On Becoming Educated
In graduate school in the 1990s, I am introduced to a feminist
professor of law. We're in a bagel shop. It's sunny. Wiry, with
cropped sandy hair and glasses, she looks exactly like my nascent
concept of a feminist.
She's working on an article about a little-known provision in the
Violence Against Women Act, which President Clinton has just signed into
law. The new legislation makes employers responsible for providing
workplace protection for women whose partners have threatened them with
violence. In the past, violent men had ignored restraining orders to
assault and even kill women at their workplaces. This new legislation
requires employers, if notified that a targeted woman is in their
employ, to provide appropriate security rather than leaving it to the
individual woman to defend herself.
I know about men who hurt women. Our mother had fled the state to
escape our stepfather, who had beaten her and us for years. I had run
away at fourteen and been on my own since sixteen.
This is marvelous, I tell the professor. Her article will help
protect thousands of women—hundreds of thousands, maybe. I think of my
mother, my friend Cindy, my neighbor Diana. Battering happens in every
stratum of society, but under the poverty level, domestic violence
increases by a factor of five. In the trailer park and barrio and rural
towns where I've lived, I've seen my share.
But the professor grimaces and shakes her head. Her article, she
explains, is for a law journal, an academic journal. Only other
scholars will read it.
But since this new legislative provision isn't widely known, I
suggest she could write an article for a mass-market women's magazine,
one that will reach millions of women. Not Ms., which is hard to
find, but the kind of magazine available at drugstores and supermarkets,
the kind that sits in stacks at inexpensive beauty salons,
Cosmopolitan or Redbook; the kind that reaches ordinary
women, women who might be getting beaten. She could save actual women's
Her face wrinkles. That's not the kind of article she writes, she
explains with exaggerated patience. Someone else will do that,
eventually. A writer who does commercial, popular articles for a
Her own work, she says, will trickle down.
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