Women still fighting stereotypes, discrimination
When Cathleen Lyons Moniz started her career on Feb. 18, 1977, at the Fall River Police Department, she was one of the first two female police officers appointed to the force.
Today, after promotions to the ranks of sergeant, lieutenant, captain and finally deputy chief of administration, Moniz still doesn’t believe that women are perceived as equal to men.
“There are challenges we continue to work on today, both internally and externally,” Moniz said. “There are factions of the public that don’t see women officers as equal.”
Moniz took her police exam in 1975, the first time it was available to women in Massachusetts. Prior to that, females served as “police women” with a different pay structure and expectations.
That is no longer the case at the Police Department. But, in many offices and other workplaces in Massachusetts and throughout the country, women are still paid less than men, are not in as many leadership roles, make up a small percentage of government, and are simply not seen as equal to men.
“Oh no, not by a long shot,” said Gail Fortes, executive director of the YWCA of Southeastern Massachusetts in New Bedford. “We’re making strides, but there’s still a long way to go.”
History was made this year when Hillary Rodham Clinton became the most successful female candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination and Sarah Palin became the Republican Party vice-presidential nominee, but there was something other than their views of the issues that kept the public riveted.
“The dress, the hair, the clothes, how she takes care of her family,” Fortes said.
“Let’s look at the content of character, the issues and background … not are they male or female,” said Diane Jefferey, president of The League of Women Voters. “This kind of prejudice in society is acceptable.”
When the public took interest in Palin’s family, many wondered who would care for her five children if she became vice president of the United States. And, some commented that her place was at home.
“Why are we questioning? We always question the mother,” Jefferey said. “We don’t question the father.”
But discrimination against women isn’t coming just from the opposite gender, Jefferey said. “It’s the women too,” she said, when women should be helping, not hurting, one another.
“For centuries, there’s been good ol’ boy networks and clubs. Women need to take on the responsibility to develop women and the next generation. We need to build each other up, not put each other down.”
When it comes to women in leadership roles, be it in business or government, they may have to work harder to be seen as equal.
“The way they look is more important,” Jeffery said. “They have to be smarter and do better in order to be recognized as capable. When the woman trips up, it’s all over.”
The Women’s Movement, which officially started in 1848 in Seneca Falls, N.Y., when Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott called for a convention to discuss the rights of women, has not yet ended.
Women were granted the right to vote in 1920 and have made strides in employment, social issues, and reproductive choices, but there is still no Equal Rights Amendment in the United States Constitution, though it was first proposed in 1923.
“We need to pass the ERA,” said Juli Parker, director of the Women’s Resource Center at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth. “It’s very sad, the way we treat maternity and paternity leave. We shouldn’t be proud at all of what we offer.”
She said there are laws that protect people from discrimination, but there’s “no equal pay police.”
“Women are losing $1 million or more (in their lifetime),” said Kate Fentress, executive director of the Women’s Fund, a fund of the Community Foundation of Southeastern Massachusetts. “That is an issue that affects families.”
Rep. Patricia A. Haddad, D-Somerset, a sponsor of new legislation that has established the Bristol County Commission on the Status of Women, said: “There is a real glass ceiling that still exists. There are still not enough women governors. You don’t find many on select boards or as mayors.”
Locally, there are no women currently serving as selectwomen in Swansea, Westport or Somerset, though there have been some, if few, in the past. There are two women serving on the board in Freetown, three city councilors representing Fall River and four for the city of New Bedford.
“There are cracks (in the glass ceiling),” Haddad said.
At the Fall River Police Department, there are 10 female officers in a force of 250. Moniz said she and Chief John M. Souza plan to actively recruit women and minorities in the new year.
Moniz said women in general are still not treated equally, nor do they see themselves as equals in today’s world.
“I would have thought there would be less disparity by now,” Moniz said. “I think we recognize there are still things that need to be accomplished.
“You have to meet the challenge head on,” Moniz continued. “You can’t be looking for the easy way out.”
E-mail Deborah Allard firstname.lastname@example.org.