HARTFORD, CT, March 27, 2013 – Teresa Younger, executive director of the state Permanent Commission on the Status of Women (PCSW), opened her Common Hour lecture Tuesday with a question that virtually no one in the audience could answer: Who invented the windshield wiper, the circular saw, the refrigerator, leukemia drugs and the washing machine, among other indispensible items?
The response? Dead silence. The answer: Each one was invented or discovered by a woman. Her point: Even in this day and age, women are still not given the credit they deserve for their contributions to society.
Younger, who delivered one of the last thematic lectures during Women’s History Month, noted that it came on the heels of Black History Month. And it was Ellen Eglin, a black woman from Washington D.C., who is credited with inventing the first successful clothes wringer in the 1880s. But, explained Younger, Eglin did not benefit from her invention because she didn’t patent it and instead sold her design for $18.
Eglin was rumored to have said, “You know I am black and if it was known that a Negro woman patented the invention, white ladies would not buy the wringer. I was afraid to be known because of my color in having it introduced into the market.”
Yes, it’s true that women have come a long way, Younger said, but there’s much evidence that there are miles to go, even in Connecticut, where a state legislator made a sexually disparaging remark to a young woman who had gone to the state Capitol to testify on a bill. At first, his comment drew embarrassing laughter. But as the day wore on and people realized exactly what he had said, it became increasingly apparent how offensive his words were. He was stripped of his legislative leadership post as punishment.
Then on Women’s Day at the Capitol, which is held every year to draw attention to issues of great concern to women and families, Fox News ran film footage for 30 seconds of nothing but women’s breasts. Even after the TV station acknowledged that that shouldn’t have happened, the same tape ran on a second newscast. It took seven hours for officials at the TV station to issue an apology, Younger said.
And then on Tuesday, Ford Motor Company was forced to apologize for running an ad showing three scantily clad women in the trunk of a vehicle driven by Italian politician Silvio Berlusconi. The women were in bondage. Ford said the aid was not authorized and “should never have happened.” But it did, said Younger.
“We live in a society that continues to marginalize women,” said Younger, whose state agency, the PCSW, has spent 40 years advocating for women’s rights and working on public policy issues. Among the issues the PCSW has been active on during the current legislative session are sexual violence, affordable health care, economic security, assisted suicide, and workplace health and safety.
Young also told her audience that, according to census data, white women earn 77 cents for every $1 that a white man earns for doing equivalent work, while African-American women earn 62 cents and Latino women earn 52 cents. That pay has repercussions, she said, not just for a woman’s standard of living, but for their pensions, Social Security and health care, particularly because women typically outlive men by an average of seven years.
She also touched on the subject of politics and public policy, noting that women in Connecticut comprise 51 percent of the population, 48 percent of the workforce, 34 percent of the leadership and policy positions in the executive branch of government, about 30 percent of the legislative leadership (though none of the top leaders), and only 8 percent of corporate leaders nationally.
“We need more women’s voices at the table when decisions are being made,” she said. “And if there isn’t enough room, the table needs to be bigger and more chairs added.”
She also pointed out that the United States is one of a handful of industrialized nations where women are not entitled to mandatory paid medical leave, a situation that should be rectified.
She concluded her remarks by asserting that much more work needs to be done before women can say they’ve achieved parity with men.
“We need men to be as informed as women on issues, so they’re not just seen as women’s issues,” she said. “The day that men and women are upset about the same issues, we will have achieved equality.”
Before becoming the executive director of the PCSW, Younger was the first woman and the first African American to have served as executive director of the ACLU of Connecticut. She has been cited by The Hartford Business Journal as one of “Eight Remarkable Women in Business,” and was among the NAACP’s “100 Most Influential Blacks in Connecticut.”
The appearance by Younger was sponsored by the Trinity College Black Women's Organization.