Much to celebrate…and more to do

March is Women’s History Month, and events commemorating women and their contributions to history and contemporary society have taken place throughout the United States. It is an annual celebration along with the lesser known Women’s International Day on March 8.  This year we had another special remembrance for the 50th anniversary of Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique and the awakening of the second phase of feminism. How wonderful our country is for acknowledging, promoting, and protecting the rights of women. Well, not totally.

Let me introduce you to the United Nation’s Convention to Eliminate All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, also known as CEDAW. Adopted in 1979 by the UN General Assembly, it is often described as an international bill of rights for women and delineates what constitutes discrimination against women and sets up an agenda for national action to end such discrimination. The Convention ensures women’s equal access to and equal opportunities in political and public life and establishes the basis for equality between women and men. To read a brief overview and history of the Convention read here.

On an international level, CEDAW has been influential in promoting the rights of women and has opened doors to less violence and discrimination. Albeit, some of the doors may only be opened a crack, but change happens incrementally. Many countries including the developing ones have ratified this bill since its inception. To be precise, 187 out of the 194 members of the U.N. have signed on. Those who have not include, the United States, Iran, Somalia, South Sudan, Tonga Palua. How embarrassing to be in such infamous company.

CEDAW was sent to the Senate in 1980 by President Carter and has remained in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee ever since. Although hearings were held, it never came out of the committee.  Several issues are preventing our country from ratifying the bill, which had been promoted by several Republican presidents including Nixon and Ford. In addition to a segment of our population that is vehemently opposed to the U.N. and suspects any treaty with them jeopardizes our sovereignty as a nation, we have seen half of our country make a hard right turn. Little by little, they are trying to overturn Roe Vs. Wade. And, let us not forget how long it took them to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act.

The United States must reassert its authority in leading the world and supporting women’s rights and the elimination of violence and discrimination of all forms, blatant and subtle. It is still out here.

Hannah Cohen

Are female directors moving, up, down, or sideways?

As I read two articles in the past few days addressing the presence of women directors in the New York theatre scene, I recalled the research I did when writing Women Trailblazers of California: Pioneers to the Present.  More specifically, I wrote about Dorothy Arzner, an early film director and the first director of “talkie” films for Paramount Studios.

In the film industry today, women are slowly making progress and becoming directors as evidenced by the increasing number of women directors at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival held in Park City Utah this past January. Half of the sixteen films entered in the dramatic competition were directed by women. As the number of female directors grow, we also get an increase in the number of female roles on the screen.

However, as much as we are making headway, it is slow considering the enormous influence women played in the early history of filmmaking and in the growth of Hollywood. The reality is that women in film are up against a “celluloid ceiling”. Professor Martha Lauzen of San Diego State University Center for the Study of Women in Television & Film tracks and studies women working in the movie industry and produces the annual “Celluloid Ceiling” report. As noted in the most recent report, women accounted for 9% of directors working on the top 250 films of 2012, an increase of 4 percentage points from 2011 but even with the percentage of women directors working in 1998. In a recent New York Times article, Dr. Lauzen, while praising Sundance for giving more women opportunities, was not particularly encouraging. Having analyzed the statistics for 20 years, “the numbers for women filmmakers have been remarkably stable and reflect that this is an entrenched industry,” Dr. Lauzen said.

Since women have entered the workforce in droves, the norm is that they have to work harder and longer hours to try to reach parity on pay and positions with men. It may feel we are moving at a snail’s pace in particular industries, but we are making progress. In Hollywood in particular, there are many successes we can point to in all facets of the industry. This did not just happen; many women in the early 1900’s paved the way to make it easier for generations following them to succeed.  One of my favorites is Dorothy Arzner, a noted film director during the Golden Age of Hollywood, whose work had been ignored and forgotten for many years, but who demonstrated how women had to struggle to succeed in a male dominated profession.

