I am woman, hear me roar In numbers too big to ignore And I know too much to go back an' pretend 'cause I've heard it all before And I've been down there on the floor No one's ever gonna keep me down again. from the song I Am Woman
It was 1972 when singer Helen Reddy recorded that song, and the sentiments were considered mighty militant in those days. I was barely into high school, but was proudly waving my little teenage flag for Women’s Rights. I had big plans to roar in those days, to be something my mother and grandmother never had the opportunity to be.
No one was gonna keep me down, that was for sure.
The Women’s Movement (as it was called back then) sparked the kinds of changes in society that allowed women of my generation the ability to walk into courtrooms and operating rooms and board rooms carrying tools of the trade instead of cups of coffee. It gave women control over their bodies and the power to make decisions about their physical and mental health. In the space of one generation it became “normal" for women to work outside of the home at any career they chose. It became legal for women to maintain control of their reproductive system. The women of the 1960’s and 1970’s extended the work of their Suffragette Sisters and took women’s rights several bold steps into the future.
That’s a lot of change in one generation. And because I saw how quickly that occurred, how it began with a lot of “big talk” by women intent on taking control of their lives for once, I have to admit I’m more than a little frightened by things that are happening right now which could force the pendulum back in the other direction. There’s a lot of “big talk” out there again, but this time it’s not being spoken by women but instead by men who would like nothing better than to put women “back in their place.”
And while it’s easy to slough off comments of people like Rush Limbaugh, who have no real power other than the power we give him by listening to his pompous drivel, it’s not so easy to disregard the sentiments of people like Rick Santorum, Rick Perry, and Mitt Romney. These are men who have the potential for great power, who have huge followings and huge bank accounts, and legions of people willing to do their bidding. Give these men a foot in the door and it could set in motion the kind of change that would destroy everything women have gained in the past three decades.
The young women of my son’s generation - those in their 20’s and 30’s - have never lived in a time when women didn’t have the opportunities they have today. They can’t imagine the kind of work life my mother-in-law had as an Executive Secretary in the Ford Motor Company World Headquarters, where she referred to herself as “Mr. Smith’s girl,” and was required to wear dresses and high heels to the office each day. They can’t fathom being denied admission to medical school on the basis of gender.
It’s easy to take those kinds of freedoms for granted and become complacent about changes in society that have been to your benefit for so long.
But society changes all the time, and something that was deemed progress by one generation can just as well be deemed regression by another.
I’m thinking it may be time for women to start practicing their roar once again.
We really do know too much to go back and pretend.