Reading the obituary of Karen de Crow in the New York Times today brought back memories of the optimism many of us felt about feminism during the 1970s. The National Organization for Women (NOW), which De Crow led from 1974-1977, fought for equality for women in jobs, social life and sports.
Some of those battles have long since been won. We no longer think it bizarre that girls as well as boys should be able to play sports in schools and in Little League teams. When De Crow was representing a young girl who wanted to play baseball, one coach said to her “Over my dead body will girls ever play Little League baseball. “If one of them ever struck out a boy, he would be psychologically scarred for life.” I don’t think anyone now thinks that a boy’s life would be ruined if a girl could strike him out in a baseball game, but far too many men and boys still find it impossible to accept women as equals.
Why is it that so many men still find it impossible to allow women to make their own decisions about their bodies, their ambitions, and their choices? Rape on college campuses is still a threat to women students. Is it so hard to understand that every human being has a right to decide when and how they will have sexual relations? And why is it that campus rape is so often associated with athletes? Why are women’s bodies still viewed as trophies that should be the reward for winning at sports?
Women have moved far ahead in business and the professions, but even the most eminent women in the country are still questioned far more about their personal lives than men are. All we have to do is to read or view the news stories that have appeared recently about Hillary Clinton. Why does she have to answer questions about her marriage and her life choices far more often than male candidates?
More than a century and a half ago, Margaret Fuller wrote: “If you ask me what offices they [women] may fill, I reply—any. I do not care what case you put; let them be sea-captains, if you will”. She was ridiculed for demanding the impossible, but many women took up the challenge. They have become doctors, lawyers, mayors, senators and governors. But the struggle is not over. Not until women can walk on college campuses in safety and equality, apply for any job, and run for office without harassment will women be truly equal.
It is important to remember Karen De Crow and NOW, as well as all the other women who have fought over the years so that girls and women can make their own choices and live the lives they truly want. The struggle continues.