Anne Taylor Fleming on Women’s Progress
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ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Finally tonight our Monday night essay.
ANNE TAYLOR FLEMING: Every day there is something to cheer about. Every day there is something to mourn about or rail against, if you are an American woman. Every day a casual perusal of any newspaper or viewing of any TV news shows make you shiver with pride: a woman elected to run a state or serve in Congress–a woman in space for six months, not just any woman, a mid-life mom and wife–the female softball team bringing home Olympic gold–more women than men now in medical school–and Madeleine Albright, the first woman secretary of state, thrilling stuff. But there are always the other items too–the downward drag of bad news running like an ugly refrain through the good: women beaten or murdered by their husbands and ex-husbands; little girls taken from their clapboard houses in every town in America and raped and killed.
The rage of men is still on the prowl. There are also the more innocent but also disconcerting tales of grade school girls hounded out of their classrooms by boys with mean mouths, boys who call them whores and snap their first bra straps. We all had a good chuckle over the six-year-old boy sent home from school for kissing a classmate.
Tut-tut, we said, how silly, we’ve gone slightly mad, overreacting like this. In his case that was most probably true, it was probably child’s play. But so much else isn’t. We now have a full tilt sex scandal in the Army. At a military base in Maryland dozens of women, many still in their teens, tell of being raped and sodomized by their training supervisors.
A special hotline set up by the army gets thousands of calls from female soldiers reporting their tales of sexual assault and harassment. I find myself scouring the details, waiting for each new revelation, each new accusation. How did we come so far to get back here? But even in this mess there is actually some good news. The army is all over its problem.
SPOKESMAN: That is unacceptable conduct for soldiers. It’s unacceptable to the Army. And we have zero tolerance.
ANNE TAYLOR FLEMING: There is not that “boys will be boys” sense that hung over the Navy’s Tailhook scandal for so long. The Army brass has been firm and outraged. Listening to them I breathed a small sigh of relief. There has been movement. We have evolved. And, of course, in the recent election women were featured, catered to, the so-called soccer moms of America casting a decisive vote for Clinton. By the same token in their own races women did not fare nearly so well. Despite a record number who ran for major offices, there were only moderate gains. Again the Yin and Yang, win some, lose some. That’s what it is. That’s how it goes. Two steps forward for women, one step back, sometimes one and a half steps back.
It all still feels new and so tentative, the freedom of women to do and be anything, the vote, the idea of full tilt equality. I find myself on these cool California afternoons watching the young girls playing soccer at the local field, shin guards in place, pony tails flying. Yes, there has been progress, I say to myself, happily turning towards home, despite the nightly news blast from the other side, the dark side. And I turn back once more to look at them–America’s daughters–wishing I could protect each and every one of them. But still the air is filled with possibility, and I am exhilarated watching them.
I’m Anne Taylor Fleming.