What a difference 5 years makes.
When I stepped in as the About.com Women's Issues Guide in October 2007, the 2008 election was still over a year away, the U.S. had never had a viable female candidate for president, and the Republicans had never had a female VP on their presidential ticket.
The world had never heard of Octomom or a pit bull with lipstick, binders full of women, Adele or Sandra Fluke. Tina Fey was still a year away from doing her impersonation of Sarah Palin, and her hit show 30 Rock was growing in popularity instead of going off the air.
A woman had never won an Oscar as Best Director. There were still countries entering the Olympic Games without women on their team.
I'm no Jeanne Dixon, so I can't predict what the world will be like for women in the next five years. But here's what I'm hoping:
- The U.S elects a woman president. (Hillary 2016!)
- There will be so many women in Congress on both sides of the aisle that the Republican War on Women will be a footnote in history.
- The threats to women's healthcare will be a thing of the past, and reproductive choice will be maintained and strengthened.
- Women like Kathryn Bigelow and Tina Fey will become the norm rather than the exception in film and in television.
- We never see another Palin family member on reality TV, and Sarah never again runs for public office.
No, this isn't a wacky wish list I've come up with to salute Women's History Month -- it's my way of burying my goodbye to you and to the About.com Women's Issues site in a post that focuses on the future of the wider world and not just my own small corner of it. After 5 years of being your Guide, I'm off to make a different history for myself trying out new things.
For those of you who told me this site was your first introduction to feminism, thank you... and I'm glad you weren't scared off by that "F" word.
For those of you who argued with me thoughtfully (and no, calling me names isn't thoughtful behavior), thank you...and though I'm not convinced, I respect your views and your willingness to try to find common ground.
And for those of you who continue to fight the good fight on behalf of women everywhere... thank you for your continuing courage and strength. I'll see you on the front lines -- if not here, then somewhere, someday. Press on!
How can this be? A hit TV series and pop culture phenomenon in which half the female cast wear little if any makeup and sport hair so bad it's worse than 80s hair? Can we say O'Brien? Can you believe that the actress who plays her is pictured above? (O'Brien, we hardly knew ye.) But it's a credit to Siobhan Finneran that looks don't matter on Downton Abbey -- only acting chops.
Downton Abbey is like gummy vitamins -- it goes down so easily that you may not realize it's got stuff that's good for you. At the heart of this story about the Grantham family estate, with the lords and ladies upstairs and the servants below, are a handful of feminist themes that remind us that the rights we take for granted are ones that were not around at the time this period piece takes place. Women couldn't vote, women couldn't inherit property or a title, and if a woman was pregnant out of wedlock, welcome to the streets. (What the Dowager Countess might have made of Teen Mom would be something to consider.)
The women are the stars of the show -- even if the men seem to be in control -- because for the most part they rise above their travails. Sure, we root for Mary to overthrow the entailment and enjoy a bedroom romp without bringing shame down on the family, Gwen to get her secretarial job, Sybil to become a nurse and marry Tom the chauffeur, Edith to drive that tractor and write that column, and Isobel to right every injustice in the world including getting Mr. Moseley's father to win the Grantham Cup for his roses.
We root for them because we know these battles have already been won. At a time when women are open to criticism for wanting contraceptives covered, voting for a President who won't put them in binders, trying to fly around the world and maintain peace, and entering Congress in record numbers, it's good to know that somewhere in a world of beauty, privilege, fresh cut flowers and breakfast in bed, even wealthy women slim beyond reason have it hard.
While the women are busy trying to better themselves and the world around them, the men of Downton Abbey are acting like spoiled children.
Lord Grantham is busy dreaming of diddling the new maid, moping that he can't really go to war, and now getting his daughter killed because he had to pal around with another old boy from the club who was a doctor with more ego than medical common sense.
Thomas is trying to screw up Bates' life, get out of service by becoming a medic, get out of the war by getting his hand shot off, screw up Bates' life once again, make everyone's life miserable and throw his weight around, make a go of it in the black market, clean up the mess in the storage area he made after the black market thing failed, find the dog he hid so he could find her and impress Lord Grantham, get into the new footman's pants.
