Paula J. Caplan Ph.D.

Science Isn't Golden

Much-needed Women and Media Conference Energizes, Inspires

Today's Sexism and Ways to End It Displayed at VFA Event

Posted Sep 14, 2013

It had been way too long since I had been in a room where it was clear you could say you support equal rights, even say you are a feminist, and not have to explain, justify, or defend what you said. And when much time has passed between such events, it's hard to remember how energizing, inspiring, warming, and hilarious they are. That's why I consider myself lucky to have attended the spectacular conference on women and the media recently put on by Zoe Nicholson and her conference committee for Veteran Feminists of America ( ). The other committee members were Lindsey Horvath, Martha Wheelock, Jane Guthrie, Melinda Tremaglio, Zury Chavez, Chelsea Del Rio, and Alma Alegria.

The first word of the organization's title refers not to war veterans but to veterans of the feminist movement. The remarkable Jacqui Ceballos, who impelled the founding of VFA to preserve and celebrate the history of the Second Wave of the women's movement, received a richly-deserved award, as did the also remarkable Muriel Fox, another driving spirit of VFA and publicist for the work. Among other things, Jacqui chaired the New York chapter of the National Organization for Women (NOW) and organized and coordinated a national women's strike, helped create the National Women's Political Caucus, and was the first Executive Director of the Women's Forum. Muriel was a co-founder of NOW and was founder, president, and chair of the NOW Legal Defense and Education Fund, now called Legal Momentum.

The VFA has for two decades been holding events based on various themes -- such as feminist writers, feminist lawyers, relationships between Second Wave and Third Wave feminists -- in various cities. The most recent one was in Los Angeles, and I understand the next will probably be in St. Louis. I hope that readers will consider joining, because the organization does great work both with these events and other ways of preserving and making history. For VFA, Barbara Love conceived and edited the impressive and fascinating book called Feminsts Who Changed America, documenting the contributions of more than 2,000 feminists. The organization has honored thousands of women across the country, giving beautiful medals to both the well-known and the unsung.

Though created with an emphasis on Second Wave feminists, the organization now welcomes and honors feminists of all generations.

When the Second Wave began in the late 1960s, who would have thought that in 2013, so much would have been achieved but so much would remain to be done? A propos of the latter, in a recent article about the eight categories of "most dumped-on Americans," Paul Buchheit named women as constituting one such category and wrote:

Recent figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics reveal that women earn just 80% of men's pay. In Washington, DC and California, Hispanic women make only 44 cents for every dollar made by white men. The only deviation from the norm is that in 47 of 50 large metropolitan areas, well-educated single childless women under 30 earn more than their male counterparts.

But the overall disparities have worsened since the recession, with only about one-fifth of new jobs going to women, and with median wealth for single black and Hispanic women falling to a little over $100. And there's no respite with advancing age. The average American woman's retirement account is 38 percent less than a man's, and women over 65 have twice the poverty rate of men.

Each event includes informative speeches and panel presentations, both reminding us of -- often revealing to us -- the history of the struggle for women's rights. And the most recent one was packed with exciting things, just a few of which I will tell you about but all of which were wonderful.

Women's Studies and Sociology specialist Melanie Klein of Santa Monica College gave the keynote address, speaking about her founding of WAM!Los Angeles. National WAM! was founded by Jaclyn Friedman -- Women, Action, and the Media, whose wonderful website is at Klein described the current fundraising campaign for a project called "Brave Girls Want!" --‎ -- which went beyond its recent goal of raising $25,000 to pay for a Times Square billboard on which for seven days a constantly-changing display of messages about what girls really want in order to be happy and healthy will be displayed. The project is based on the notion that "Toxic media and toys are a risk to healthy and empowered girlhood. The Brave Girls Alliance is taking media back and we will start in Times Square." They aim to mount similar campaigns globally. Their website includes this message: "It is time to change our girls' fate. Our brave daughters have the right to a healthy carefree childhood."

Jennifer Lee, a smart, utterly engaging, creative director, showed her new film, "Feminist Stories From Women's Liberation, 1963-1970." The one-hour film is terrifically entertaining as well as informative, even for people like me who were involved in the movement at that time. Jennifer appears onscreen intermittently through the film, telling us that in 2004 a woman had whispered -- yes, whispered, as though asking an embarrassing or dangerous question -- to her, "Are you a feminist?" Responding to the question, Jennifer realized that she had no "detailed visual history" of the movement, so she traveled around the country, interviewing feminists from that time for her film. Onscreen she also tells us that she has a young daughter and made the film in part for her and others who need to know the history. The film won "Best of the Festival, Documentary" at the Los Angeles Women's International Film Festival. I wish everyone, female and male and of all ages, could see this film. In fact, you can, because it can be ordered at

Events like this one feed our souls. But we do it -- and can do it more -- on a daily basis, even on a smaller scale over a cup of tea with a friend or talking to a child or teenager about the ongoing need for uncovering ongoing manifestations of the sexism that ultimately harms not only girls and women but also boys and men. This uncovering paves the way for the activism to eradicate sexism that is a civic responsibility for us all.

©Copyright 2013 by Paula J. Caplan                                         All rights reserved

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