I always felt the women’s movement, per se, had much in common with the labor movement: people fighting against low pay, squalid working conditions and callous, predatory bosses. With the recent attack on unions in Wisconsin, I felt it important to return to the roots of feminism as it relates to the workplace; the ceaseless struggle to be valued as people, not property.
The Triangle Shirtwaist Fire and Women’s Garment Workers Strike of 1909 illustrate the importance of these events in today’s political climate. Feminism is not merely a word, nor is it animated by slogans. It embodies the spirit of a life-and-death struggle encapsulated by women forced to choose between burning and falling to their deaths, just because they needed to work. And it takes the fight to those who should have cared, but instead chained the doors and fled at the first hint of fire.
I understand my role in feminism is limited primarily to supporting a select few women, mainly my daughters. I take to heart Neil Postman’s classic educational treatise Teaching as a Subversive Activity. I want my daughters to recognize the importance of Alice Paul, and be inspired to reintroduce, and pass, the ERA, so we discuss these issues. I want them to embrace the eloquence of Susan Faludi, the incisiveness of Naomi Wolf, the ferocity of Naomi Klein, so we read their books. I want them as women to appreciate their roles as active participants in whatever they pursue. And I want them to understand the consequences of indifference, to paraphrase the poet Stevie Smith, with their airborne bodies not flying, but falling.