I feel so fortunate to have met Susan Hirschstein, who is compassionate about her mission to help women all over the world. I have spent some time with Susan and after hearing about her background, and some of the work she has done, I ask her to share some of her experiences with us. It is my pleasure to introduce Susan to all of you. I hope you receive some inspiration from what she had to say.
I grew up being told that I would go to college and have a profession so that I could always support myself, forward thinking as many of my friends were to go to college to meet appropriate men to marry. When I was meeting with my high school guidance counselor to review a recent aptitude test, I was told that it was too bad I was a girl as I wasn’t expected to go into engineering and had scored very high in mechanical aptitude.
In college for commercial art, professors repeatedly told the female students that we would never be more than glorified secretaries doing menial art work (see Mad Men for content). So I went into teaching art instead.
Always interested in women’s issues, I became very active with the National Organization of Women (NOW). The work resonated with me and gave me the tools to assist my desire to help women achieve equality through the political process and advocacy. I spoke widely on these issues to various women’s groups. Language use brought home to me how words shape thoughts.
Mentioning firemen, policemen etc. summoned an image devoid of women. When my then four-year-old daughter said to me at the beach, “We can go into the ocean. No shark will bite us.” I asked why. She told me that they were, “man eating sharks.”
Language is powerful.
After giving up teaching art, I was fortunate to find work where I could assist women, first at Planned Parenthood and then at a domestic violence/sexual assault agency. My experiences there reinforced my desire to help level the playing field for women and girls. Speaking with legislators during the 70’s and 80’s was eye opening and showed that we had a long way to go. The comments, when lobbying in Albany for a law against martial rape, which was legal in NYS until 1984, were appalling. Much progress has been made, however there is still a long way to go.
Involvement in the Title IX (banning discrimination in education) Committee at my childrens’ school helped lead to allowing girl’s teams equal practice time and funding for their sports as well as many other opportunities.
Each move forward was always met with backlash.
When you look at how women are treated in many countries, the need for rapid progress is evident. However, there are many countries that are way ahead of the USA in women in power, equal pay, maternal health and other issues. The US ranks number 65 in maternal health, 89 in political status and 42 in children’s health among the industrialized nations.
I always believed that “feminism is the radical notion that women are equal.”