Opinion

Federal Way needs trailblazing women | Amy Johnson

The recent passing of former first lady Betty Ford has prompted public accolades of her courage and grace by such polar opposites as Hillary Clinton and George W. Bush.

Rosalyn Carter commented on her unlikely longtime friendship and collaboration with Ford on the issues of mental health and addiction. “She’d round up the Republicans, I’d round up the Democrats and together we were fairly effective — most of the time,” Carter said.

Betty Ford was not a woman who colored strictly within the lines of gender roles expected of a first lady in the 1970s. Her outspokenness about her struggle with breast cancer and addiction were shocking at the time, yet served to help millions of women become aware of these issues and deal more quickly with them.

Occasionally, it’s hard for me to remember that, within my lifetime, there was such a taboo around discussing breast cancer because it had the word “breast” in it. Over the past few years, I have contemplated with you the “I [heart] boobies” bracelets that the Keep-Abreast Foundation sells for breast cancer awareness.

I have been righteous about the sexualization of women at bikini barista stands — women whose breasts are used to sell coffee and occasionally other “favors.”

I have deep gratitude to Betty Ford and all the women who were outspoken long before I ever was. I thank the trailblazers who, in their mission to raise awareness about women’s rights, have endured much pain and criticism, but haven’t always reaped the benefits of their hard work. And I stand in solidarity with advocates who know that we still have a long way to go.

A study of middle school students found that their teachers believed their students accepted the rights of women to hold nontraditional jobs in the workplace. It also showed those opinions to be wrong. In fact, the study found that stereotypical attitudes of middle school students about gender roles have not changed much over the decades.

Today, we live in a country where nearly three-quarters of U.S. adults believe that the Constitution already guarantees equal rights for both sexes. In January, Supreme Court Justice Anthony Scalia set the record straight. “Certainly the Constitution does not require discrimination on the basis of sex. The only issue is whether it prohibits it. It doesn’t.” As Christine Bronstein stated in the same Huffington Post article: “Women are still bearing the burden of proving that we have rights.”

In Federal Way, we have made great strides and still have great challenges.

We have a phenomenal Federal Way Chamber of Commerce interim CEO who is a woman (Teri Hickel), and a very talented female Chamber Board President (Lori DeVore). Yet, a much higher percentage of women across age categories live in poverty in Federal Way than their male counterparts.

We have an outstanding woman running the South Sound Regional Business Incubator (Cosette Gibson-Pfaff), yet only 30 percent of firms in Federal Way are owned by women.

Federal Way has incredible women educators, administrators and school board members who work tirelessly to educate children in our district. Still, some area women remain so uneducated and desperate that they have killed or abandoned babies rather than take on motherhood.

We must continue to work for equality to permeate our community and society. We need to stand together to help all women garner equal pay for equal work, have equal opportunities, and enjoy equal education. All means all, as Federal Way school officials are fond of saying.

Thank you first ladies, feminists, advocates and rabble-rousers who paved the way. May those of us who come behind you see clearly enough to continue to light the path you paved.

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