Making claims that we live in a post-racial society would get most people laughed at, under the best of circumstances. We recognize that the success of Barack Obama, Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice, and Oprah Winfrey does not mean racism has vanished from the United States.
But misogyny? Some are still boggled by the continued presence of that beast.
Sitting on a bench near Corning Fountain, I had several people approach me to ask about the small rally happening on Saturday afternoon. A neutral, factual explanation was met with sneering. Online, I read remarks mocking the event; others seemed genuinely naive about the status of women in 2012.
Auxiliary Bishop Martin D. Holley of the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., visited Hartford in February. He told congregants during the Black Catholic Mass at the Cathedral of St. Joseph that the use of birth control is linked to an increase in out-of-wedlock pregnancies, as well as to the increased transmission of sexually transmitted diseases.
He was not putting forth a moral argument about birth control; he was spewing scientific misinformation at a mass attended by those seeking a spiritually uplifting experience related to civil rights. This was not happening in some isolated, rural area. It was right here, in Hartford.
The bishop was not the only person in a position of authority to hold such an archaic viewpoint. A series of “SlutWalk” marches were held in 2011 after a police officer, who later apologized for his remarks, suggested that women prevent sexual assault by not dressing like “sluts.”
On a daily basis, women routinely receive harassment for no reason other than appearing in public without a male escort. Any time I leave my home wearing less than my winter coat, I know I will likely receive comments from strangers who mistakenly believe “Hey baby” is something to which I have ever responded.
But the Unite Against the War on Women rally, which organizers put together in about four weeks, did not mention any of those examples of how misogyny continues to thrive today; speakers articulated plenty of other reasons for why men and women need to stay vigilant in fighting sexism.
“Men have always had the right to choose,” State Comptroller Kevin Lembo announced. “We just walk away.”
Reverend Debra W. Haffner, Executive Director of the Religious Institute and community minister at the Unitarian Church in Westport, said “life is precious. . .and it must never be created carelessly.”
The Connecticut Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, whose slogan is “pro-faith, pro-family, pro-choice,” provided pamphlets to activists. One such handout includes official statements about reproductive choice from thirteen faith organizations, including the Episcopal Church, Catholics for Choice, United Synagogue for Conservative Judaism, and American Baptist Churches, USA.
Rev. Haffner said “we can’t allow the religious right…or Catholic bishops” to be the only voice of people of faith.
“Don’t tell me what to do and I won’t tell you what to do,” Jillian Gilchrest said, summing up the sentiments of many on issues as private as one’s reproductive decisions.
Woody Bliss, a Republican for reproductive choice echoed this by stating that the government has no Constitutional right to legislate behavior. He described the GOP presidential candidates as “pandering” and wanted activists to know that “pro-choice Republicans do exist.”
Marie Lausch pointed out that there are no bills proposed that deal with male reproductive choice. She said, “I am tired of being marginalized and trivialized [....] Now is not the time to be nice, to be quiet.”
Lt. Col. Michael Zacchea of the USMC spoke about the irony of how female vets, who were fighting to preserve freedom, are now having their rights threatened by the government.
Reproductive choice was only one of the issues discussed during the Bushnell Park gathering. Gretchen Raffa, the Director of Public Policy & Advocacy for Planned Parenthood of Southern New England, said that Planned Parenthood provides more than access to birth control and abortion; these centers also provide breast and cervical cancer screenings, yet there is a constant battle to maintain funding for services that can benefit all women, regardless of personal or political beliefs regarding the contentious issue of abortion.
Laura Cordes of CONNSACS shared the statistic that 20-25% of women living on college campuses will be sexually assaulted while they are at school; she spoke of the need for legislation that would force colleges to deal appropriately with this issue by “changing [the] culture” from one that deals with victims to one that expresses no tolerance for sexual assault. Cordes said we need to change the message from “watch your drink” and “don’t walk alone” to one that demands offenders be responsible for their actions.
“We have to teach our boys and young men integrity,” First Lady Cathy Malloy said. “Don’t just get help to women after they’ve been abused.”
As reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act is being debated in Congress, some continue to think we are in the post-patriarchal era. Julie Belaga said she could not believe anyone would oppose an anti-violence amendment, yet some have done just that. She alluded to opposition reported by the New York Times:
The Concerned Women for America and Independent Women’s Forum had said the law had devolved into a “slush fund” for feminist causes that harms men unfairly and encourages the dissolution of marriages.
The expansion of VAWA would help to protect those of various sexual orientations and gender identities, as well as extend protections to Native Americans and undocumented immigrants. Senator Blumenthal, one of the event’s speakers, acknowledged that both men and women can be victims of domestic violence, so the expansion of VAWA would protect men, as well as women.
Equity in the workplace was another issue given attention by several speakers. Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman was one who acknowledged this, saying that when she became State Comptroller in the 1990′s, there were some who did not believe a woman should even hold that position.
Earlier, Tessa Marquis suggested that the reason why women who work in the home are so disrespected is because “there is no pay.”
Even for those who are being paid, “77% isn’t enough,” Blumenthal said. “We need pay equity.”
“We can no longer be second class citizens,” Yanil Terón, the Executive Director of the Center for Latino Progress said. “We’re not going to be invisible anymore.”
The April 28th rally was organized by Carolyn Stearns and Amanda Kaplan; it was endorsed by dozens of organizations including the Permanent Commission on the Status of Women, National Association of Social Workers CT, Trinity College Women & Gender Resource Action Center, Connecticut Clergy for Full Equality, YWCA Hartford Region, Latina Institute, and CODE Pink.