by Carol Jenkins
It was my brilliant friend, the writer Marilyn French, who presciently and prodigiously wrote about the war against women in The Women’s Room, her landmark 1977 novel, which opened the populist door to feminist thought. Before she died in 2009 she documented our existence in The History of Women in the World, a four-volume work scaled back from the 10,000 pages she had written about us.
Few wanted to believe when Marilyn published The War Against Women 20 years ago that the systemic and organized resistance to women’s equality in the world this global thinker chronicled would persist and flourish here in the United States, the land of the free.
And yet as the year 2012 recedes in the rearview mirror, here we are fending off ridiculous, potentially lethal statements — about rape, pregnancy, abortion, birth control, pay equity, pay for sick days — coming from the highest levels of power. It’s clear that in at least some quarters, this war of misogyny still rages on.
I don’t count myself a pessimist, but I am apprehensive. I am most concerned about Black women and other women of color. They remain the invisibles in the debates about the economy and work, the role of government, health, education — all of the important, essential conversations we must have if we are to survive. High visibility discussions such as Anne Marie Slaughter’s Atlantic piece, “Why Women Can’t Have it All,” are useful for the privileged among us — but do little for women of any color living in poverty or working three jobs to support children.
By almost every measure one can think of, Black women face enormous challenges. We are in a war not just against women, but against children, the poor, and — according to economics writer Jeff Madrick in The New York Review of Books — the sick. His interpretation of the Supreme Court’s Medicaid ruling on the Affordable Care Act — considered a victory for President Obama:
“Not only did the court argue [in June] that the states need not participate in the new expansion, which the Obama administration had intended to be mandatory; it also said that the federal government could not withhold Medicaid payments for states that decide not to participate. Thus, the court created a way to undermine […health reform’s] sweeping expansion of a medical safety net for the neediest.”
This is an especially cruel blow, given the assessment of the Insight Center for Community Economic Development, in its 2010 Report Lifting as We Climb. Written by Dr. Mariko Chang with the input of over 150 scholars and advocates, the report examines the disparity in wealth in accumulation of sustaining assets, and finds (1) That single Black and Hispanic women have a median wealth of $100 and $120 respectively, while the median for single white women is $41,500, and (2) Although white women in the prime working years of ages 36-49 have a median wealth of $42,600, the median wealth for women of color is only $5.
What this poverty means for the children of our country, both of color and not, should scandalize us all. Marian Wright Edelman, founder of the Children’s Defense Fund writes on Alternet about the fund’s State of America’s Children 2012 Handbook: “It’s impossible to deny that our nation’s economy, professed values of equal opportunity, future, and soul are all in danger right now. There are 16.4 million poor children in rich America, 7.4 million living in extreme poverty.”
Alternet education editor Elizabeth Hines, in decrying the destruction of our public schools, notes the strain on the next generation: “They are poor and low-income, many different colors, all increasingly cut off from the kind of educational opportunities that will lead them to make whatever choices they chose for their lives. Some are leaving under-funded, under-resourced and overcrowded schools without degrees, and running straight into a more than 50% joblessness rate.”
Joan Walsh, editor-at-large for Salon.com has a new book, What’s the Matter with White People? Why We Long for a Golden Age that Never Was. Walsh explores the idea that the white majority in this country has forgotten how much help — government help — it had in achieving Middle Class status: the GI Bill for education; the wonderful homes in the suburban subdivisions for which they could get mortgages; work.
Those perks, denied people of color in the 40s, 50s and 60s, are the source of much of white wealth and the basis of much of the poverty of those who could not participate in Big Government’s handouts generations ago. They are surely the source of some of the wealth disparity facing women of color today. Those opposing help for those in our society who need it, should be reminded of their lucky breaks.
In anticipation of seeing you on the frontlines, here’s what we are faced with: keeping control over our bodies; exacting support from our government to feed, house and medically care for the women and children until the mothers can find work; fixing our public schools so the children are not doomed to another cycle of poverty; and, oh yes, bringing those other children back home from those mortal wars.
The last time I saw Marilyn French, she had come with Gloria and Esther, my coven-mates, to the shower for my daughter’s baby girl. She drew a big, appreciative laugh when she offered, in her wise and knowing way, “This child shall be blessed with every known blessing, every known good on earth. What she will do with it, who knows? But we tried.”
Women, we can do this.
Carol Jenkins is a writer and former New York City television anchor. She helped found The Women’s Media Center as its first president, and serves on its board. She writes about the media on her blog, www.caroljenkinsmedia.com.
Also see “Living Up to the New Deal” by Susan F. Feiner in this edition of On The Issues Magazine.
See “Standing Our Ground: Beyond Maslow’s Basic Needs” by Mary E. Plouffe Ph.D. in this edition of On The Issues Magazine.