By Catherine Raphael
Oakmont High School career day. I was a junior. The fight for Civil Rights was in full swing. Marches and violent encounters with police were on the evening news. I was inspired by the hope and courage of the activists, and I could see the power and influence a righteous lawyer could wield. I opted to go to the session on becoming a lawyer.
I was the only girl in the room. The (white, male) lawyer who came to talk with us took one look at me. “A lawyer?” he sneered. “I don’t think so. But, there’s always a need for legal secretaries.” I flushed with humiliation as everyone turned to look at me.
I didn’t become a lawyer, but not because of him. I found a different path. I earned my BA in Fine Arts/Metalsmithing and spent many years in a metal studio making jewelry. When my son was born, I shifted gears. I worked as a storyteller and improv actor. And then I started writing — short stories and a novel. All the while I found ways to engage in the Women’s Movement.
I marched and carried signs. I signed petitions and wrote to my legislators. Eventually, I joined a group of women in my hometown (Pittsburgh, PA) to evaluate the philanthropic support for women and girls locally. We discovered that only a very small percentage of foundation dollars went specifically to women and girls, so we started the Women and Girls Foundation of Southwest PA. I served on the new foundation board for a number of years.
Through the foundation’s work I got to know area nonprofits and activists working for women’s rights and equality. It also opened the door to a broader, more national community working in the field.
The Ms. Foundation for Women, founded in 1972 by Gloria Steinem, Marlo Thomas, Patricia Carbine, and Letty Cottin Pogrebin, was the very first foundation to focus entirely on women’s issues. I joined their Democracy Funding Circle in the early 2000s and, eventually, joined the foundation board.
I have also served on the board of the Women’s Law Project, The Funding Exchange, and the Women Donors Network. I volunteer and support many other progressive organizations and non-profits.
Through this work I have come to know amazing women and men who fight for women’s rights and equality, voting rights, LGBTQ rights, criminal justice reform, civil rights, and other efforts to transform our society for the better.
Fast forward almost sixty years. There have been many advances in woman’s equality. There has also been a strong pushback.
This year the Supreme Court’s ultra-conservative majority has been having a field day. They are only getting warmed up, I fear. SCOTUS has decimated voting rights, made guns more accessible, dealt a blow to the EPA, pretty much erased separation of (Christian) church and state, and overturned Roe v. Wade.
Although it wasn’t unexpected, the Dobbs decision from the Supreme Court felt like a punch to my gut. Using convoluted reasoning and cherry-picking history, almost fifty years of precedent was thrown out the window. I remember life before Roe, and it was brutal.
Women’s rights — and the rights of so many others — are threatened by this court. I am very scared about where this county — my country — is heading.
In the wake of that SCOTUS decision I felt paralyzed. Then I took a breath.
Yes, we are in a terrible place. Yes, the current powers-that-be seem to be destroying our freedoms. But then I remembered the strength and courage of the Civil Rights Movement from the 60s and the righteous lawyers I so admired. I thought about Martin Luther King’s quote, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” I thought about the many, many organizations and activists I have met who are still fighting for equal rights today.
This is not the end. It is a new beginning, a resurgence of commitment. I cannot, will not give up hope for the future.
Catherine Raphael has spent much of her life fighting for women as the founder of the Women and Girls Foundation in Pennsylvania. While working through the women’s rights movement in the 1960s and 1970s, she found peace in creating a fantasy world not dominated by men and instead a propulsive and hopeful epic fantasy with women at the lead. ‘Journey to the Heart Stone’ (Sparkpress, Sept. 27, 2022) is her first novel. Enter the matriarchy in this epic feminist fantasy debut 20 years in the making. ‘Journey to the Heart Stone’ follows Cora, the exiled heroine determined to join together the old matriarchies and defeat her evil uncle’s plot for power before the next heir is born. Catherine is has also served on the boards of the Ms. Foundation for Women, the Women Donors Network, and volunteered with other progressive women’s rights organizations.