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Kathy Tofflemire, Published September 13 2011

Parenting Perspectives: Women, we still have a long way to go

Women belong in the House – and in the Senate.

That’s an old line from a long time ago – a time when I subscribed to Ms. magazine and stood shoulder to shoulder with women across North Dakota at the state Capitol as we fought for ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment.

At the time, I don’t know that we gave a lot of thought to the brave women who came decades before us and battled for the right to vote. But it was one of those suffragette leaders, Alice Paul, who initially drafted an Equal Rights Amendment in the 1920s.

And I don’t know that the young women of today think much about my generation and our efforts to obtain fair treatment, most especially equal pay for equal work.

I don’t think I have ever talked to my own daughter about those days.

I thought of myself as a feminist, and I still do.

Gloria Steinem, who launched Ms. magazine in 1971, says today that “the definition of feminism remains fundamentally the same, while the flow of history dictates the specific focus: pay equity, military service ... or, most divisive of all, abortion.”

As a feminist and a journalist, she was a hero among women working in the paragraph factories around the nation.

I have been a single woman for a long time. I like men; some of my best friends are men, but I laugh whenever I think of one of Steinem’s more witty quotes: “A woman without a man is like a fish without a bicycle.”

I want to see a woman leading the White House in my lifetime. And I hope it’s someone I can truly support.

As for the House and the Senate – at least in North Dakota – it was depressing to read a recent Opinion page piece that noted only 14.9 percent of North Dakota legislators are women.

I was a child of the 1950s, when most women were stay-at-home moms. My mother entered the workforce when I was in elementary school. My daughter has never known a time when I wasn’t working.

The younger generations of women would probably laugh at some of the “milestones” I experienced.

I recall how wonderful it was when we were finally allowed to wear pants in the office. The rule initially, however, was that they had to be pantsuits, not slacks and a blouse or sweater. Jeans and capris? Forget about it.

And I recall being the first woman in the history of the newspaper where I worked to design the front page.

But there also are memories that are not so fond.

There was no such thing as paid maternity leave when my daughter was born. I was off work for seven weeks, earning a paycheck for only two (my vacation pay). Those seven weeks were also the longest period of time in 43 years that I was not working.

And 30-plus years after the fact, I can remember being introduced to someone at a gathering who said, “Your name sounds familiar. What does your husband do?”

I was incensed. At the time, I was much better known in the community than my husband was. The fact that the remark came from a fellow working woman angered me even further.

Today’s young women have been brought up to believe they can do anything or be anything if they put their minds to it. The glass ceiling has been broken. Today more women than men are graduating from college.

In 1979, women earned 59.7 cents for every dollar men earned.

Census statistics in September 2010 show that women now earn 77 percent of what men are paid.

Yes, we’ve come a long way, baby.

But not far enough.


Kathy Tofflemire is a copy editor at The Forum. Readers can reach her

at (701) 241-5514