By Marcia A. Pappas, President
National Organization for Women-New York State
February 14, 2008
Today we look to the future for women’s rights. Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think I would be writing to you as the President of NOW New York State. It has been almost four years since you elected me and I continue to feel humbled and honored to be serving you.
As I look back on my eighteen years in NOW, I’m proud to see just how far we’ve come. Many of you know that prior to my becoming President of NOW-NYS, my life’s work was conducted with an eye toward helping women to become economically independent. A woman should never have to depend on anyone for her survival. I know that, back in 2004, many of you voted for me precisely because of that business experience along with my dedication to fighting for all women.
Today, as your principal lobbyist, I find myself doubting the power of good laws, and questioning whether they are really doing what our movement intended. Indeed, during my four years as President, we have passed some great laws in New York. Chapters have worked hard, holding together sometimes by a thread, calling upon their leaders to do great things, giving of their time and more when necessary.
Chapter activists have walked the halls of our State Legislature, held rallies, written letters, and made countless phone calls to Legislators. We have worked both in coalitions and as lone wolves to fight for what is rightfully ours…to be treated as full equals in society. We have seen successful legislation pass that is excellent for women. For example we ended the statute of limitation for rape, facilitated good and effective anti-trafficking laws, and enacted better protection for sexual assault victims. And we have held countless meetings, strategizing on how to make the world a better place for women and girls. NOW New York State and chapters around the state made this all happen.
Yet as I sit in the quiet of my office, I cannot help but wonder what is missing. I know that my desire to motivate all of you must come from the bottom of my heart. And I assure you that it has and it does. My heart continues to have enough for space for everyone. So I know what I need to say to you all.
It is not to ask you to write more letters, to wear out more shoes walking the halls of the legislature, or to hold more rallies, although we must continue to do all the above. What I feel and must convey is that we have somehow missed the boat on stopping, or indeed even slowing, the venom of sexism in our society, both internalized and externalized.
In the months prior to this newsletter, sexism has played out as never before in the political arena. It has taken a viable, intelligent woman running for President to show the world just how rampant sexism is in our society. Our heartfelt support goes out to Hillary Clinton for her brave stance and her willingness to be the sacrificial lamb for the entire world to see just how prevalent sexism is in this country and around the world. A widely distributed article “Goodbye to All That (#2)” by legendary feminist Robin Morgan covers this subject in depth. http://www.womensmediacenter.com/ex/020108.html
And yes, we have seen the damage. We have seen the ravages of sexism play out before our very eyes in ways that many of us could not imagine. We have seen a symbol of strength (yes, she’s the one we have been waiting for) nearly destroyed by the media, the pundits, and her own co-workers (both male and female) in ways that none could have ever predicted.
Of course, in every movement, there are those who throw down the gauntlet and those who will quiver in the corner for fear of displeasing their abusers. We of NOW NYS are not the latter. And while sometimes, as your leader, I have been guilty of measuring my responses too much, it has been not out of fear, but out of respect. But now I ask myself: respect for whom?
We have seen, heard, and read about the internalized sexism that continues to oppress women. Well today we see it in spades, in the countless articles spewing immeasurable hatred, the distasteful comments by women pundits who are themselves beneficiaries of the women’s movement, and even from some of our own NOW sisters who say: “this Hillary stuff is distracting us from the work we have to do.” WHAT WORK, one wonders? This is our work! We need very much to recognize that combating what we have seen, heard and experienced via Hillary Clinton IS OUR WORK!
So now, after eighteen years in NOW, I feel, more than ever that what we need is more consciousness raising. On behalf of NOW-NYS I spoke out when Senator Ted Kennedy (D) endorsed Hillary Clinton’s opponent for President of the United States. A great many people understood why I spoke out so strongly. By the way I’m keeping all of your emails and letters to remind me that some people really did get it.
But my visibility on the Kennedy front was not so much about Kennedy. It was about the abuse and discrimination that women face everyday. It was about how women dedicate twenty or thirty years to a company, only to be replaced by a younger, inexperienced person, usually male. It was about the exhaustion that many women feel about decades of trying to convince lawmakers to give us our rights. In short, it was about the ongoing and persistent abuse of women. I make no apologies.
You might have heard that I was asked to make a retraction. That is not true. And I kept thinking that the discomfort or queasiness some felt was not about my statement, but about our learned philosophy of cajoling, rather than demanding and taking. It goes very deep, I think. It cuts to the quick of our very being as women. It is about our own internalized sexism. Perhaps some of those who did not like my statement are those who have not shed all the patriarch-instilled feelings of fear and intimidation. Perhaps patriarchy still informs their hearts, their minds and their souls.
For in our society, fear plays a powerful role against women. Fear is an emotion that has controlled countless individuals for centuries. Indeed many churches use it with complete impunity! But fear should have no place in our movement. People have accused me of sending the message: “you are either with us or against us.” I answer that “we must be willing to give it our all, or nothing.” And we must be willing to give it for someone else. Not for ourselves alone.
I have found my life’s work. I have found who I am as a daughter, a granddaughter, a sister, an aunt…a woman. I know that wherever I am and whatever I am doing, I will continue to advocate for women and girls. This is not a job to me. This is not a salary. This IS my purpose. My belief in our movement is so strong that I am willing to go to the mat for it. And this is my wish for all of you who read this. My desire for all of you is that you find your voice, as did Hillary and as have I. We need to do this, not for ourselves alone, but for every woman… for every woman who stands up and shouts “no more,” for every woman who runs for president, and for every woman who refuses to walk the path of least resistance.