On Valentine’s Day, I received an anonymous message calling me a (gasp!) “feminist.” Let me be clear — this was no love letter.
Rather than provoke, the not-so-nice note got me wondering. I mean, when was the last time anyone even used the word “feminist”?
The note was clearly a response to the newspaper’s recent editorial in which the editorial board supported the passage of the Violence Against Women Act, and our spotlight on “One Billion Rising,” an international movement that asked a billion women worldwide to rise up and dance on Feb. 14 to draw attention to the atrocities committed against women and children.
Oh, and I probably got the note because I am a woman. Yep, put those two together and you’ve obviously got a feminist on your hands.
Seriously, though, the last time I remember having a discussion about feminists was back in the ’70s in a high school current affairs class. The Equal Rights Amendment was the big topic in the news. It had passed in both the Senate and the House and had gone to state legislatures for ratification. It failed to get the number of ratifications needed (Missouri was one of those states refusing) and was never adopted.
If Bella Abzug, who is considered the mother of the feminist movement in the ’70s, was vilified for her social push for women, one can only imagine the reaction to Alice Paul, the original author of a proposed Equal Rights Amendment in 1923.
So, what exactly is a feminist? According to Webster’s, a feminist is a woman who believes that women should have political, economic and social rights equal to those of men.
It’s hard to believe today that such a fierce and ugly battle was waged over the question of equality for women.
It’s just as hard for me to understand why the Violence Against Women Act was not reauthorized in December. The law was originally passed in 1994 as part of a larger crime bill. The newest version of the bill expands to offer protections for lesbians, gays and Native American victims of domestic violence, gives more attention to sexual assault prevention and seeks to reduce a backlog in processing rape kits. It passed easily in the Senate, but was turned down in the House, largely because of the expansions.
Again, last week, it passed with a large majority in the Senate and is set to go before the House, where it could stall again if there continues to be objections to the expansions.
Now it’s come down to debating who can be abused and who can’t? Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., the bill’s sponsor, questioned why anybody would vote against the legislation, because it expands protections to vulnerable groups.
“It is difficult to understand why people would come in here and try to limit which victims could be helped by this legislation,” Leahy said. “If you’re the victim, you don’t want to think that a lot of us who have never faced this kind of problem sat here in this body and said, ‘Well, we have to differentiate which victims America will protect.’”
It’s wrong to beat or abuse anyone because of sex, race or age. If you, like me, believe that, then I would urge you to call or write your representative in Washington.
Carol Stark is the editor of The Joplin (Mo.) Globe. Contact her at email@example.com.