Equal status for women has been a long, long fight


The fifth annual Report on the Status of Women and Girls in California prepared by Mount St. Mary's University was released this past week at a public forum at the Skirball. Mayor Garcetti was there and Mary Melton, editor in chief of Los Angeles Magazine, moderated a discussion that included the executive director of the California Commission on the Status of Women and the president of the Global Fund for Women. While the setting and the participants were impressive, the results of the study are disquieting at best.

Some highlights include:

• The median earnings of California women working full time is 84% that of men.

• California is one of the nation's largest television and film production centers. Yet over the last 15 years, fewer than one in five directors, writers or producers have been women.

• The number of California women-owned businesses grew 9% over the past year. However, women still represent less than 15% of board directors at California's largest public companies.

It took me back to the early 1970s when a group of us founded the National Women's Political Caucus of California and I was elected their first State Chair. We were a rowdy, intense mix of sweet young things fresh from protesting the Vietnam War and women in their 50s and 60s, thrilled to finally have a community after years of isolation in their discontent. There was so much excitement and so much to do. And once we focused, it felt like the walls came tumbling down. Roe v. Wade became the law of the land, for the first time women could get credit cards in their own name without their husband's approval, and employment listings were no longer listed under the headings of Male and Female.

In 1974, Janet Gray Hayes was elected mayor of San Jose, becoming the first woman mayor of a city of over 500,000 in America. It sounds like a different world and in many ways it was because now all those things are taken for granted, even though the creeping restrictions on choice are very real.

We were energized and determined as we got into the weeds of the less obvious restrictions on women. For instance, why were there so few women running for public office and how could that be changed? It didn't take a rocket scientist to figure out most men began at the local level, but county commissions were filled by supervisors with their friends before we knew there was a vacancy. How to change it? We took on California county by county and "sunshine laws" that required 30 to 60-day public notice be given for openings on commissions were passed and we established a database of qualified women. (We used card files, but I had to laugh because the memories came pouring back when Mitt Romney talked about his binders of women.) Women were appointed in record numbers and slowly but surely they were elected to school boards and city councils throughout the state.

Nationally, we lost the Equal Rights Amendment by a single state and that was heartbreaking, but still we were optimistic. We had more than 30 county chapters of NWPC in California and organizations such as the Women's Campaign Fund and Emily's List added clout to the power and expertise required to elect more women to office. Many of us who had been working full time in the movement moved on to other jobs and by the end of the 1970s, I was serving as Governor Brown's press secretary in an administration where half of the cabinet were women. We assumed the progress would just continue and all would be well with the world. Oh such naiveté.

So much work remains to be done. Today, women make up 24 percent of the California State Assembly and 30 percent of the State Senate. NWPC continues to flourish and Mount St. Mary's is doing its part to increase the numbers with an all-day Ready to Run workshop on April 9.

In 1973, women in California made 71 cents for every dollar a man made - forty plus years later women make 84 cents. Let's see, at that rate....

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