This post is part of a series discussing the 2012 National Organization for Women (NOW) Conference: Energize! Organize! Stop the War on Women. You can read my notes on this session here.
The fourth session I attended at the 2012 NOW conference was Plenary III. During this plenary session, the Woman of Action Awards were awarded, followed by a Political Roundtable. The all-around amazing Allendra Letsome, NOW Membership Vice President, introduced the Woman of Action honorees: Dr. Carroll Estes and Dr. Bernice “Bunny” Sandler.
Dr. Estes is a pioneer and esteemed researcher in aging policy research, and has served in several leadership positions within that field. In her acceptance speech, she talked about the three women who she feels most impacted her life: her mother, who showed her that women can write; Maggie Kuhn, the Gray Panthers founder, who taught her about the intersection between ageism and social justice as well as advocacy; and Tisch Summers, who taught her the adage “don’t agonize, organize.” She also lamented the War on Women and urged everyone to fight back.
Dr. Sandler was an integral part of getting Title IX, as well as one of the first people to bring attention to campus sexual harassment. She credited the award to all of the women who gathered data on their campuses. Sandler went on to discuss the importance and impact of Title IX and how nobody expected it to be landmark legislation. She also said that the biggest impact Title IX has had on her grandchildren is that allows them to have friends of the opposite sex.
I found both Estes’ and Sandler’s speeches really enlightening. What stood out to me from Estes’ speech was that she found inspiration everywhere, from major players like Maggie Kuhn and Tisch Summers to a regular person like her mother. As someone who tries to draw inspiration (feminist, religious, and philosophical) from everyone and everything I happen upon, I really appreciate Estes’ dedication to learning from her surroundings.
I found it really interesting that Sandler believes that Title IX’s biggest impact on her grandchildren is allowing for friendships with the opposite sex. Sandler feels that it just shows that Title IX facilitated a social revolution, one that is still happening, and she can’t be more right. Despite the fact that my school is all-girls, I’ve maintained and made friendships with guys throughout the past few years. These relationships have really broadened my horizons, just because the guys are cool individuals who I like in the same way that I like my female friends. I am so glad that I was born in this generation rather than 50 years ago, when such friendships wouldn’t have been possible.
When talking about her mother, Estes said that she had been a burgeoning mystery novelist when her father told her to stop writing; her success scared him. It’s so sad that her mother’s talent was quashed the way it was. Sandler also mentioned that in the 1960s, 21,000 women were rejected from Virginia state colleges, while not a single male applicant was turned away. She wondered aloud if the cure for cancer was in that 21,000. While writing mystery books is clearly not on the same level as possibly discovering some amazing scientific cure, it’s still the same concept of women’s abilities not being harnessed to their full potential. I feel grateful that women like Estes and Sandler didn’t just moan and groan about the unfairness of the situation, and did something about it. As Tisch Summers said to Estes, “Don’t agonize, organize.”