Matthew is moaning about honor and not taking Lavinia's father's money under false pretenses, moaning about his sperm count, moaning about the mismanagement of the estate.
I could go on.
Notice how the women save the men on Downton Abbey? Cora marries Lord Grantham and gives him a huge influx of cash to save the estate. Mary finds out that Daisy mailed Lavinia's letter so that Matthew can take his huge influx of cash and save the estate with a clear conscience.
Anna finds out that Bates wasn't responsible for the theft he was charged with. Anna finds out that Bates wasn't responsible for the murder he was convicted of; a neighbor saw that Bates' wife had pie crust under her nails, so she made the arsenic pie that poisoned her. (Earth to Batesie: it's not honorable to keep quiet and not implicate your conniving, grasping wife. It's stupid.)
Mrs. Hughes doesn't marry the farmer so Carson's perfectly-ordered household won't be upset by her departure and he won't have a heart attack. (He does anyway.) Jane quits so she won't "distract" Lord Grantham. (At least he still has his dog.)
And I could go on.
If you're not a fan, your head is reeling. If you're a fan, you're nodding your head.
For every powerful man, there's a woman who makes his success possible. For Lord Grantham, there's five -- his wife, daughters, and his mother. For Carson the butler, there's at least five. There is no throne at Downton Abbey -- after all, they're nobles, not royals. But if there were, women would be the power behind it.
Photo © Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images
Fashion, Passion, Class Warfare and Feminism: Why We Love Downton Abbey
Photo of Democratic women of the House © Mark Wilson/Getty Images
Like many, I'm excited about the 113th Congress because of the inclusion of so many women and because of its diversity and its many firsts. However, we ought to be mindful of the overall history of women in Congress and get better acquainted with those progressive women whose trailblazing efforts nearly a century ago broke the glass ceiling at the federal level.
Did you know that:
- the first woman elected to Congress won her seat even before women had the right to vote?
- the first female Senator only served for one day?
- or that she holds the record as the oldest person to begin serving in the Senate at age 87?
And who is it that holds the record for length of service by a woman in Congress?
Here's an easy one: which political party has women serving in Congress at nearly twice the rate of the other party?The answers are in the article History of Women in Congress.
Everything you'll ever need to know about women in Congress:
There's always a great deal of hoopla at those press events surrounding the signing of new policies and legislation in Washington. Sometimes when you scan the faces of those involved, the smiles are fixed and the cheer reads false -- but it's a politically expedient move and so mote it be.
But when Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin E. Dempsey addressed reporters and news outlets prior to signing the document that would remove the ban excluding women from combat, both men spoke with honesty and strong conviction.
Secretary Panetta told of his visits to ground troops and hospitals and his conversations with service members: "[E]veryone, men and women alike -- everyone is committed to doing the job. They're fighting and they're dying together. And the time has come for our policies to recognize that reality."
These and other words of his have been widely quoted, but perhaps Gen. Dempsey's were more moving if less polished.
His two most heartfelt first-person observations came during the Q&A following the news conference. He told one story of his landing in Baghdad as the commander of the 1st Armored Division and then boarding an armored Humvee. In a mood of camaraderie, he slapped the leg of his turret gunner assuming he was a man, only to have the gunner introduce herself as Amanda. Another story involved his return to West Point years after his graduation, and his opinion that with the admission of women, "it had become better in almost every way."
News outlets have found and given air time to dissenting voices -- as they always do -- but this was an internal decision that reflects the changing face of the military. Even Senator John McCain, a prisoner of war in Vietnam, said it was "the right thing to do." McCain, along with Panetta and Gen. Dempsey, stressed the need to maintain physical standards so that soldiers met the necessary qualifications with no reduction in expectations based on gender.
Women have seen combat in Iraq and Afghanistan, and 152 body bags of female soldiers attest to that fact. Saying that women aren't already in combat disrespects their service and their commitment to protecting the rest of us who aren't on the battlefield. With this decision, the military is finally giving credit where credit is due.
Female marine recruit training at Parris Island © Scott Olson/Getty Images