Cheryl Bell

As Interviewed by Spencer Bell, March 18, 2014

Cheryl Bell: In Her Own Words

Can you tell me a little about yourself your full name, where and when you were born, family, education and professions you have had.

Cheryl L. Ewing Bell, Anderson, Indiana, 1948, one brother, one sister, BA degree, Professional business to business sales, Consumer Products & Pharmaceutical.

I was a Tom boy and did not care for traditional girl’s games and play. I was labeled “bossy” when playing when boys were labeled leaders. I saw boys rewarded and applauded in school for doing half what girls achieved with no rewards or applause.

I was raised to be a wife and mother. I was also always raised to always have my own financial security and the ability to always be able to get a job. My job choices seemed to be secretarial, teaching, or nursing. I played “business” most of the time and bought office supplies with my allowance and set up office-style businesses and was always the owner or manager of the business.

I was raised Presbyterian and continued that religious doctrine through most of my adulthood. It changed and I was “allowed” to have leadership roles that women had been excluded from. I did not find my religion to deter nor encourage feminist activity.

I was raised strongly pro-union. That was my clue how to impact change, and I always felt if a middle class could be created, women’s equality would follow.

I was very disturbed by Kramer vs. Kramer, Out of Africa, and The Good Mom. These movies framed information I already knew but had not clarified. Many of the books I liked as a child involved physically active, assertive girls that were leaders.

Do you have a second wave feminist movement leaders who influenced you to do something about gender equality?

I’d start with Carrie Nation, Eleanor Roosevelt, Bella Abzug, Gloria Steinem, and most recently Sheryl Sandburgh.

I was a member of NOW [National Organization of Women] for a long time. At first it was just financial support -- and later meetings. I found the group meetings were politically-based action committees for particular current events, i.e. protesting against anti-abortionists, birth control issues. So I decided to just widen my approach and belong to political action groups that include women’s rights and campaigned for politicians who advocated women’s rights as part of their platform. Belonging means financial support as well as volunteer work. I was a Court Appointed Special Advocate [CASA] for abused and neglected children and tried to take cases that required supporting mothers to eliminate negative male members of their families from their lives to protect their female children. That was a difficult proposition.

Until 1982, companies were not required to give women equal opportunities for jobs. That legislation changed the American employment environment radically and my life as well. I was finally paid well for performance -- not equal to men, but I was given opportunities that had been closed to women previously.

While women have been given more opportunities and more responsibilities, equal pay has still not been achieved, regardless of what legislation requires. Female business leaders and owners do not support and mentor women as much as is necessary to close this gap. I have faith that it will happen some day in my lifetime, but I will not benefit personally.

I feel that there seldom is gender equality primarily because women are seen as primarily mothers and supporters of men rather than primarily as leaders.

I raised my son to respect women and their abilities. I raised my daughter to get an education and always be able to get a professional job. I raised them with the expectation that they would have a dual partnership with their spouse, raise children, and be financially responsible.

When my father and aunt were born did you have to limit your speaking out about equality?

No, I quoted Bella Abzug and Gloria Steinem and regularly expressed opinions about women’s equality. I was particularly vocal about access to birth control and abortion rights. I spoke with them about my career equality goals and difficulties. I believe everyone inside and outside of my home knew I was a feminist activist.

How should women of today fight the discrimination that they are faced with in other countries in America, like Malala Yousafzai?

I see that as an international political problem rather than discrimination. We aren’t equal in America despite legislation so I don’t see how we can uphold any kind of standards anywhere else. All we can do personally for other women around the world is be activist providers to them, i.e. volunteer to teach, volunteer and financially support improved health standards for women, etc. I do not advocate US involvement in changing other countries’ governments.