Martha Michael: The ‘F’ word


Your mother may have used the word to explain burning bras and the ERA in the ‘70s. And her mother may have used it to explain why she and her suffragette comrades marched down Main Street in the 1910s.

The “F” word punctuated the election of Shirley Chisholm, the first black woman elected to the United States Congress, and it fueled Gloria Steinem’s idea to create Ms. Magazine.

It was the same force behind Betty Friedan’s book, “The Feminine Mystique,” and forming the National Organization of Women, or NOW, more than 50 years ago.

F & the workplace

Like something out of “Mad Men,” Friedan was motivated to action when she lost her job simply because she became pregnant, and NOW co-founder Muriel Fox was rejected by a PR firm that wouldn’t hire a female writer.

There’s an “occupational segregation” that occurs, says Yasemin Besen-Cassino, author of “The Cost of Being a Girl.” Even young teens start in different capacities – boys do yard work or shovel snow, while girls babysit. And in service jobs there’s a split, the author says – girls are “good with people” and, therefore, get positions such as hostesses. LinkedIn analysts report that even when working in industries with men, women tend to take “feminine” positions, like human resources, rather than becoming engineers.

The “F” word has launched a lot of debate over pay inequity. Only about a dozen Fortune 500 companies have a woman at the helm, and women of color make up fewer than 1 percent of CEO positions. And to further tip the scales, of the $1.5 trillion of student debt, women hold about two-thirds, and African-American women have more student debt than any other group, an average of $30,000 after graduation.

But it’s more than money and advancement being challenged by the “F” word.

“We have the right to work in an environment that does not tolerate inequitable pay, sexual misconduct, bullying or shaming,” said Terry Green of Santa Clarita, whose early career was in corporate business, but recently launched her own company called Make Mosaics. “We should not be subjected to retaliation or criticism regarding unwanted sexual advances or the choice to balance being a mother AND an employee.”

F & motherhood

There are continued efforts to level the playing field when it comes to men and women attempting the same thing: bringing home the bacon and taking care of the family. The Bureau of Labor & Statistics shows that mothers spend almost twice as much time with the children as men do. Even when working outside the home, women pack diaper bags, line up backup plans for when kids are sick, plus do the shopping and cooking.

“A lot of what has traditionally been considered ‘women’s work,’ such as household labor and the emotional labor involved in tending social ties of a family can be less visible or valued traditionally in the broader culture than work that earns money,” says Santa Clarita resident Rebecca Kellogg, who owns an alternative wellness and personal development company. “We stack this with a culture that can simultaneously put mothers and wives on a pedestal while also patronizing them or celebrating extreme self-sacrifice in those roles as defining the value of their offering or the character of the one giving it. A woman who chooses to be a mother, wife, and entrepreneur, while also not burning out, must make a friend of boundaries and balance.”

F & domestic violence

It’s been less than a year since the Santa Clarita Valley Domestic Violence Center announced it was merging with the Child & Family Center. It offers support groups, peer counseling, court advocacy and a 24-hour hotline. The majority, by far, of victims who reach out to them for help are women. And they are tasked with finding protection for the children too.

The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence says that in murder-suicides involved with an intimate partner, 94 percent of the victims are female. They also say that in the U.S., 19.3 million women are victims of stalking vs. 5.1 million men.

While overrepresented as crime victims, females are underrepresented in government. On local ballots Tuesday, women made up only about a third of candidates. There was one good outcome of the 19th Amendment this week: The judge who gave only a six-month sentence to the Stanford swimmer in the assault case in NorCal was recalled.

The website for RAINN, or Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, says that out of every 1,000 rapes, a total of 994 perpetrators go free. That means only six rapists are incarcerated.

The magic of Gloria Allred can only do so much with a system like that.

But seeing Bill Cosby go down in flames and Harvey Weinstein get prosecuted means the time for victim blaming may well be dissipating.

F & education

Actress Meghan Markle, now Duchess of Sussex, wrote a compelling article in Time Magazine last year based on her travels with World Vision. She made a case for the sad challenges to educating girls in India. According to Markle, 113,000,000 adolescent girls are at risk of dropping out of school because of the stigma surrounding menstruation. Due to shame and embarrassment, females do not attend school, in part because of the need for better sanitary supplies.

If you still don’t get it, and you think the “F” word is just a rallying cry for women who assemble, march, picket, and bring messages such as “Men of quality do not fear equality,” it may benefit you to know it’s something nearly every ethnic group and political party would embrace … because the “F” word is Fairness.

Martha Michael is a contributing writer for The Signal and serves as editor for three local publications. She has been writing professionally for decades and is the author of “Canyon Country” by Arcadia Publishing.

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