Arzner got her break working as a stenographer in 1919 for $20.00 per week typing scripts for William DeMille at Paramount Studio. Recognizing see was not a very good typist, she quickly managed to get another position to write synopses for current productions.  She excelled at writing and moved quickly to film cutter, scriptwriter, and editor within three years. Arzner was the first Hollywood editor to be given a screen credit, and by 1922, as chief editor, she had edited 52 films.

By the mid-20’s Arzner was ready to become a director.  Paramount partially obliged by promoting her to assistant director, which she realized was a way to keep her quiet, but would not vault her into the director’s chair.  Determined and shrewd, she threatened to jump to Columbia pictures where she had already been offered a director’s position.  Acknowledging she was a gifted and sought after talent, Paramount executives ceded to her demands and let her direct Fashions for Women, an extremely profitable hit. Arzner noted, “My philosophy is that to be a director you cannot be subject to anyone, even the head of the studio. I threatened to quit each time I didn’t get my way, but no one ever let me walk out.”

She made history by directing Paramount’s first sound movie, Manhattan Cocktail, and then launched Frederick March as a screen star in The Wild Party, starring Clara Bow. During this filming, Arzner made a significant contribution to sound technology. It was Bow’s first foray into the “talkies”, and she was extremely anxious, in great part, because of her deep Brooklyn accent. Arzner solved this problem by rigging a microphone onto a fishing rod, essentially creating the first boom mike.

It was no secret that Arzner was a lesbian and lived for more than four decades with dancer and choreographer Marion Morgan who appeared in some of her movies. Her appearance was masculine in every sense of the word.  Dressed in suits, ties, and short hair combed tightly back, she emitted an authoritarian demeanor. This may have been her way to portray herself as “the man in charge” and to fit into the Hollywood boy’s club.

Most of Arzner’s films featured strong women characters, and though she was recognized as a director of “women’s films”, she actually succeeded in challenging the accepted tenets of Hollywood from within, posing viewpoints that challenged the prevailing order. Arzner focused on social borders and the dynamics of capitalism: she was not hesitant to articulate class rivalries, focus on relationships and institutions, and critically examine forms of solidarity.

Arzner directed eleven feature films for Paramount between 1927-1932, after which she left the studio to work on her own. Although most of her films were box office successes and the studios profited, the culture of the industry was changing. Arzner was on the politically incorrect side of the transformation, and most likely, the more conservative studio executives were responsible for ending her directing career. Arzner reportedly commented that twenty-five years in the business (with business partners like that) were simply enough.

In spite of this environment, she became the only female director during the post silent boom of Hollywood filmmaking and the first female member of the Directors Guide of America. Although she established the largest oeuvre by a woman director, her work has been practically excluded in accounts of film history. Not until the 1970’s and the rediscovery of her work in a project of feminist film studies, did she finally receive the critical acclaim she deserved.

Arnzer received several important honors in her lifetime including the First International Festival of Women’s Films in 1972. The Directors Guild in 1975 honored her with a “Tribute to Dorothy Arzner”. Katharine Hepburn sent a telegram which read: It is wonderful that you’ve had such a great career, when you had no right to have a career at all.” Arzner’s noted quote is “When I went to work in a studio, I took my pride and made a nice little ball of it and threw it right out the window.” This quote perfectly described Arzner and how she became an acclaimed director in a predominantly male industry.

I hope our current and future female directors know about and acknowledge women like Dorothy Arzner who have made their career paths easier, even if sometimes it is only a little easier.

Hannah Cohen

Welcome Women of the 113th Congress

Happy New Year! My goal for 2013 is to be a more active blogger for women’s issues, and also to continue to highlight women in history who have made significant contributions to the growth and development of our nation. Let us start out this year by congratulating the amazing women who are serving in the United States Senate and the House of Representatives in the 113th Congress. We celebrate the 20 female senators and the 78 members of the House. There was a slight increase in female representation. However, considering that women comprise 50% of our population, these numbers are not nearly enough. We have a long way to go. In the Republican led House, not one woman leads a major, high-profile committee. In fact, there was so much grumbling, House Speaker John Boehner was all but forced to appoint Rep. Candice Miller of Michigan as Chair of the House Administration Committee, which oversees the cafeteria. Seriously, there is a lot more to the committee, but cafeteria and office space are part of it. It is no secret the Republicans have a “woman Issue.” It is our responsibility to seek out others who want to serve. As I noted in my previous blog, we need more women in both parties to be able to increase support for the ideals and issues women deem important. No one will do it for us!

