Sunday, February 10, 2013

Role-Models for Women?

Every woman living today has the woman who came before us to thank.  We have opportunities women who lived a hundred years ago could only dream of. I’m so appreciative that I have the right to vote, had the blessing to be educated and attend college and graduate school, and have the ability to be both a mother and have a career. Yes, we have many women to thank who blazed the trail for us.
The Women’s Fund of Western Massachusetts recently had a wonderful idea. In honor of the Fund’s 15th Anniversary they are giving 16 older woman “Standing on Her Shoulders Award.” Criteria for the award included being over 70 years old, living in Western Massachusetts and “creativity and risk taking on behalf of women, courage and leadership in achieving social change, a willingness to go beyond the norm in their fields, risk taking to pursue goals despite the views of others, and following a vision before her time.” 

The Women’s Fund does a lot of good work. They fund organizations that help empower and educate women. I have great personal respect for their Chief Executive Officer, Dr. Carla Oleska, with whom I was fortunate to work with for several years. I will not personally contribute to them because they also support Planned Parenthood (the education aspect), but I do appreciate the difference that they have made in many women’s lives.

In the case of this award, they were on the right track. They are honoring many remarkable women. Among them are Elaine Barkin, who worked in social services and supported unwed mothers in raising their children or finding them adoptive homes; Claire Cox, who worked in journalism at a time when women in that field were few and far between; Gail Kielson, who has spent her life working to reduce domestic violence; Ruth B. Stewart Loving, who has worked for civil rights for African-Americans and earned  a college degree at age 73; and Marlene Werenski, who became a police officer in 1971 and worked for twenty-five years in the very-male dominated field of law enforcement. There are many other women in this list of awardees worthy of honor. 

Unfortunately, they also included a woman for her work in reproductive rights. Susan Lowestein Kitchell founded the Abortion Rights Fund of Western Massachusetts and “came to play a leading role nationally in the abortion rights movement.” I am not this woman’s judge and jury. I know that women who worked to make abortion legal often had seen friends die from back-alley abortions. In an era in which ultrasounds weren’t common and much less was known about fetal development, it was easy to pretend that a fetus was just a mass of cells. They thought that they were doing a good thing to save women’s lives. 

But, in this century, with what we do know, it is wrong to honor a woman for working to making abortion legal. We have much to thank trail-blazing women for, but to honor a woman for this is perpetuating the myth that for women to be successful, we need to have the right to kill our daughters and sons. What kind of message is that to send to young women? We've come a long way, baby. We now have the right to kill the most innocent members of society. As Mother Teresa said,  “It is a poverty to decide that a child must die so that you may live as you wish.”

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