Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Megan Seely Fights Like a Girl

The enpowerment of rafting has brought many women to our company, W.E.T. River Trips for team building. Many of our group rafting trips are strictly for women such as women's groups, bachelorette parties and women's sports teams. Last year, active seniors joined us... women over 50 who enjoy being out on the river rafting on whitewater trips! The outdoor adventure industry that was once dominated strictly by men has now seen a huge inclusion of young women in all sectors... and more are joining!

Our recent blog was written by one of our oldest tenured guides, Jonny. He is married to a remarkable young feminist who has just recently released her first book: "Fight Like a Girl." We caught up with her during her speaking tour. This is our interview with Megan Seely:

I was the youngest President of California NOW (National Organization of Women). I am currently teaching Sociology and Women’s Studies full-time for Sierra College. I also serve on the board of directors for Women’s Health Specialists, a Feminist Women’s Health Center. Women’s Health Specialists are women-centered health care centers in northern California.

  • As a young woman, how did you become so passionately involved with women's rights and issues?

  • My folks say I was born passionate. I’ve always had very strong convictions and a strong sense of justice. But growing up in a family of predominately women I really didn’t know the realities of women’s rights and/or issues. I grew up with a family that celebrated having daughters, who encouraged my exploration and declarations of self, and more than anything taught me that my voice was valid and important. I think the defining moment for me in terms of women’s rights was while sitting in a large lecture hall at UC Santa Cruz with my mother who was a re-entry student of Women’s Studies and who was taking a class from Bettina Aptheker. Listening to Bettina opened my world and I began to understand that not all little girls grow up they way I did. I knew two things at that point— 1. I would teach and 2. I would work my whole life to make the world a better, safer, more encouraging, supporting and respectful place for women and girls.

  • How were you involved with the UFW (United Farm Workers)?

  • I grew up in a small coastal farming town near Watsonville and went to Watsonville High School. The realities of the farm workers’ struggle was impossible to ignore. A group of friends of mine were very aware of UFW and Cesar Chavez’s work. We decided to join in on the grape boycott by sharing a hunger strike. There are some interesting stories in my book about my mishaps ‘learning’ activism during this time. But this experience, at such a young age (I was 14), made a huge impact on how I saw the world and my role within it. I think I have always been an activist but this experience is when I really began to see the power of collective social movements.

  • Has equality between the sexes become a mute point? ie, women are attending college in greater numbers than men.

  • Nope. There are still many challenges for women and girls today—in this country and certainly around the globe. From issues of political representation (we still only comprise about 16% of Congress, have only 8 woman governors, and still no woman president) to issues of equal pay (on average women make about 74 cents to every dollar a male makes, and that is seriously reduced when you include race/ethnicity into the statistics) to safety (I could give many statistics here but the fact that even one woman in the world is raped or beaten, much less the hundreds of thousands around the world who are, makes my argument) fighting for equality continues to be important. The gains that have been made should be celebrated and should encourage us to continue until all women have the same opportunities.

  • Are the young women of today even interested in women's rights?

  • There are many young women (and men) who care about, and are involved with, women’s rights. There are many who proudly call themselves feminists. The media doesn’t often focus on these folks, but we’re here. Of course, on the other hand there are young people who don’t believe that feminism represents them, or that women’s rights is a current issue and who can blame them when we look at the effective slam campaign against feminism in the media, and when our schools barely (if at all) mention feminism or women’s contributions to history or politics. However, when you poll Americans about the tenets of feminism (i.e. ‘do you believe in equal rights?’) the vast majority of people say yes. I think we generally like strong women characters in our movies and television shows, I think most of us were thrilled with the women who gained political office this last election season and are ecstatic with Nancy Pelosi becoming Speaker of the House, we like that women go to college, we want women to be paid fairly, and we want women safe—that is all feminism.

  • There is a current trend that shows women are making more money than men. Part of that reason is that women are graduating from college in larger numbers than men. Also, for the first time in our history, over 50% of women in marriages now exceed a higher level of income than their husbands. Do these statistics point to a general equality for women?

  • I think that it is important to celebrate and recognize gains that are made but we also need to be careful not to assume equality based on a few gains. Women, in this country and beyond, continue to fight for true equality. In the U.S. we remain under-represented in business, politics, media, education, military, and religion—all the key institutions that shape our society. We still have no constitutional equality in this country and have failed to sign onto the 1979 CEDAW Convention (the Convention of the Elimination of All forms of Discrimination Against Women)—a document that over 180 countries have already signed, including more than 90% of the United Nations membership, most of our European allies and many of our trade partners. We have to ask the question, ‘why hasn’t the U.S. signed on?’

  • Reproductive rights have been at the forefront for the last few years as we have had a dominate Christian-based agenda as it relates to abortion rights and planning parenthood. Do young women still care about the erosion of these rights?

