To the editor:
As a girl, I grew up in Gloucester with two brothers and the neighborhood was full of more boys than girls to play with. We played football, baseball, basketball, built jiggers and rode them down the hill in front of the bowling alley. Summers were spent at Good Harbor Beach rolling down the dunes and body surfing the waves, or going fishing at the anchor foundry.
I never considered myself anything but their equal, except maybe that they were physically stronger.
It wasn't until college when I found myself in a soils class at the University of New Hampshire that sexism and inequality become perfectly clear. The professor knew his class was tedious, filled with talk of nitrogen uptake and phosphorus levels — and I and one other young woman were the first females in his class.
One class stands out in my memory. A slide show of fields, corn, wheat and other grasses was in progress; I was writing notes, head down. Suddenly the class broke into cheers and applause. I looked up to see a voluptuous, mostly nude woman on the screen!
What was meant to be a "light-hearted" break in a boring class full of future farmers was offensive to us two young ladies. Without a word, we both gathered our books and stormed out. We were furious. How dare that teacher do such a thing?
It was a seminal moment in my life. I found a newly formed women's group on campus and joined. I read books on women's issues. After college and having my children, I joined the local chapter of the National Organization for Women.
That was 30 years ago and still now, here on Cape Ann I learn of Selectman Sandy Jacques saying to Selectwoman Sarah Wilkinson, who chairs the board, in a supposedly offhanded barb "Why don't you go back to the kitchen?"
Really? In claiming he is not sexist, Jacques mentions his two granddaughters, but what kind of message does that statement give to his granddaughters or to any other young woman here on Cape Ann about their value in the world?
Your remark, Selectman Jacques, was rude, thoughtless and unenlightened.
Words make the man (or the woman). Words send a message. Words hurt.
Together, we must teach boys and men to speak and treat us as equals — to help them recognize that negative messages, and crude and thoughtless comments are hurtful. We need to help young girls to know that they deserve to be treated with respect, to value their bodies as they are and work to get positive messages about their looks in the media.
We women must stand together to fight the laws that restrict our self-determination and worth, and the hundreds of restrictive laws which have been filed or passed as laws in our states and at the federal level.
Seven weeks ago, one woman sat at her table in Michigan and decided "Enough is enough." She started an organization called "unitewomen."
Its mission is to pursue equality in all area of our lives; it welcomes men and women, supports diversity and is non-partisan. I joined the first moment I read about it. In less than two months, we have more than 30,000 members.
This Saturday, there will be a march in Washington, D.C., in protest of the "war against women" with local events taking place at the same time across the country. Here in Massachusetts, we are holding a rally at Boston City Hall Plaza from 10 to 2. There will be speakers addressing varied topics, a few great bands and a performance by a feminist dance group. I invite you and your friends and family to attend. Take the train, walk on over, and stand and be counted.
Show those who would denigrate women, reduce them to chattel and restrict their rights that we will not tolerate being pushed back to a time when making sexist comments like those from Mr. Jacques was acceptable behavior. To learn more about all Saturday's events, go to unitewomen.org
Come for your mother, your sisters, your wife and your daughters. Come because it is the right thing to do.
Join us and show those who would keep women "in the kitchen where they belong" that here and now those archaic and outdated models are history we will refuse to repeat.