A modest proposal: “Where are the women?”

Oct. 24, 2009

Dear friends,

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has called for a major international effort to improve the life of women and girls everywhere, focusing on education, health, economic opportunity, the elimination of sexual violence, and giving women and girls a voice.

Violence against women and girls has been long ignored by male historians, theologians, educators, the press, and political leaders as if it were an unavoidable, negligible “byproduct” of war or a “cultural norm” that had to be accepted if one wanted to move along to solve “real” problems.

Secretary Clinton has declared war on this attitude, and has demanded that the United Nations and all of its members treat rape as the crime against humanity that it is and women as the first-class citizens of the world that we are. Further, she is urging that women take a major role in peacekeeping missions and at negotiating tables because this is where decisions are made that affect everyone’s lives.

I’m writing to you because these issues have gnawing at me and because I’m sure they’ve been gnawing at you. I cannot stop thinking about our sisters in war-torn states and/or in countries where the “cultural norm” means that women are kept out of sight, or that their genitals are mutilated, or that they will have been sold into sexual slavery by the time they are eight years old.

But I also cannot stop thinking about the question of women’s voices, which I feel are not strong enough here in the U.S. Girls grow up hearing themselves deprecated in violent rap lyrics; feminism has been tarred as “femi-nazism”; and middle-aged women are depicted in TV sitcoms as pathetic man-hunters (“Cougars”).

Meanwhile, we have HOW many women in the Senate and the House? We have HOW many women on the School Board? And, hmmm, we have HOW many girls on the debating team?

So here’s my idea. How about if whenever there’s a decision to be made, a committee to be formed, a board of directors to elect, a school math or chess or science team to form, a debate to be held, we ask, “Where are the women?” and “Where are the girls?” Let’s not take it for granted that we will be only minimally represented.

We women make up more than half of the population, and it’s high time we made up half of the decision makers, half of the scientists, half of the lawyers, half of the doctors, half of the school administrators, half of the store managers, half of the priests, half of the psychiatrists, half of the governors.

When half of the delegates to the U.N. are women, there will be no issue of whether or not rape is important.

So, let’s ask “Where are the women?” until we are fairly and proportionately represented everywhere.

If you think this little proposal makes sense, please pass it along to your women friends and daughters. Together, we can start a movement in support of Hillary’s work.

If you need a bit of inspiration, here’s Hillary’s plea:

Thank you, dear friends. Let’s do it!

Barbara Jensen

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