  • Absolutely, reproductive rights continue to be a cornerstone issue in women’s rights. Among women, young and older, who are activists, reproductive rights continues to be at the forefront. For others, it tends to depend upon the situation. In many ways young women almost take reproductive rights for granted, believing that birth control and abortion is there if they (or a friend) need it but otherwise not a big deal. This is what happens when you don’t teach history. Far too few young women understand the fight that ensued to earn access to birth control, abortion, or other reproductive rights (or to vote, go to college, wear pants, etc). Without an understanding of the politics of reproductive rights it is difficult to truly understand what is at stake… until you, or a friend or sister, are the one who can’t get the services you need. Unfortunately, with 87% of counties in the U.S. without an abortion provider, this is a reality for more and more women in this country.

  • If a woman had been in charge these last four years, would we be in Iraq?

  • While we just can’t know this, it is hard to imagine that we would be in Iraq if a woman had been president. I guess it depends upon which woman. This is not to say that women don’t support war or are in any way incapable of being the Commander-in-Chief but given how unnecessary and ill-planned this current war is, it is hard to believe that a woman, particularly a feminist, would have gotten us into such a position.

  • What do you hope for the women in the USA or the world? Can we apply our cultural concerns to the women in other countries or is the cultural differences too difficult to overcome?

  • So much could be gained, here and internationally, if we were able to simply value and respect women. With value and respect it would be impossible to steal her choices, do harm to her, limit her, deny her education or health care, or treat her as less. My wish is for the safety, health and equal opportunities of all women, everywhere. And if you have these things, I would ask that you remember that a woman devalued anywhere, devalues women everywhere.

  • What is the most important issue standing before the modern woman?

  • Too many to choose just one. Body image and eating disorders are so pervasive among young women, as is campus and dating violence. Certainly reproductive rights are critical and many argue essential to respect and self-determination. Child care is a tremendously important issue as discussed below. Pay equity, workplace safety, overall safety, equal opportunities—all important issues. Another essential issue is what is happening with our democracy—some would wonder if this is a feminist issue, but I argue that participation and representation in democracy is absolutely a woman’s issue.

  • In your marriage, is there a sense of general equality between you and your husband?

  • Very much so. When I first got married, people would challenge me often about equality in marriage. Many insisted that we would have to share 50-50 in all that we do to call ourselves an equal marriage (i.e. one common example that was used was the notion that if I folded a sock, he should fold a sock). I’d like to argue that this is so silly but the truth is that these types of arguments are distracting and can even be divisive. We like to believe there are so many differences between men and women and that nature drives us nearly completely. When in my experience there are not as many differences as people seem to focus on, and that while nature is influential, women and men can both learn to do the ‘domestic tasks.’ In fact, Jon has always been better at laundry than me, but I’m a smart girl and have figured it out. In my opinion, an equal marriage is one that respects and supports one another and that champions strengths as opposed to gender stereotypic norms.

  • How does a husband and wife create a balance between jobs, marriage and family?

  • I’m not sure if there is a true balance, particularly once children enter the scene. So many of my friends with children feel that when they are with their children they are not doing a good enough job for work and when at work, not a good enough job as a mom. Our country’s politicians love to yell about family values but very little support is put into practice. Other countries do a far superior job aiding families in integrating work and family—from paid leaves, subsidized child care, and an overall cultural value of family and women. The vast majority of American parents are employed in the paid labor force. We have jobs because we need them and because we want them. This should not diminish our ability to be good and present parents. Our country supported women in the paid workforce when it suited them—providing state-sponsored child-care during WWII. We could decide to allocate funds for such things again. The goal should be helping American families successfully integrate work, family and a civic life.

  • If you have a child, how will you raise her/him to understand women's issues and concerns?

  • I hope to raise a child to be a contributor. This is one of the most valuable lessons I learned from my parents. I think that it is essential to raise children with an understanding that what they do impacts others, negative or positive. If we raise children to be respectful and empathic toward others, women’s rights is a given. As are civil rights, gay/lesbian rights, disability rights and essentially every human’s rights.

  • Do you plan to run for any higher political office? Isn't that where a young feminist can make the most difference?

  • Perhaps someday…in the meantime I am really passionate about training young people on how to make a difference, create change, and take leadership. I think we need to re-define leadership for a new generation in way that incorporates women’s experiences rather than demand that they mold into a male model of politics, business, education, media, etc. Politics and government certainly is a powerful way to make a difference and running for office is a fabulous way to join in but activism comes in many forms and we make a difference on many levels—from running for office, but also by voting, talking to friends and family about an social issue that concerns us, creating co-opt child care with your neighbors, combating media images by speaking out about loving our bodies... just as they are and encouraging other women and girls to do the same, by taking a women’s studies class at the local community college, joining a campaign, going to a community meeting... activism is everyday and everywhere, for everyone.

    Visit Fight Like a Girl for more information on the author, Megan Seely. She will be speaking at several Northern California locations. There is a listing of speaking events and resources for the young feminist.

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