Why Ellen Bravo Wants Us To Take On The Big Boys

by Jean Scherwenka

Milwaukee author and labor activist Ellen Bravo why she didn’t 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 didn’t always understand that, and sometimes didn’t believe it. But after reading Bravo’s 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 I’ve ever met. By staying off the political path she’s 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 you’ll 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 Director’s position after founder Karen Nussbaum left to become head of the Women’s 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. They’re 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, they’re part of this group.”

Here’s how they operate. They:
• Minimize – What problem?
• Trivialize – That’s a problem?
• Patronize – You don’t understand the needs of business
• Demonize – You’re 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.

Sound familiar?

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 Channel’s “Myth Busters.”

Bravo clarifies where strides have been made and where problems still exist, some bigger than ever. The short list: undervaluation of “women’s work;” practices still used to preserve “men’s 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. You’ll 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