Herstorical perspectives

Four Sacramento women reflect on the past, present and future of the struggle for gender equality

Tanya Faison

Tanya Faison

Illustrations by Serene Lusano

This is an extended version of a story that appeared in the February 2, 2017, issue.

Confession time: I am freaked out. Our country is being run by a bipolar manchild whose BFFs are a Nazi sympathizer and an “alternative facts” huckster with the soul-shaped hole of a pharmaceutical rep.

Our reality has morphed into a George Orwell acid trip and I am ill-prepared.

In alarming times, my happy place is in the counsel of wise women.

Below, former Sacramento Mayor Heather Fargo, Oak Park community activist Anita Earl, Black Lives Matter Sacramento chapter founder Tanya Faison and Sex Workers Outreach Project Sacramento co-founder Kristen DiAngelo put our current “American carnage” in context and share their thoughts about women’s rights battles of the past, present and our no-longer-guaranteed future.

How different was your life from your mother’s?

Faison: Well, my mother is white and I am black. My mother grew up in a home, and era, where racism was prevalent but not blatant. Her schools and neighborhoods had little to no people of color. My mother, aunts, uncle and grandparents were beneficiaries of systemic racism. When my mother left home and had me, she was able to see firsthand the experiences that the world dished out to folks of color, but she only has those experiences when I am present. … I have experienced, since birth and on a daily basis, the oppressions of not only being black, but being a woman. Not only from outside my community, but within it. A completely different experience.

DiAngelo: Being born in the late ’30s, my mother’s role in this world was one that truly lived up to the stereotype of the traditional all-American woman. She was a homemaker; and then, when she did decide to work, she became a teacher, as back then teaching, social work and nursing were some of the more “accepted forms of work” for women. My life, on the other hand, is the exact opposite. I have been a career sex worker for most of my life, I have a degree in finance and have worked for one of the biggest firms on Wall Street. My life has taken me from homeless to five-star hotels. My life is anything but traditional.

Anita Earl

How does our political climate compare to the one you came of age in?

Earl: Being born in 1960 has allowed me to experience a very complex and eclectic time period in this country’s history. However, feminism did not seem to resonate with women of color in my youth. Besides, no self-respecting “colored girl” would ever be so brazen as to burn a perfectly good bra. Although there were many influential female civil rights leaders, their feminist viewpoints were often overshadowed by their blackness. Perhaps this is because the civil rights and the women’s liberation movements ran on parallel tracks never seeming to converge.

DiAngelo: In many areas we have progressed, but progression is slow for women’s issues. We continue to legislate women’s bodies and our rights to engage in labor freely and for the same pay as our male counterparts do.

Faison: I am a ’70s baby. A lot of significant changes took place for both black folks and women when I was a young child. While a lot has changed, a lot has stayed the same. … We are still fighting misogynoir (misogyny towards black women where race and gender both play a role in bias). … Women of color fought alongside white women and barely benefited from the victories. Today we are fighting but having to be more intentional in how we fight … being inclusive and making sure the most marginalized folks are leading the movement.

Are things better today for women than they were when you were growing up?

Earl: In 2017, the feminist sisterhood is more diverse and much stronger because of it. Millennials do not know a life without the many benefits the feminist movement has made possible for them, such as reproductive rights, extended maternity [and] bonding leave for both parents, and workplace protections against sexual harassment or gender discrimination. They were born with these rights. Millennial feminism is all about empowerment, and women like my 35-year-old-daughter are much more in touch with who they are as women than we ever were.

DiAngelo: Being a career sex worker, I have seen huge changes in women’s lives due to the new age of technology. Sex work has become safer. The women I know who’ve spent years in the trade prior to the age of technology accepted violence as a norm. The younger workers reject violence as a given and have had overall better experiences in the sex trade due to advances in technology.

Is there one area of gender equality you’re surprised hasn’t been sorted out?

Kristen DiAngelo

Fargo: I am surprised and saddened that there aren’t more women in elected office now. I thought we’d be closer to parity. I first ran for city council over 25 years ago. It’s still too male-dominated, at every level of government. Women have different concerns, different perspectives and would improve the world of politics and government. Women have a lot to offer and we do make up more than half the population.

Earl: The United States is one of the only industrialized nations that has never elected a national female leader. India beat us to the punch by more than 50 years when Indira Gandhi was elected and later re-elected as prime minister. Another area where progress has lagged is in closing the wage gap. American women are paid 80 cents for every dollar paid to men—and for women of color the wage gap is even greater.

Faison: I never understood how the gay and lesbian community still isn’t completely inclusive of its trans and queer folks of color. I can’t wrap my mind around white women not acknowledging and fighting for the same rights for women/trans women of color. If you know what oppression feels like, how come you can’t relate your plight to the plight of others that don’t look like you?

DiAngelo: I am surprised that, in the United States, prostitution remains illegal for the most part. Being legalized in most modernized nations, it strikes me odd that we are still trying to tell women what they can and cannot do with their bodies.

Are you hopeful about the future?

DiAngelo: I am the eternal optimist, so I am always hopeful. As long as we stick together and continue to do the next right thing in life, we can’t help but make our world better.

Faison: I am hopeful. I feel like we are at a time where people are more engaged than they have been. More folks are feeling the impact, so more folks are seeing the need to unite and fight for each other.

Fargo: We are lucky to be in Sacramento and California, where the impacts [of Trump’s presidency] might be softened in some areas. But we cannot slip back into complacency as there is too much to lose. We must do all that we can to hold onto the progress we’ve made on immigration, people’s rights and combating climate change. We all need to wake up, step up, speak out and organize for a better future.

Heather Fargo

What advice do you have for the next generation?

Fargo: I would encourage today’s young women to not take the benefits they have for granted. My advice is to get educated, get involved, get active and strive to make a difference. You don’t have to hold an elected office, but it is one of the best ways to have a positive impact. Apply to sit on a board or commission or join a nonprofit organization. Show up to community meetings. Network! Look for opportunities to help. Be kind to others. And never miss a chance to vote.

Faison: If it doesn’t feel right, fight for it to change. Don’t ever stop fighting until you see the changes you are fighting for.

DiAngelo: Live life as if you can’t fail—don’t be scared and don’t let anyone, and I mean anyone, dictate how you live your life.