When Women Defy Tradition

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Dr. Elizabeth Debold, one of the world’s foremost authorities on girls’ and women’s development, says there is a fascinating relationship between women’s uprisings and shifts in our culture. Every time women rise up and make a radical break with tradition, a leap in culture emerges.  As a result, women hold the keys to cultural change.     

Debold cites the suffrage movement as an example.  The leaders of the movement worked to get an all-male Congress to give women the basic right to vote.  Female leaders needed a mass movement to make this happen but they knew this type of activity was considered to be “unladylike” behaviour.”  So the suffrage leaders didn’t speak about having equal rights with men. The message was too radical for most so they convinced women to join by arguing that women had a higher moral sense than men and this was needed to keep the country on the right path. This approach worked.  Millions of women petitioned and marched, and eventually the vote was won.

After the Depression and World War II, women once again took to the streets.  This time, they fought for civil rights and against the Vietnam War, and they fought for their own rights, too. Women made a radical break with tradition by questioning every aspect of their lives from sexuality, work, marriage, children and religion.  Under this scrutiny, there was an enormous change in thinking, and the “authority of the established order” began to crumble.  Marriage and children became optional.    

Debold says the entire trajectory of human history has been based on the need to protect the mother/child relationship.  Until now, women’s relationships to their children, and to the men who have protected them, have always been the basis of their existence. 

Today, we are much more free than our grandmothers ever were.  We have the freedom to control our own reproduction, to think independently, to earn our own living, and to have an impact on the world.  We are no longer dependent on men for our survival.  As postmodern women, we’ve achieved social equality with men. But we haven’t yet achieved full equality. 

After more than two thousand years of struggle for equality, women must stand together and shift the dynamics that have held our culture in place for centuries.  Deep change will only come and culture will only move forward again when, just like the women who came before us, we dare to defy tradition.   

If we dare to defy tradition again, we’ll be able to work with men in a new way and together, men and women will give birth to a vastly different future.  

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Debbie L. Kasman

Principal Newcastle Public School and Author of Lotus of the Heart:  Reshaping the Human and Collective Soul