Now on a more positive note. Although we are not in the majority, we can make a difference. There are many areas that need to be attended to, including the renewal of the Violence Against Women’s Act and the gender wage gap, which I will write about in shortly. Women offer diversity. They approach negotiations differently than men, and they engender more civility. Within Congress, they are a tight knit community that strives to support each other.

Now they need our support. Voice your opinions: text, email, Twitter, call, post on Facebook, yes, even write letters when you want something addressed that you care about. Resolve to make 2013 the year you get involved.

Let me know what you think.


Election 2012: Women Win!

Election Day 2012 was a significant one for women. Not since 1992, when a record number of women were elected, did we win so many new seats in Congress. Women won five new seats in the U.S. Senate for a total of twenty women senators. This is one-fifth of the body! Democrat representation will grow from 12 to 16, and the Republicans will drop from five to four. In the House of Representatives, we have will have at least three new female representatives when all the votes are tallied.

Of the new female senators, four are Democrats—Mazie Hirono of Hawaii, Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin, and one, Deb Fischer of Nebraska, is Republican. If you have been following the political scene for the past year or more, you will know that several of these women had extremely challenging campaigns with enough negativity and maliciousness to last a lifetime. The Warren, Hirono, and Heitkamp victories give them the distinction of being the first female senators from their states.  Tammy Baldwin made history with two special firsts, as the first openly gay politician and the first woman elected to the U.S. Senate from Wisconsin.

Another rewarding first is the outcome in New Hampshire. Maggie Hassan, a Democrat and the only woman nominated for governor by a major party in this election cycle, won her contest.  Therefore, in January 2013, New Hampshire will be the first state ever will have a female governor, two female U.S. Senators, and an all-woman U.S. House delegation.

We have come a long way baby, but not far enough. National statistics indicate that women are still a minority in Congress, in most state legislatures, and as mayors of major cities. There is so much work ahead before women have parity in government and business leadership. Now is the time to identify the next generation of women who aspire to run for public office. It is our responsibility to engage, train, and mentor them; to teach them to delve deeply into the issues that are important to us; to prepare them to run for office; and finally to effectively govern. There are organizations such as Run Women Run in San Diego that were formed just for purpose of helping women to enter the political arena. Find one and get involved in your city.

The time to start was yesterday! I hope you agree.


Exercise your right to vote on Nov. 6-It was a hundred year struggle to give you that right

In July 1848, 240 women and men met in Seneca Falls, New York, “to discuss the social, civil, and religious condition and rights of women.” One hundred of the delegates–68 women and 32 men–signed a Declaration of Sentiments, declaring that women, like men, were citizens with an “inalienable right to the elective franchise.” The Seneca Falls Convention commemorated the beginning of the campaign for woman suffrage. It was, however, not until August 26, 1920 were all women granted enfranchisement with the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. It was an exciting and significant political triumph. Women finally achieved the freedom men had since 1776: to choose for themselves what they believed was best for them.

The battle for women’s suffrage waged for decades, and long before the Civil War, women were seeking voting equality. Pioneer suffragists demanded their own political voice and civil rights; they did not want men deciding their future. There were hard-fought battles, devastating defeats, countless alliances and many divides, but they never wavered in their determination for women’s suffrage.

With Election Day so close, today I want to give you some background on the suffrage movement in California, which was a very influential state and set the stage for others. From the early pioneer days, women had fought hard and long for the right to vote. Many campaigns were lost before their victory on October 20, 1911.

