The Millenium March
By Kelina Imamura & Illustration by Tate Chow
For centuries, preconceived notions of the world after Y2K have caused a fixation on the future. Future-obsessed institutions made economic, technological, and scientific predictions for the new millennium: health care prayed for an HIV/AIDS vaccine, researchers thought they’d find the cure for cancer, and jet packs were expected to replace cars.
But while overly-optimistic America spun out waves of conjecture, few thought about predicting women's progression in the oh-so-advanced second millennium. In fact, in 1967, social scientist David Riesman said, “If anything remains more or less unchanged, it will be the role of women.”
Despite much-needed direction and faith, the women’s movement simmered beneath the radar of sweeping predictions and expectations during the Y2K hype. While the mainstream media deemed it stagnant amid changes in many other fields, feminism has taken steps in the first decade of the new millennium.
Perhaps one of the most influential pieces of women’s legislation of the last decade is the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. Passed in 2009, the law extends the time in which employees can file pay-related discrimination cases after their last paycheck. Ledbetter, a former supervisor at Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., filed a lawsuit in 1998 after discovering a 15 to 40 percent difference between her salary and that of her male counterparts in 1979.
The average full-time working woman still earns 78 cents for every $1 a man makes per year, according to Obama’s proclamation on Equal Pay Day 2009. Even though the lawsuit was filed at the end of the 20th century, not until the Obama administration took a stand for equal pay was this brought to the forefront.
Central New York is a region rich in women’s history, playing host to many advances in the women’s movement. Seneca Falls, just an hour from the Syracuse University campus, held the convention that pushed women’s suffrage onto a national platform in 1848.
Syracuse itself is the home to former National Organization for Women (NOW) president and SU Law School alum Karen DeCrow, who was also the first female mayoral candidate in New York State in 1969. She spent her term as president of NOW from 1974 to 1977 fighting for Title IX and participating in over 80 public feminist activities, making steps toward equality rights in SU’s backyard.
In anticipation of the new millennium, the 90s marked the emergence of a new interpretation of the f-word: third-wave feminism. This new outlook banned the of women as a homogenous group. In tandem with fast-paced technological advances, the Internet quickly became a platform for feminists to discuss opinions and, in some cases, vent. Since 2000, the influx of feminist blogs like Feministing.com and Feministe.us continue to broadcast the passion within the women’s movement across the world.
The influx of powerful, successful women has risen out of subculture and into the mainstream in the past decade. Americans invite Oprah Winfrey — strong, black, and successful — and Ellen DeGeneres — a pioneering voice in the LGBT community — into their living rooms. Tina Fey and Amy Poehler write and produce their own gut-splitting shows. Many viewed Hillary Clinton’s run for president as a landmark in women’s history. Beyonce and Rihanna top the charts with songs that boast female-empowerment themes.
Even before girl power went mainstream, SU has historically been a place for female empowerment. Women have been admitted to SU since its establishment in 1870. At the first inauguration of faculty on Aug. 31, 1871, Reverend Dr. Jesse Peck, then-President of the Board of Trustees, said, “The conditions of admission shall be equal to all persons…there shall be no individual discrimination here against women or persons of any nation or color. It means more. Brains and heart shall have a fair chance…”
Since then, Syracuse set a precedence for women in higher education. SU boasts seven female deans leading its 11 colleges, and is home to two of the most important and published feminist thinkers and writers, Chandra Mohanty and Minnie Bruce Pratt.
As SU’s first female chancellor, Nancy Cantor writes and lectures about the role of women in academia among other topics. Cantor wrote a column for the Chronicle of Higher Education in September 2008: “While slightly more tolerant of considerations of socioeconomic class, we are steadfastly paranoid about race, and we prefer to deny that gender matters at all anymore,” she stated.
Open dialogue about feminism, which continues to emerge on each new social platform of the 21st century, only enrages those already passionate about the topic. But moving beyond academia is difficult. Self-proclaimed feminists like Andrea Alemany, a senior magazine journalism and women’s and gender studies (WGS) major, say the movement itself now rejects a label that was so last century.
“They’re not calling it feminism. They’re not giving it a name,” Alemany said. “It has gone to a transnational movement of empowering women and reproductive rights, but they’re not calling it feminism. There is a lot of stigma. People call it womanism or working toward equality. It’s like a loaded question: How do you call yourself? Because I know if I call myself a feminist, people are going to look at me in a certain way. If I say I’m working toward equal rights, people can’t really argue with that.”
Movements that have previously overshadowed feminism are expanding globally. And while feminism reaches to women across the globe in theory, it has yet to do it concretely.
“I think the strongest movements are those that exist outside of the US,” said Sarah Miraglia, part-time instructor in the WGS department. “Globally, women are building solidarities around a number of issues — environmental, social, political, economic — that are challenging the status quo in some really interesting ways. My hope is that the US movement becomes more aligned with the movements that are taking place internationally. As global capital moves throughout the world, so should our alliances and activism.”
Like many other movements, the women’s movement didn’t miss a step transitioning into the new millennium. As technology, the economy, and the world evolve, so should the way we think, talk about, and label women. But as history shows, unity — no matter how focused we are on a movement of diversity – seems to be the recurring necessity for generating change.