My husband was part of the first co-ed freshman class to enter Williams College in the fall of 1971. During his four years, the ratio of men to women was 3-1, and it took years for the classes to even out. Though many feared that going co-ed would lead to the admission of women with inferior academic records, the opposite was true: most of the women admitted during the transition were highly intelligent and more studious than their male counterparts.
Did they have a point to prove? Absolutely. As any hiker will tell you, it’s a lot easier to navigate blazed trails. Take a look at some of the activities planned this month. There’s a lot to celebrate, but many trails that still need to be marked.
Carolyn Milazzo is blog editor for CT-NOW.