Last night, Marta and I (and a friend) viewed all three one-hour segments of Makers: Women Who Make America. It's a just-aired documentary on the amazing progress and sad setbacks in the fight for gender justice, civil rights, cultural equality, and protection from fear for women in America.
Makers covers the period from the 1950s to now, which means it covers my lifetime. The soundtrack is amazing, if you can hear it when you're not listening to Meryl Streep, who delivers the narration, and one amazing woman after another in recent American history. In their own way, even opponents of equal rights, like Phyllis Schafly, come off more respectable than ever before. I say this even though the show made me angry all over again that Schafly was smart enough to ignite today's culture wars by exploitng fears in America that nipped the Equal Rights Amendment just before it could be approved by the final few states needed to ratify it into the U.S. Constitution.
The saddest part of the documentary -- which has a nifty free iPad app, by the way -- is how progress on public policy suddenly stopped when the ERA missed being ratified and when Roe v. Wade was adopted by the Supreme Court (it was 7-2 vote, by the way -- unthinkable now!). It's as if the movement went underground, succeeding in literature, in boardrooms, in families (some, at least), in pop culture, in offices, even in elective politics. But the legal advances seemed to sputter.
So it was a pleasure to discover the fight to protect women alive and well on the White House website this week. President Obama signed an extension of the Violence Against Women Act this week, and Vice President Biden, who championed the original bill 19 years ago in the Senate, made extensive and moving remarks to a remarkable crowd of men and women in the Interior Department building, because the crowd was too big for the White House.
I wish we heard from women themselves in this video, but we see a lot of hard-working women fighting for respect and protection under the law in the video. Joe Biden has never spoken better. Nineteen years later, he clearly remembers having his consciousness raised about violence against women. You can tell it in his voice and in the stories he tells.
A major advance in this iteration of the Violence Against Women Act concerns prosecutions of people (men, mostly) who batter and harm women on the reservations of Native Americans. The courts for indigienous tribes previously had no jurisdiction over non-Native Americans who commit crimes on the reservations. As of President Obama's signature to the law this week, that loophole is closed and men who endanger women on a reservation will now be subject to full prosecution, even if they are not members of the tribe on whose reservation they committed the crime.