Stay Awake

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Recently, PBS aired a terrific documentary tracing the women’s movement from the 1950s to the present. It chronicled those years, not so long ago, when domestic violence was so common it had no name, when abortions were illegal and doctors who performed them went to jail, and when female college graduates found easy access only to jobs as nurses, teachers and stewardesses.

The documentary was the topic of conversation among my friends, in part because it aired in the same week that Arkansas passed a new, and highly restrictive, abortion law. For many of us, that brought to mind the fights we fought to change women’s circumstances in the '60s, and '70s and '80s.

And so when my daughter -- a newly minted medical doctor who has benefitted greatly from the women’s movement -- came home for a visit last weekend, I sat her down and told her she had to watch this documentary with me. She promptly fell asleep.

Fast forward a couple of weeks, and now the conversation is all about a new book by a young Silicon Valley exec who has experienced tremendous success in the workplace, and who wants other women to rise to the top, just as she has. She laments the fact that in the past decade, we’ve seen no improvement in the 14 percent of women running corporations in this country, no improvement in the 17 percent who sit on corporate boards.

While working on these issues is surely important to young professional women today, we women of a certain age -- your moms -- want to remind you that there are far more basic rights that need to be protected just now. We love you, and we welcome your success in business and in the professions. But we want you to understand your success in the context of what’s come before. We need you to understand the fragility of the foundation on which your success is built. It’s important that you remain vigilant. We need you to stay awake.