We Never Said the "F" Word
by Sheila Velazquez
Monica, a telemarketer, called me one evening last week, and after she delivered her pitch, we found ourselves in a conversation about issues that affect us both. I don't know why we made a karmic connection, but we did, exchanged home telephone numbers and agreed that we wanted to continue our conversation. She was a young black mother, living in Los Angeles, California. I am an older white grandmother, living in Knoxville, TN. The next day, Monica called from her home, and we continued our conversation where we had left off, passionately discussing the ills of our society and the specter that hovers over the children and women of America, as well as the ghost of decades yet to come. We discussed the yin-yang of the lives of our nation's struggling poor with the burdgeoning power of the class elite. We agreed that we, as women, have the power, and the mission, to turn this country around, with our sheer numbers. We must find a way to do it. We never said the F word.
I missed the women's movement back in the 60s and 70s. Busy raising children and being the good wife/mother, my own longings for individual expression were manifested only in the "99 Ways to Use Hamburger" offered by the women's magazines or the design of the patches I sewed onto my children's jeans. Occasionally, one would be embroidered with a peace sign, but that was about as far as I went in expressing radical sentiment.
The movement isn't dead, although it has changed. Our leaders have grown older, as have I. Their writings fill my bookcase, and I attempt to catch up on the history, past and present, of women's drive for equality in this country and the world.
Many women are doing better than they were ten years ago. But better isn't equal. Are we so afraid of forfeiting the ground we have gained that we don't realize we are losing it again, inch by inch? Why was the energy there when we didn't even have the vote? I'm beginning to believe that the system has consciously given us just enough to lose, to placate us, like little children given a bit of candy to quell requests for the full range of goodies in the store.
I witness the same sort of coersion against women in business today as was rampant in my youth. Many of the women who have pursued degrees and landed jobs that afford them more income than their mothers ever dreamed of are unaware of the subtle discrimination that goes on. Jobs are at risk, and men are competing more than ever with women for the same positions. I have watched as men supported each other in protecting their territories. I have seen professional women demeaned by their male colleagues and treated as subordinates by men who had not reached the level of achievement of the women. A major majority of women are working in low-wage jobs, with no hope of advancement or adequate pay, and responsible for dependent children.
Most women's issues books are written by women who are educated and live upper class lifestyles. I am sure some of them have had tough times, but they don't fully understand what it's like to face discrimination and be poor at the same time. Few have had a door slammed in their face while out hunting for a rental, because their skin is a little too dark. Or, after years of hard work and dedication, been passed over for a promotion and watched the job given to a man of half their competence. Or not being called back after applying for a job,and finding out later from an insider that the company considered them too old.
Feminism is not a four letter word. We have the talent to make changes. We are all feminists in the strict sense of the word. If more women served in positions of influence, one of the issues that would get our immediate attention would be improving the lives of all children.
College students sit around the fireplace of my family room. Friends of my youngest son, I love these people, and they are very content to be here. I like what I hear. The young women are independent, ready, eager to argue their points about the gaps they feel are widening or closing. They talk about their classes, how they will or won't help them earn a living. They question whether or not to go the safe route and pursue courses of study that will get them jobs. Or, should they follow their hearts and write their poetry and music or follow other avenues that give them life, but won't guarantee income. They also discuss the growing number of campus rapes and other crimes against women. They see that the tide isn't turning quickly enough.
The young men poke antifeminist fun at the women, but it is just gentle teasing. They are feeling the same pangs of uncertainty about their future. Ask them. Their parents are the last generation to have fulfilled the American Dream. Nice house, two cars in the driveway. They say to their kids, "You can have it too, if you work hard." And the kids say back to them, "No Mom, no Dad, probably not."
There is a huge gap here. They are being realistic. They see upperclassmen and women in their schools graduating to work in convenience stores. This generation is questioning the so-called inevitable progression of hard work/success/happiness. Financial gain doesn't have the appeal to them that it did to their parents' generation. Very practical. Many of them won't attain it. And their parents are frustrated. They have worked hard, contributed to their children's education, and expected it all to pay off.
This young generation buys their clothes at thrift shops and swaps recipes for low-cost meals. They exchange philosophies over home-brewed beer and board games and dream of living in some rural, remote community, where they could raise kids, crops and animals and live off the land. Is all this beginning to sound familiar? If you were a student in the sixties and seventies, it does. These students are missing nothing. They see the inequities of the system(s) and are confused. They want to know how to survive and still hold on to their beliefs.
My older children, now in their thirties, lived away at college when they were the age of my youngest son and his friends. I seldom had the opportunity to just hang out with them and learn what they were about. In the ten years since, the disillusionment of the young has grown to such proportions that I am fearful for the future of their generation and those that follow and am hopeful that their dissent and dissatisfaction will ignite a new revolution for change.
Many of them have become "Slackers," the title of a cult movie about young people in Austin, TX. I watched it on tape one night following the advice of my daughter. "It's about your sons," she said. And she was right. Slackers are a generation of young adults who see no hope of owning a home or bringing children into the world. They may pair up, but their high ideals of how children should be raised will keep them single, since they know they may never be able to earn enough to enjoy a family and give to children the attention and care they deserve.
These young adults see what I see. The power mongers that pull the strings contrive against us in their quest for the almighty buck. We are dominoes on their tables, and they would have no problem bulldozing us down with just one little touch. They drop tokens in the box on our bus, as they ride away in their limousines. They give the working poor a $.90 an hour raise when minimum wage should be $7.50, taking into account the inflation rate. They tell us the unemployment rate is low. But how low is it when you add in the people who have maxed out their unemployment, those who never qualified in the first place, people who work several jobs at once, those who are underemployed and continually looking to do better. Adding in these millions of workers, the rate would be more like 30 percent, maybe much more. When the politicians talk about the "middle class" families earning $40,000 to $100,000 a year, I cringe. The median wage for a full-time male worker is $30,854. For a female, it is $22,205. In order to reach the $40,000 figure and above, two, or even three incomes are included. For the single breadwinner, income is typically half the often referred to $40,000. This is the real middle class, and most in it are fed up.
I'm enraged by prime time television shows devoted to information that could be a sound bite. Where is the real news? What is really going on? Give us the facts. And, give us the good news. A trainer I know said it best. "I never listen to the news or read the front page. I turn to the sports section. You will always find a winner there." And that's what I want to hear about--winners. People and organizations who will inspire and teach us how to overcome the ills of our country. We are ready to work toward this goal. Just give us real leaders!
Pro Life or Pro Choice, Republican, Democrat or Independent, Black or White, Christian or another religion, or no religion at all--what do any of these things have to do with the goals we would set for our country? Nothing. As long as we are told we are divided by these issues and bombarded with negative information about our differences, we will be divided. We must make it clear that we are working together and that we have common goals that must be reached:
And for Monica. I never saw your face. We are of different cultures, races, religions, and generations. Individually, we cannot make a difference, but together, maybe there is hope.
About the author
Sheila's weekly newspaper column received Society of Professional Journalist awards this year and last.
Other Nonfiction articles
Tears on the Grass
Home is Where the Garden Is
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