When A Lovely Flame Dies Smoke Gets In Your Eyes

1978_Virginia_Slims_adI’ve been intrigued by the lack of input by women on some issues I’d have thought would pique their interest. I think I’ve figured out why this has happened. I recognize that since I was around during the great revolution I expected more of women; I expected to see some sparks from them. I remember the days when the attitude toward anything though inimicable to a woman was “this too shall not stand.” Those were the times when a man who dared refer to a female as a girl was putting his life in great peril.

Two matters of recent interest had me thinking that women would be interested in them. One is the story about Patricia Campatelli who is clearly being deprived of her job because she is cut from a different jib than other women; the other is the story of young college women who are shut out of the criminal justice system by the unwillingness of the state to mandate that their complaints to college officials about being sexually assaulted be passed on to law enforcement authorities.

The great revolution I refer to was the silent and perhaps greatest revolution in American history that took place in the latter half of the 20th Century. It was that of American woman demanding her rights. This changed the face of the country and brought about enormous changes in the status of women. I can give anecdotal evidence by noting that in my law school class the percentage of women was about 2% while now they make up more than 50%. But a better picture is gained from the actual statistics and other observations.

In 1970 43% of the women participated in the labor force; in 2010 the number was up to 59%. More significant is the educational attainment: in 1970 about 33.5% of women working didn’t have high school diplomas and in 2010 it was down to 6.8%. The number of women in the work force with some college and college degrees went from 23% in 1970 to almost 68% in 2010.

More telling are the numbers of women who have received advanced degrees. The estimates are in engineering in 1970 less than 500 to over 10,000 in 2010; in medicine and law from 2,000 to 15,000; in business from 1,000 to 35,000 during that same time period.

Harvard gives an excellent picture of the change in women’s status. It was not until 1948 that Radcliffe students could enter Harvard classrooms. In 1970 the ratio of men to women admitted to Harvard was 4 to 1. They did not reach parity until 2007.

Founded in 1636 it took it 312 years before a woman became tenured on its faculty. By 1970 it had tenured two other women. In 1972 there were 752 professors across the university and only 14 were women, 7 of whom were in public health or education. In the fall of 2011 in the Arts and Sciences of the 549 tenured faculty, 120 are women.

I suppose like all revolutions the passing years caused those with the ardor and passion to light the barricade fires to become wan. The young women with fires in their bellies who rose up and demanded their rights were in their 20s, 30s, or 40s in 1970. Betty Friedan who was 42 when her 1963 book The Feminine Mystique started the rumblings died at age 85 eight years ago. Those who are left standing are now in their retirement years.

Now those who have risen to the top and enjoy the perquisites of their new status are not those who had the gumption to march and throw bricks against the plate glass windows blocking change. They’re of a different breed. They have benefited from their fighting sisters even though they lack the zeal necessary to bring about a revolution. These women now would be put off by the saying “you’ve come a long way baby” that inspired the revolutionaries, especially since it was created by a cigarette company.

The women see no need to fight for things anymore. They see others like themselves have done well. They see themselves as part of the establishment. One does not revolt against oneself. They believe the system that now exists may have its injustices, like the double standard toward a Campatelli; or the hiding of the ongoing sexual assaults reported by college women, but that is of little concern to them. They’ve been coopted by the establishment because they now are a major part of it.

The women I knew in the incipient days of the movement liberally sprinkled the F word for emphasis (something I couldn’t do) and kept up with if not surpass us men on our occassional (was it weekly?) forays into a night of heavy smoking and drinking.

Perhaps Campatelli’s sin was she was born too late. As for the coeds, since women have gained nice positions in academia they’d prefer not to rock their college’s boat. That means they keep within house the happenings on campus.

I guess I just have to remember that the revolutionary flame has died; in so doing its smoke has clouded the eyes of those who benefited from it. They can’t see that the fight should go on. There are many still standing outside in the cold.