by Jean Scherwenka
Milwaukee author and labor activist Ellen Bravo why she didnt run for political office. We all thought she was just the ticket smart, gutsy, funny, well connected, and a speaker you actually enjoyed hearing.
Her answer was always the same: she thought she could be more effective in the labor movement doing exactly what she was doing grassroots organizing and leadership development.
Naive me didnt always understand that, and sometimes didnt believe it. But after reading Bravos latest book, Taking On The Big Boys Or Why Feminism Is Good For Families, Business, And The Nation, I get it.
Bravo keeps her strategies current with the times, and she cultivates new relationships and keeps the old like no one Ive ever met. By staying off the political path shes been free to say what she thinks, never missing opportunities to do so.
Oh, did I mention her writing skills? Pick up her book and youll see for yourself. Bravo starts with a brief, personal background, including how she became involved with 9to5 National Association of Working Women (NAWW) in 1982 and from 1993-2004 held the National Directors position after founder Karen Nussbaum left to become head of the Womens Bureau at the U.S. Department of Labor.
Bravo seamlessly weaves U.S. labor history into her chapters along with real life examples of the outrageous treatment working women have endured over the years and how 9to5 helped empower them to create changes on the job, in the laws, and in their lives. (The movie 9to5 was inspired by this organization.)
Bravo defines her social justice brand of feminism as a system of beliefs, laws, and practices that fully values women and work associated with women in order to help all people reach their potential.
The Big Boys are what she calls The relatively small number of men who have a real stake in maintaining gender discrimination. Theyre the ones who control wealth and power in this country. You may think of them as the powers-that-be or the ruling class or the owning class or the Man. They profit from our labor, set the conditions under which we work, and create or greatly influence public policy. She hastens to add that Some may wear high heels and lipstick, but regardless of gender, theyre part of this group.
Heres how they operate. They:
Minimize What problem?
Trivialize Thats a problem?
Patronize You dont understand the needs of business
Demonize Youre the problem.
Catastrophize Your solution will cause greater problems for the very ones you want to help
Compartmentalize If you get what you want, it will hurt some other group.
If you consider yourself well informed and think that things are much better now for working women what are they still whining about? you need to send that thought to the Discovery Channels Myth Busters.
Bravo clarifies where strides have been made and where problems still exist, some bigger than ever. The short list: undervaluation of womens work; practices still used to preserve mens work for men only; continued sexual harassment of women and gays in the workplace; Big Boys misuse and abuse of parttime and temporary workers; the cost of denying marriage rights to same sex partners; and the despicable myths around welfare, or What this Nation Really Thinks of Motherhood. In contrast, she gives us a clear picture of what a feminist future would look like and how we can help make it happen.
I highly recommend this entertaining and informative read. Youll find valuable information, practical strategies that work, and realistic hope for all of us lifesavers in these strange and disturbing times.
Taking On The Big Boys, Or Why
Feminism Is Good For Families, Business,
And The Nation
by Ellen Bravo
The Feminist Press. $15.95
Riverwest Currents online edition – May, 2007