During the 1870s and 1880s, the suffrage movement took different forms. Many women had little interest in politics and were content to help on social welfare issues that they regarded as an extension of home domestic duties. When assisting within an organization, they often referred to it as “advancing women’s work.” Others, such as Laura de Force Gordon, were Progressives and participated with a group of national firebrands including Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Gordon gave the first suffrage speech in California.

Following an evolving philosophical route, the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) played an important role in the California suffrage process. Members believed that lobbying and political power could strengthen women’s moral authority. Therefore, club members, professionals and the well educated participated in the suffrage fight through WCTU membership. They may have been following different ideological compasses, but when the campaigns of 1896 and 1911 were waged, the progressive, conservative and temperance blocs were all on the same side: to get the power of the vote. So many extraordinary women participated: Ellen Clark Sargent challenged disenfranchisement with the argument of “no taxes without representation,” and Maud Younger, a Progressive, founded the waitress labor union and organized it in the fight for suffrage.

Throughout the years, suffrage organizations utilized a variety of tactics. They lobbied for the right to vote in the new state constitution; advocated through the legislative process; incorporated voting equality into the Republican platform; and petitioned the 1891 legislature for the right to vote in school board and bond elections. In 1896, they used the referendum process only to be defeated again. Unexpectedly, the campaign lost in the San Francisco Bay area, which at that time was the population center of the state. Surprisingly, it passed in the southern part of the state and was carried by working men. The results illustrated that class mattered but in an unexpected way: the more affluent areas voted against suffrage in a higher proportion than working-class neighborhoods.

California women finally achieved suffrage in the astounding campaign of 1911. The younger suffragists worked with the experienced ones, the clubs, the unions and men’s organizations all united to give women what they always deserved: the right to vote. Riding up and down the state in her automobile was the daring and brilliant pioneer suffragist Clara Shortridge Foltz. Along with the members of her Votes for Women Club, Foltz organized Los Angeles and other Southern California regions. Although the margin of victory was a mere 2 percent, Los Angeles and southern rural districts carried the vote. As in the 1896 election, the working class in both Southern and Northern California had the highest percentage of affirmative votes.

California was the sixth state to win the vote, and as arduous and dramatic as achieving victory was, it was a major advance for the suffragists and their supporters. An important and influential state, it set the stage for the other states. Nine more states achieved suffrage before the 1920 national referendum when finally, after so many campaigns and defeats, women throughout the United States were granted the right to vote.

Thousands of remarkable women devoted their lives for women’s suffrage. They were brave and determined to attain what they believed was their inherent right. They set the path for political freedom and civil rights for womankind. Do not let their struggles be for naught. Please vote on November 6.


A Career in Science: Equality for Women? Not really!

Why is it that the many accomplishments women have achieved in the sciences receive little or no recognition and women who have received the Nobel Prize in the field of science are rare? We recognize the name of Madame Marie Curie who was awarded a Nobel Prize for physics, but a majority of women scientists who have made significant discoveries are not household names. A new study recently released by Yale University is not only shocking, but also terribly disheartening. As recently reported in the New York Times, “Science professors at American universities widely regard female undergraduates as less competent than male students with the same accomplishments and skills.” To add insult to injury, the study demonstrated that female professors were just as biased against female students as the male professors. Reading the article ignited the frustration I felt when writing my coauthored  book Women Trailblazers of California: Pioneers to the Present. Most of the women in the book battled against discrimination and dared to take risks so the following generations would not have to repeat the struggles. The fight is not yet over, especially in the field of science. The study as outlined, demonstrates that absolute gender disparity is alive and well in academic science. Male students more easily get mentors and are offered jobs more often than women are. When the female students are lucky to find employment, it is at a lower pay scale. Dr. Jo Handelsman, senior author of the article that reported the findings, noted the strong results of the study were surprising as were their enormous importance. There are things we can do to change the perception of women in science. The National Women’s History Project has just announced next year’s theme, “Women Inspiring Innovation through Imagination.” They are going to celebrate women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math and promote the theme in the 2013 Gazette that will focus on the role and contributions of women in the rich variety of fields related to science. As noted in the announcement, “readers will learn about women who were first in their fields, women who have won worldwide recognition (including Nobel Prizes), and women who have made important contributions that have yet to receive the recognition they deserve.” For more information on this project, click here. We must all do our part in encouraging young women who are interested in science and technology to follow their dreams. If we do not challenge discrimination, we cannot break down barriers, and women will continue to fall behind in leading new discoveries to enhance the health and safety of all of us. Let me know what you think. Hannah  

