What are little girls made of?
Sugar and spice,
And all that’s nice;
That’s what little girls are made of.”
There was a time when nearly every child in America knew that old poem in its entirety. It was indelibly burned into our memory along with “Frogs and snails, and puppy dog tails,” which according to the same rhyme was what, “Little Boys were made of.”
If you remember those words, you are not alone. This referenced that distinction between boys and girls was a common sense ideology burned very early into our young minds. But, as we are continuously reminded-common sense isn’t common.
On March 22nd, 2022 , Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson was asked to provide a definition for a “woman” by Sen. Marsha Blackburn during Brown’s confirmation hearing as a Supreme Court Justice appointee. Brown stated
that she was not a biologist- and therefore could not. However, it was the profoundness of Sen. Blackburn’s following reply that resonated with me the most: “the fact that you can’t give me a straight answer about something as fundamental as what a woman is underscores the dangers of the kind of progressive education that we are hearing about.”
This tenuous exchange echoed not only where we had arrived as a society- but also where we were headed.
For clarity of focus, we have to step back just a little in time.
For more than 100 years beginning at the turn of the century, the Women’s Suffrage Movement had been hard fought to grant women voting rights in America. Since that time, there have been those working tirelessly to change what was considered the status quo.
After winning at last the ratification of voting rights on August 18th, 1920, the battle wasn’t over; it had only just
begun. Oddly enough there were two wars being waged: One that sought equality of position, roles and status in what they considered, “a man’s world”; the other seeking to bring value and preeminence to all that women
Interestingly enough, these “battles” equally gained ground in their respective worlds. Interestingly as well, while they both desired to win, the equality narrative propelled that which only sought value. In the earlier days, there were leading names in various fields: Madame CJ Walker, Estee Lauder, Brownie Wise(founder of the Tupperware party), Ruth Handler(creator of Barbie)- to name a few.
These bold women opened the door, through which many like-minded individuals subsequently came through.
For example, Gloria Steinem’s feminist accomplishments during the late 60’s and beyond as founder of New York magazine, the Women’s Action Alliance and the National Women’s Political Caucus, and Co-founder of Ms. Magazine gave life and inspiration to many women’s organization’s efforts. Also, she was undoubtedly the oxygen behind 1973’s legendary “Battle Of The Sexes” tennis match between 55-year-old Bobby Riggs, and 29-year-old Billie-Jean King, in which King successfully triumphed.
Fueled by countless marches, stories of bra-burning and the Roe Vs. Wade decision, attention to the challenges and issues facing women were never more bolder and prevalent. This in turn sparked movies such as My Turn, Tootsie, 9 to 5, and An Unmarried Woman and a slew of tv series like One Day At A Time, Charlies Angels, Murphy Brown, The Mary Tyler Show, Alice, and Maude.
It even gave way to female inspired product lines including Virginia Slims, Hayne’s ‘Leggs’, Enjoli and ‘Charlie’
perfume, and of course- Calvin Klein jeans ads featuring Brooke Shields. These achievements were not simply relegated to ads, TV and movies. Debbi Fields (Mrs. Field’s cookies), Martha Stewart, Oprah Winfrey, Candace
Owens, Sandra Day O’Connor, and of course Gloria Steinem’s notoriety were a direct result of the opportunities from the women’s movement.
Without question, female CEO’s, actresses, entertainers and business owners owe much of their careers to those women that paved the way. With such milestones achieved and thousands of broken glass ceilings, woman were clearly a powerful force to be reckoned with.
In 1996, talk show host and media mogul Oprah Winfrey aired an episode on food safety. During a segment on mad cow disease, vegetarian and animal rights activist Howard Lyman predicted on the show that “the disease would eventually plague the U.S. beef industry,” to which Winfrey replied that the discussion “has just stopped me cold from eating another burger. I’m stopped.” That was enough. Within two weeks after the episodes airing, US beef prices sunk to a subsequent 10-year low. That is power.
With so much successful history behind them, how did America’s women fighting for their place in history go from, “suffrin’ ‘till suffrage”, the desire to ‘break glass ceilings’, “women should be believed”,” ‘equal pay for equal
work’, and #metoo, to ‘What Is a Woman’ as a semi-sincere question?
Ultimately, that Is the question. Tune in next time for the answer…
*Editor’s Note: Lawrence Johnson is part of the Kevin Jackson initiative SEE. Seeking Educational Excellence, where we strive to provide educational tools and resources to at-risk youth. Because we believe America’s youth needs inspiration. Not indoctrination. You can read more of Lawrence’s in-depth articles every Monday and Thursday here. Or you can catch up with Lawrence and the SEE initiative here.