There is not simply a new world to be gained, there is an old world that must be reclaimed
…the young person leaving college today, especially if she is a woman, must consider the possibility that her best offerings will be considered a nuisance to the men who also occupy her field. And then, having considered this, she would do well to make up her mind to fight whoever would stifle her growth with as much courage and tenacity as Mrs. Hudson fights the Klan. If she is black and coming out into the world she must be doubly armed, doubly prepared. Because for her there is not simply a new world to be gained, there is an old world that must be reclaimed. There are countless vanished and forgotten women who are nonetheless eager to speak to her – from Frances Harper and Anne Spencer to Dorothy West – but she must work to find them, to free them from their neglect and the oppression of silence forced upon them because they were black and they were women.
This was written almost 40 years ago. How much has changed? I can’t quantify for you, because I haven’t looked for numbers.
I was almost a teenager in 1972. I may have noticed some of the Big Issues, but in reality I was equally wrapped up in puzzling over how in the world to dance to War’s Cisco Kid. Low Rider and Why Can’t We Be Friends weren’t to be out for another three years.
I remember being taught about what we were not. We were not to be the limited housewives of the 1950′s. We were equal. We could be anything.
I recently came across school pictures from those days. Some of the female teachers, including my “cool” math teacher, wore bouffant hair and squeezed themselves into girdles that constricted like corsets. How could we have been equal, able to do anything, with architectural hair that would melt and re-shape itself when wet? Don’t even get me started on the “support” garments – thank goodness I missed the years when they were mandatory. Of course, girdles are small potatoes next to the bigger issues of equal rights, but that was beyond me at the time.
Maybe you have to be living on the inside of a struggle to really understand that struggle’s landscape, or even its existence.
What is the ragged edge of women’s struggles today? Maybe it is with Muslim women, both here in the “enlightened” West, where some countries have movements to outlaw minarets or the headscarf, and on the other side of the world, where women would risk having their lips cut off if caught wearing lipstick.
Here’s to the strong, the stubborn, and the patient. And to respect. And peace.