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Fighting Complacency In The Fight For Women's Rights, One Little Thing At A Time

Sharon Brody: Whether you call it feminism or humanism or common sense, the struggle continues. And victories are not permanent. In this photo, officers of the National Woman's Party hold a banner with a Susan B. Anthony quote in front of the NWP headquarters in Washington, D.C., June 1920. (AP)MoreCloseclosemore
Sharon Brody: Whether you call it feminism or humanism or common sense, the struggle continues. And victories are not permanent. In this photo, officers of the National Woman's Party hold a banner with a Susan B. Anthony quote in front of the NWP headquarters in Washington, D.C., June 1920. (AP)

It’s the little things.

Their whole lives, my kids have listened (or not) to my stories of childhood before the dawn of "girl power," before the surge of the modern women's liberation movement, before Title IX, before all sorts of phenomena that shape our culture now.

I spew cautionary tales about the way it was and the way it is and the way it might be again if we get complacent. I remind them that our progress is so new and fragile that although I am the picture of youth (the very picture, I tell you!) I grew up in a time before we even had a National Women's History Month. Which is, as of course you know by all the parades, March. Meaning it's almost over, so if you haven't planned your festivities yet, then you'd better zip out to buy those Sojourner Truth party favors and Lucy Stone balloons and Betty Friedan paper plates.

here we are in 2015, and what with all sorts of folks claiming feminism is over, I’m still reminding my kids that vigilance is key.

This commemoration didn’t exactly happen overnight. Like most fights, it was a hard slog. It started in the early 1900s as International Women’s Day and it didn’t expand until 1980 when Jimmy Carter issued a Presidential Proclamation declaring National Women's History Week. In that proclamation, he pointed out that women and their contributions have tended to go unnoticed. The eventual Nobel Laureate also used the occasion to suggest that the U.S. needed full equality under the law for everyone — a goal he said could be achieved by ratifying the Equal Rights Amendment.

Oh, well.

The Constitution remains unsullied by the E.R.A. However as a consolation prize, the denizens of Capitol Hill gave women not merely a week but a whole goshdarned month. In 1987, Congress designated March as National Women's History Month. And we all lived happily ever after.

Wait, no, not yet. Someday, possibly.

But here we are in 2015, and what with all sorts of folks claiming feminism is over, I’m still reminding my kids that vigilance is key. Retro might be a cute place to visit, wearing Keds, but we wouldn't want to live there.

For example, I say, when I was in elementary school, girls were not allowed to wear pants to school. When the temperature dropped, we got special dispensation to walk to school wearing pants underneath our skirts or dresses, but as soon as we arrived? Off with those diabolical trousers. This was not conducive to activity. If you can’t imagine the disadvantage, then just try flipping on the playground bars or sliding into second without flashing underwear to the entire fourth grade. The rulemakers never fretted about how the dress code stopped us in our tracks, and left us loitering on the blacktop to watch the boys have fun. That was, in fact, the point. We needed to get it through our Y-chromosome-addled heads that a successful girl engaged in ladylike behavior.

And that’s just for starters. I go on. And on. Girls took home economics and boys took shop. My mother was the only neighborhood mom I knew of with a job outside the home. An awful lot of people seemed to find it a hoot that hysterical broads believed in such a thing as a “male chauvinist pig.”

My subtext? Listen, whippersnappers, keep your head in the game. This stuff is important — and it's as important for men and boys as it is for women and girls. Whether you call it feminism or humanism or common sense, the struggle continues. And victories are not permanent.

But even I, Little Ms. Anecdote, had forgotten this. This one little thing.

A few weeks ago, we came across one of my childhood scrapbooks. My sons and I laughed to see I’d saved the scorecard from "my first game I won in putt-putt!" Having raised my sons on a steady diet of mini golf and soft-serve, this had the makings of a garden-variety bonding moment. But instead — hanging out in our Massachusetts living room, a few decades after my triumph at the Arnold Palmer Putting Course in Virginia — my sons were flabbergasted. Because they noticed a detail I never had.

Men's par: 36 // Women's: 39

A dog-eared page from author's  childhood scrapbook. (Courtesy)
A dog-eared page from author's childhood scrapbook. (Courtesy)

They were incredulous.

“Mama! That is ridiculous! It’s putt putt!”

“This is not about strength!"

“It’s hardly even about skill!”

“Men’s and Women’s Pars? In putting?”

“In mini golf, an undersized 6-year-old is entirely capable of defeating a 26-year-old athlete!”

“Are you kidding? Women needed a handicap? What were they even thinking?”

The answer, of course, is that “they” weren’t thinking, at all. They were just going with the dames-ain’t-up-to-our-standards-even-in-the-world-of-windmills-and-golf-balls-on-tiny-landscapes flow.

I could have launched into a lecture about the insidious nature of condescension, bias and oppression — how disempowerment seeps into interactions in ways so arbitrary that...

But, no. Not this time. This is home turf for these mini-golf-loving guys of mine, and they recognize the foolishness up close and personal. I don’t need to say a word, and, for a change, I won’t. My sons are men now, and they get it, as much as any of us ever do. They weren't outraged, until they paid attention. To this one little thing.

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Sharon Brody Twitter News Anchor
Sharon Brody is the voice of WBUR's weekend mornings. On Saturdays and Sundays, she anchors the news for Weekend Edition and other popular programs.

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