Editor’s note: This guest blog post is written by Debra Brenegan, an Assistant Professor of English and Coordinator of the Women’s Studies Program at Westminster College in Missouri. Her recently released historical novel Shame the Devil (SUNY Press) is based on the remarkable and true story of 19th-century journalist, novelist and feminist Fanny Fern. www.debrabrenegan.com
Fanny Fern was the most-popular, highest-paid writer of her era (1850s-70s) and, as a crusader for social equality, was one of the early voices calling attention to the double standard for men and women regarding business and financial opportunities. In her June 8, 1861, New York Ledger column, “A Bit of Injustice,” she wrote, “As a general thing there are few people who speak approbatively of a woman who has a smart business talent or capability. No matter how isolated or destitute her condition, the majority would consider it more “feminine” would she unobtrusively gather up her thimble, and, retiring into some out-of-the-way-place, gradually scoop out her coffin with it, than to develop that smart turn for business which would lift her at once out of her troubles; and which, in a man so situated, would be applauded as exceedingly praiseworthy.”
It’s easy to dismiss Fern’s words – after all she was writing about social problems in play over 150 years ago. But when you consider that, in 2011, on average, women make 76 cents for every dollar men make, that only 3 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs are women, that women hold only 3 percent of top positions in the mainstream media and that, according to UN Women, women make up about 70 percent of the world’s poor – perhaps Fern’s words still resonate after all.
Interested in taking action on equal pay? Plan to join Vision 2020 for the second annual Congress on Oct. 12 in Chicago, where strategies to achieve pay equity, and Vision 2020’s four other goals will be discussed. Join our mailing list to receive an invitation to the event: http://drexel.edu/vision2020/news_events/updates/