Last week, I had the pleasure of attending Women’s Day at the Capitol, hosted by the Permanent Commission on the Status of Women (PCSW). The day was a celebration of how far society has come with regard to the status of women, as well a reminder of the work that remains. This year, Women’s Day also recognized the PCSW’s fortieth birthday! Several legislators spoke at the event, and winners of the Young Women’s Leadership Program essay contest, two incredibly talented high school students, read their poignant essays.
The energy in the room of nearly 250 attendees, many of whom proudly wore red to highlight the visibility of the day, culminated with the inspirational, humorous, and insistent words of the keynote speaker, Marcia Gillespie. Ms. Gillespie is former Editor-in-Chief of Ms. Magazine and Essence. A noted activist on issues of gender and race, Ms. Gillespie has written several articles and essays that are now required reading in women’s studies classes. Currently, she is Director of Special Projects at Essence and is also a professor at SUNY Old Westbury College, where she teaches writing for media.
Ms. Gillespie’s keynote, candid yet powerful, spoke to the theme “A Reflection of 40 Years of the Women’s Movement.” In the following segment, Ms. Gillespie articulates the tragic and unreasonable compromises that women are expected to make when it comes to the work of child care. I hope you will take a moment to read her words, reflect on what they mean to you, and heed her call to action.
“You can’t parcel justice out to just certain groups. It either has to go to everyone or it means nothing to anyone…
We need to find our righteous rage, and keep it stoked. We need to be real about the fact that we women… so much of what we do… is just put down to being women’s work and therefore of little value in this world. That is part of the reason why we are still paid less. It is part of the reason why we still don’t have universal affordable child care in this country.
Because there is this assumption that there’s always going to be some woman to do it. What not you? Well then, your mother. What not her? Then someone else. Oh, and, for that, we will then end up in exploitative situations where we are looking at the most recent arrivals in this country and sometimes the most vulnerable females in this country to take on the jobs of taking care of our children for less than they deserve to be paid because that’s the best we can do.
And so they make us complicit in, you know, the oppression of other women. Something is wrong here! And yet we can always find money for other things… Now everyone’s telling us how, well, we just can’t afford to do it…
We can’t afford not to do it… we have to have these changes, these essential changes to our laws, now. Not tomorrow.”
Be sure to visit the Permanent Commission on the Status of Women’s website for transcripts and videos of the speeches from Women’s Day at the Capitol 2013, as well as for more information about the PCSW’s important work.