The Colorado Woman

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December 2013

An Open Letter to the Women of Colorado

When Patricia Schroeder was elected in 1972, she became the first woman to represent Colorado in the U.S. Congress. Over her 24-year congressional career, Schroeder had a major impact on women’s rights and family issues and gained a reputation for biting quips. She retired in 1997 and now resides in Florida, but the beach hasn’t dulled her wit, as evidenced in this note to today’s generation of women.

Dear Next Generation,

When I became co-chair of the Congressional Women’s Caucus with Congresswoman Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) in 1983, we had a goal. We wanted to have as much done with regard to women’s equality by the 21st century as possible. Sadly, despite more than two decades of work, we didn’t get many of the things passed we had hoped for: equal pay enforcement, adding the Equal Rights Amendment to the Constitution, legislation giving women control over their reproductive health, and a family leave act to be proud of.

It took nine years—and a serious watering down—to pass America’s Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which I authored, in 1993. At the time, pediatricians said four months was the absolute minimum we should give women and men to bond with their children.

We got 12 weeks.

This year is the Family and Medical Leave Act’s 20th anniversary. I was invited to Washington to celebrate its passage, but I refused to go. I am embarrassed this country only gives 12 unpaid weeks to women who work in companies that employ more than 50 employees. It’s pathetic.

The Family and Medical Leave Act’s passage did not stop American industry, as was predicted, and yet Congress still has not moved to increase the number of companies covered or increased the benefits. Work and family issues remain mainly “women’s issues” in our country. Not so in others, where children are seen as the future, and people believe it’s essential to invest in them with great family leave policies, childcare, college education, and medical care. In the United Kingdom, for example, every woman is guaranteed 52 weeks of family leave upon the birth of a baby, and, in many cases, 39 weeks are paid.

In America, we see your children as your problem. There have been many articles lately talking about couples deciding not to have children because of the financial stress it imposes. How is that good for America’s future?

In 2020, we will celebrate women having had the right to vote for 100 years. But there is still much work to do. I collected some headlines from stories last year and changed the word “women” to “men.” Take a look and tell me we women don’t have any more work to do. I dare you.

Are Men Fit to Lead?…Kids Getting Fat Because Fathers Not Cooking Meals…Do Men Have Too Many Choices?…Kids and Career—Can Men Really Have it All?…Makeup Tips for Men Who Look Tired At The End of the Day…Single Men: They’re Buying Homes and Working at Jobs But Are They Happy?…How Men’s Liberation is Making Men Unhappy.

To the 20-, 30-, and 40-year-old women of today, it’s time to hand you the torch. But are you ready to take it? Many of the young women I meet today remind me of women I met in Iran during a congressional visit in 1974. I asked these Iranians if they were worried about all the “noise” in the political arena about getting women back under control. They said the shah would never let that happen. He had Westernized the country, and they bragged they had better daycare and work family benefits. Well, their complacency blew up in their faces. Within years, they were being arrested if they were not fully covered outside of their homes.

Women’s rights in America made terrific advances in the 1920s only to be derailed by the Depression. Then World War II brought all sorts of advances for women, only to be derailed by the 1950s. Just last year, many states undercut rights women had won, and Congress nearly killed the Violence Against Women Act. So, ladies, complacency is not a solution. Women must do what we did decades ago: Get into the debate, vote, and make your voices heard.

My generation did a lot of grading of the road to create equality for women. Now you need to pave it.

My Best,

Pat Schroeder