Some people are calling this year “The Year of Women”. I don’t know if that’s true or not, but it certainly seems as though there is more awareness about the disrespect and dangers women must navigate than ever before. As a woman who grew up in the 50s and 60s, I was raised to accept a certain order. Women raised the children, and in addition, they were nurses, governesses, housekeepers, concubines and often bookkeepers, but not always. Sometimes they were on a meager allowance. By the time my mom stepped into that role, some married women also worked outside of the home, but they had to arrange their schedule around that of their families and were still responsible for the household and making their husbands happy. As a child, I never met a female doctor, but my mother and her friends were nurses. I didn’t see a male teacher until high school and, when I worked in a bank for three years, never saw a female bank manager. I was lucky enough to know a strong woman City Editor at the local newspaper, where my dad worked as Editor in Chief. So, I knew it was possible for women to excel.
Then came the Women’s Liberation Movement. Whew! What a relief. Finally, all the disparities I’d noticed and didn’t like, would be erased. I was sure of it. The National Organization of Women was started in 1966 by Betty Friedan and others. NOW stated that one of their goals was to bring women into the mainstream of society and to keep moving forward in an atmosphere of change. A lot has changed but a lot has not, and it’s been a much slower change than I anticipated. The idea of women working outside the home gained acceptance and brought on the birth of the “Supermom.” Now, more and more women worked outside of the home and still maintained the home, raised the kids, etc. Working mothers were burning out fast. Our liberation movement was backfiring on us. So, then came a change in the expectations of our male partners. As mothers, we raised our sons differently but were still drawing on our own warped experiences and didn’t quite hit the mark. Subsequent generations have done better. I’ve seen a huge shift in parenting roles in younger families, and I applaud both the men and the women who have taken on this huge set of changes. But that still leaves the ways that women are treated in the workplace and in the wider world. Women still make less money for the same work. Women still deal with catcalls and worse when walking down the street. We are still expected to behave certain ways, wear certain clothes and not make waves. But, we are making waves – tidal waves. We are tired of being denigrated. We are tired of being mistreated. We are tired of being afraid.
When I was 13-years old, I took a city bus downtown on a Saturday to do a little shopping. Many young teens did that on the weekend. On my ride home, a young man, probably in his mid-twenties, sat next to me and tried to strike up a conversation. I was very shy and didn’t say much. After a little while, he put his hand on my leg, leering at me. When I tried to get up to move to another seat, he tightened his grip and shifted his body to block me completely, grinning very boldly now. I was smart enough to get off a few stops earlier than my usual stop, but he hopped off and followed me, calling out that he wanted my number. I tried to ignore him until he caught up with me, grabbed my arm and asked for a kiss. I broke away, ran to the nearest house and called my mother who took me to the police station to file a report. The police gave me photos of sex offenders to look at, sneering at me and making rude remarks. My mother insisted on having me look at other books of mug shots where I soon recognized the same man. The officers refused to consider him since he had no previous record of sexual misconduct. They accused me of blowing the incident out of proportion and sent me home completely humiliated, and my mother furious. Years later, when I was attacked by a man and a year later another man, I didn’t bother to file reports.
When I was 38, living in Albany with two children and a third on the way, I got a job at an electronics shop. I had always been interested in electronics and had done my own easy repairs on my sound equipment. I was told that if I worked the front desk, the owner would teach me when things were slow. I was thrilled. I loved this kind of thing. People rarely came into the shop, so there was lots of down time. There were two other men working as technicians in the back. It was so slow that they often sat in the breakroom watching porn films and drinking beer. I had to walk through that room to get to the bathroom and the refrigerator, to get my food. I complained incessantly to the boss who did nothing but chuckled about “boys will be boys.” I finally quit.
These are just the tip of the iceberg. I have many more stories, some more harrowing than others, and I am not alone. Ask any woman to tell you her own story or stories. It’s been part of our existence for so long, it may be in our DNA. There has been foot binding, female circumcision, female infanticide and the list goes on. Yes, we have made progress, but the forward movement needs to keep going and pick up speed. And there are certain areas that still need to be looked at. Public figures are now being outed for sexual harassment. Women in show business have long been expected to give sexual favors to get ahead. Thankfully, that is out in the open now.
As a woman in the music business, I have often been discounted. How many female acts are booked into large venues and music festivals? How much publicity is given to your local female artists? How many of them do you support? These are important things to be aware of. Is it the fault of individual men? No, not really. Men have been entitled and confused. I don’t excuse their behavior, but just as women were raised to accept victimization, men were raised to be the perpetrators. Rather than demonizing men, we need to embrace and support them in trying to change. We need to speak out and stand up for ourselves and other women. Women have been taught to undermine each other. There was a time when our entire purpose was to find a husband. It was very competitive. But, we don’t need to behave that way anymore. We need to be allies to each other, helping each other out. If we give each other tips to get ahead, it helps us all. The more women there are in leadership roles, the more changes will happen for all women. The more women musicians perform, the easier it will be for all of us to get those gigs. The more we share our knowledge, the more knowledge we will all have. It is a double-sided coin. We can’t only change the way we want men to act towards us. We need to raise our own expectations, find our voices and support each other fully.
In that spirit, I have joined forces with another local female musician to start a local group for women musicians called WAMM (Women Are Making Music). The purpose of WAMM is to promote the professional development of female solo artists or women-led ensembles by providing education, networking and performance opportunities which embrace diverse perspectives and genres of women’s voices in music. We hope to have a series of concerts featuring women and woman led groups combined with networking opportunities and speakers sharing their knowledge about music related topics. In this way, we hope to strengthen the presence of women in the local music community and make us all more capable as individuals. The first concert will be an Open Mic at The Low Beat (335 Central, Albany, NY 12206) on Sunday, March 25th from 4:30 - 7:30 pm. I can't wait to meet and mingle with a variety of talented women in my community.