Who invented the stripes on our roads?

When we are driving our cars or riding public transit, we most likely do not give much thought to the stripes on the roads. We take them for granted to keep us in line and at a safe distance from the cars alongside us or those coming in the opposite direction. These stripes were not part of the infrastructure in the early twentieth century. Until 1924, there was little separating Model T Fords on two lane roads from other cars and horse and buggies. It was a gun-toting woman doctor, the incredible Dr. June McCarroll, who came up with a “brilliant” idea to improve road safety.

One evening in 1917, after visiting a patient and driving home in her model T Ford, a large truck roared toward McCarroll in the center of the pavement and forced her off the road into the sand. In her own words: “My Model T Ford and I found ourselves face to face with a truck on the paved highway. It did not take me long to choose between a sandy berth to the right and a ten-ton truck to the left!” This was not McCarroll’s first experience of narrow escapes with cars and trucks especially while riding her horse and buggy. She was also seeing many more patients who were suffering from injuries that resulted from automobile accidents.

McCarroll knew there had to be a better way. Why not a line down the road? She presented her idea to the California Riverside County Board of Supervisors and the local Chamber of Commerce. They were polite and listened to her every word, but they courteously rebuffed her idea and quietly shelved it.

McCarroll was tenacious. In her long dress and a bonnet, she got down on her hands and knees and “painted” a 4-inch wide stripe down the middle of US Highway 99, which ran in front of her home to create two separate lanes. There are varying accounts of how she did this, and the most noted one is that she painted a two-mile long strip. Another version is that she used baking flour and striped a mile-long white line down the middle of the road. This most likely was the first stripe in Riverside County, the state, and probably in the United States. She then launched a letter writing campaign and distributed petitions to the state and county to incorporate the use of lines down all county and state highways. This effort continued for seven years without any success until McCarroll organized an Indio Women’s Club. The Club then received support from the County, District, and State Federations of Women’s Clubs. She petitioned the California State Legislature to ratify a law authorizing the California Highway Commission to stripe all state roads. When the legislators recognized that thousands of women club members backed this legislation, and women could now vote, they quickly passed the law to mandate that all roads and highways be painted with a dividing stripe. This amazing doctor added inventor after her name and has been credited with saving thousands of lives and improving the safety of the roads.

The community of Coachella Valley has honored her in a touching way. They requested that a portion of Interstate 10 between Jefferson Street and Indio Boulevard be dedicated as the Dr. June McCarroll Memorial Freeway. The legislation was passed in 2000, and the dedication took place on April 24, 2002. In addition, a bronze plaque attached to a six-foot-high concrete pillar in Indio was erected in her honor and dedicated in October 2003.

Dr. June McCarroll was a fascinating women and an exceptional doctor. Let me share one other piece of information about her. In 1907, the Bureau of Indian Affairs appointed her as the first doctor to care for hundreds of thousands of Cahuilla Indians living on five tribal reservations, a massive area that spanned from the Salton Sea to Palm Springs. The Indian medicine men regarded her as the “white medicine man” and highly respected her as she saved the lives of thousands of children from a devastating measles epidemic.

To learn more about other remarkable women who contributed to the growth of the newly created state of California you can always check out Women Trailblazers of California: Pioneers to the Present.

Please share your thoughts~~Hannah