Below, IU Press intern Alison Miethke reflects on the cultural moment highlighting women’s struggle to achieve equality and generational differences.
The Harvey Weinstein scandal might have sparked the #MeToo movement across social media, but the issue at the heart of the matter is larger than any one person. Earlier this month, the New York Times published a letter of solidarity from Hollywood women who have decided to use their celebrity platform for declaring, “The clock has run out on sexual assault, harassment, and inequality in the workplace. It’s time to do something about it.”
The Time’s Up movement aims to take down the “impenetrable monopoly” of male-dominated professions, demanding an increased presence for women in leadership positions across all industries, and holding workplaces accountable for lack of gender equality in pay and workplace conduct. In order to empower victims to speak up, the movement has created a legal defense fund, administered by the National Women’s Law Center, to subsidize legal support for victims of sexual harassment or related retaliation in the workplace.
At this year’s Sundance Film Festival, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was asked her opinion on these movements, to which she replied, “For so long women were silent, thinking there was nothing you could do about it, but now the law is on the side of women, or men, who encounter harassment and that’s a good thing.” During the interview she recalls her time spent at Rutgers University, fighting for equal pay for women at the university. Like Ginsburg, women in academia have had to grapple with institutional discrimination, often needing to overcompensate in order to get what they deserved, and sometimes even that was not enough.
“I had to fight for everything… it was exhausting and depressing.”
In a captivating new memoir, accomplished writer and teacher Winifred Bryan Horner (known as "Win" to her family and friends), recount her experiences fighting for equality over several decades. In one such excerpt, Win tells her colleague and friend, Elaine J. Lawless, of the many times during the tenure process when her own department voted against her and refused to see Win as “one of the boys” despite out-publishing all the men in the department. She looked back on the process with mixed emotions, saying “You know, I think the fight was fun. It was fun because I won! … But it wasn’t much fun when it was happening. I had to fight for everything. Actually, it was exhausting and depressing.”
In a letter to her department chair, Win defends her non-traditional career path and in no uncertain terms describes the hostile environment she faced:
In all of these cases, I have been forced to fight for what has come quite easily to my colleagues. I regard this behavior on the part of the English Department as nothing short of harassment. All of these appeals have taken a considerable amount of time and emotional energy that could well have been spent on research and teaching. This destructive pattern is counter-productive both for myself and for the department.
I apologize for the tardiness of this letter, but it is late for the simple reason that I feel an almost physical aversion to writing it. I have tried very hard not to dwell on past history, not to be bitter. I have tried to ignore the condescending and insulting attitude that some members in the department have toward my field of rhetoric/composition and toward women. I have tried to ignore these attitudes and to work positively and creatively for myself and for the department. It has not always been easy, and writing this letter brings to mind the frustration and anger that I try very hard to forget.
As women gain conviction and support in demanding equal treatment across the domestic and professional spheres, it is important to know that they stand on the shoulders of those who came before. Win’s story illustrates the progress that can be achieved when women speak out against injustice and pursue fairness in the face of opposition.
Writer, Teacher, and Women's Rights Advocate
Elaine J. Lawless
Alison Miethke is a senior at Indiana University’s Media School where she is pursuing a degree in Media, Management, Industry, and Policy.