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Feminists work for equal gender rights
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Photo courtesy of PINELLAS NOW
Each year, Pinellas NOW joins with Planned Parenthood in January to mark the anniversary of the Roe vs. Wade decision. Here they are joined by Tampa NOW at the rally in 2011 in downtown St. Petersburg, where about 40 people gathered to support abortion rights.
PINELLAS PARK – The women’s rights movement is still alive, and though there has been great progress made, Pinellas National Organization for Women believes there is still a long way to go.

“I want my nieces to have all the options that men have in terms of jobs, in terms of having control over their bodies,” said Linda Darin of Seminole, president of Pinellas NOW. “Being an older woman and growing up in the era where we didn’t have access to birth control and abortion, it’s scary.”

Darin said she watched a friend almost die from an abortion because there were not safe ways to get them when they were younger. The only way women will ever have equality and control over their lives is if they have access to all the same jobs and the ability to make a good paycheck and to control their own bodies, she said.

The National Organization for Women is the largest national feminist organization, she said, and it has existed since 1966. Pinellas NOW meets on the fourth Wednesday of the month at 7:30 p.m. at Girls’ Inc., 7700 61st St. N., Pinellas Park

The organization has six priority issues that it works for: Advancing reproductive freedom, promoting diversity and ending racism, stopping violence against women, winning lesbian rights, achieving constitutional equality, and ensuring economic justice.

Darin said each local chapter can choose to primarily focus on a few specific goals, and the Pinellas Chapter especially focuses on reproductive freedom, stopping violence against women and general equality. Each January, for instance, the group teams up with Planned Parenthood to raise awareness of women’s rights on the anniversary of the Roe vs. Wade decision. Additionally, the group participates in Take Back the Night, which protests violence against women. NOW also addresses the legislature regarding bills that affect women, Darin said.

Vivian Taylor of Safety Harbor, vice president of the group, said that NOW also builds coalitions with other groups to raise visibility about women’s issues.

“I’m a feminist, so I have to be involved in some kind of struggle for equality and women’s rights,” Taylor said. “It’s sort of a moral obligation. But women’s issues are something I’m very, very passionate about.”

Even though women’s rights are better than they used to be, the women in NOW believe there is still a long way to go.

“I think that the orchestrated attack on reproductive rights is a diversion in a way,” Taylor said. “So I think that as long as we’re distracted by these concerns that should have been settled in the 1970s or 1980s, that we are unable to explore what I consider are higher order concerns. So I think that those baseline reproductive rights – abortion rights, birth control – have to be settled definitively. We can’t be mixed up with some petty squabbles about this when we have more important things to do. Like the pay gap and LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer/questioning) rights.”

Taylor said topics that are important to her are especially the pay gap with equal pay for equal work; getting women in more executive positions and positions of power, including the government; and fighting more for LGBT rights. As one of the younger members of the group, Taylor said it’s important that younger women – and men – continue to work for these issues.

“It’s important that feminists’ struggles don’t die out with our sisters who struggled in previous generations,” Taylor said. “We have to continue the struggle because if we don’t, we’re in serious trouble, caught fighting these battles that we thought were already settled.”

Ruth Whitney of St. Petersburg, on the other hand, who is the club’s election’s chairwoman and former president, she has been involved with NOW since 1970. She, too, thinks there is still work to be done for women’s rights.

“I think there’s still employment discrimination, including sexual harassment,” Whitney said. “I have taught women’s studies at the University of South Florida, and almost all of my students say they have experienced some kind of sexual harassment. … In particular in the restaurant work as waitresses. Sexual harassment is a serious problem for these young women, and it’s a problem for all women workers. And, of course, the wage discrimination is still there. You know, the statistics are that for every dollar a man makes as a full-time worker, a woman makes about $0.76.”

Fortunately, even though things are still far from perfect, she still says she’s seen progress in her lifetime. She remembers when women made only $0.59 per each dollar a man made, and back when she was in college, no one talked about violence against women because it was considered a family issue. She can freely raise the issue in her university classes, and nearly all her students know someone or know of someone who has been raped or battered by people they have dated, Whitney said. There obviously is still a huge problem with these issues, but it is progress that these issues are discussed and there are rallies such as Take Back the Night. Back when she was young, there wasn’t even a term for sexual harassment, she said.

In Whitney’s lifetime, there

have also been moves toward more equality in the areas of women in politics and throughout the workplace, and there are more women in the military and as doctors and lawyers.

Darin believes there have been advances made, too.

“Education,” Darin said. “In terms of education, women now are outpacing men in terms of getting bachelor’s degrees, master’s degrees, and I think they have just caught up in getting Ph.Ds. So in education, women are actually pulling ahead of men.”

But like the others, she said there’s no time to stop working for women’s issues. She used to be a therapist who worked with women, and Darin said that often women in domestic violence situations feel stuck because they have not been given the opportunities to be financially independent and because they have children with the partner and don’t know how they would support them if they left. This is one reason why it is so important for women to have quality education, equality in the workforce and control over their own bodies, she said.

Unfortunately, she said that over the years, the word “feminism” has picked up some baggage, and the group wants to stress to people – especially young women – that the stereotypes about feminists are false.

“We had a discussion on feminism and we were talking about how a lot of people, especially younger women, have this view of feminism as a bad word and picture ugly women who can’t find men,” Darin said. “I’m married. A lot of the women in the group are married or have boyfriends, so that’s not true.”

Whitney said the stereotypes are definitely still an issue.

“My students tell me that they always get comments when people would see the word ‘feminist’ on any of their textbooks,” Whitney said. “The opponents of women’s rights have tried to make feminism a bad word and have tried to chase people away from the word. …But feminism means equal rights for women, and our country has viewed equal rights for all people (as a priority) so of course every American should be for equal rights for women.”

The women of NOW all hope that through their hard work, the world will be a better place for future generations of women. For Taylor, she wants there to be a day when everyone – men and women – have equal chances at any kind of job they want and will be paid equally for it.

One of the modern day issues that Whitney wants to change is how women are portrayed in the media, particularly in advertisements and in the movies.

“Particularly the advertisements in magazines are depressing to my students,” Whitney said. “They feel inferior because they can’t meet this beauty image. We’ve got to change the socialization for women so there is not this beauty idea out there and that this is what it means to be a woman. And we also need to change the socialization of boys. They’re taught, ‘don’t cry.’ We have this image that guys have to be the tough guy and women an object of beauty. We need to change that so they can find out who they are and what they want to look like and how they want to portray themselves in the world.”

Anyone is invited to join NOW, and they welcome both women and men. Everyone who believes in equality between the sexes is welcome, Darin said. Taylor added that it is an inclusive, diverse group where everyone is made to feel at home.

“I would hope that all women would see the need for women to be treated equally,” Whitney said, “and live that way in their lives, in their homes, raising their children and in the workplace. And if they work outside the home and believe that (equality) is the way the world should be. And if they have time to join any organization that will bring progress for women, whether it’s the League of Women Voters, or Business and Professional Women or NOW, that’s great.”

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