Story and photos by Emily Wilkins, 2016 JAWS Fellow
Every Monday in a small-town library in Maine, Kathy Bonk meets with about 30 women to discuss how to finally ratify the Equal Rights Amendment.
“There’s a renewed effort for an equal rights amendment right now, 40 years later,” she told a crowd of about 200 women at JAWS, the Journalism and Women Symposium on Oct. 29. “It’s happening all over.”
A revival of an amendment to add equality of women to the U.S. Constitution is one of the latest chapters in Kathy ’s decades-long career as an activist and strategist on women’s issues.
Kathy is one of the “unsung heroines of the women’s movement from its earliest days,” said Edith Lederer, who along with Linda Deutsch, interviewed Kathy as part of the annual Fran Lewine Memorial Interview.
Lewine, who died in 2008, covered the White House for The Associated Press for six administrations and was part of the lawsuit that led to AP’s female employees’ being guaranteed treatment equal to male workers. She wasn’t merely a trailblazer for women, but more of a “gentle bulldozer,” Linda said. Her namesake interview spotlights women who have expanded the role of women in journalism.
One of the first fights Kathy took part in successfully desegregated help wanted ads in The Pittsburgh Press. Job-seekers with doctorates could easily find work in the men’s jobs section, but had few to no opportunities in the women’s section.
The case, which Kathy recalled was fought by most newspapers in the United States, went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.
She also organized a protest of young girls who wanted to play Little League. The protest led to the integration of girls into Little League, but the trip had a severe flaw — the girls’ buses didn’t have with bathrooms, and the vehicles had to stop every few miles for a bathroom break.
Kathy then went to the National Organization for Women as coordinator of its media task force. She said women reporters played an “absolutely critical role” in keeping attention on the issue of the treatment of women by media organizations.
She also noted that many women who took part in the lawsuits effectively ended their careers in hopes of advancing other women.
“It’s fair to say AP, The New York Times, NBC for sure … those women gave up their careers,” she said. “They were really put on the lists for ‘do not advance those women, let’s get rid of them.’”
“Those stories were really sad for me,” Kathy said.
In 1988, Kathy co-founded the Communications Consortium Media Center, where she has worked on a variety of domestic and international topics.
Yet Kathy feels the women’s right movement has stalled in the United States as it flourishes abroad. She has worked to improve access to family planning in Moscow and is currently working with programs dedicated to ending forced child marriages.
She encouraged journalists to pay attention to issues abroad and to continue to cover women’s issues domestically, even if similar stories have been done in the past. Women’s issues will be critically salient if Hillary Clinton continues her lead in the polls for the next 11 days, Kathy said.
“There was backlash against Barack Obama from the right that was based on race,” she said. “She’s going to face the same thing, but it won’t just be about sexism. It will be about misogyny.”