Document 4: "Working Women Join to Fight Sexual Exploitation," Press Release issued by Lin Farley, Susan Meyer, and Karen Sauvigné of the Human Affairs Program, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York, 3 April 1975. 2 pp.
This press release, issued by three activists in Cornell's Human Affairs Program, announced the formation of Working Women United and a speak-out scheduled for May 4th. The document quoted Carmita Wood and another woman describing their experiences of sexual harassment. It included one of the earliest printed uses of the phrase "sexual harassment." The press release was picked up in numerous local newspapers, including the Ithaca Journal, the Ithaca New Times, and the Cornell Daily Sun, and Farley, Meyer, and Wood were quoted.60
HUMAN AFFAIRS PROGRAM
410 College Avenue
Ithaca, N. Y. 14853
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Lin Farley
April 3, 1975
Working Women Join to Fight Sexual Exploitation
A broad cross section of working women throughout Tompkins County have mobilized to launch a campaign to expose the problems of sexual exploitation of women on the job. The newly formed organization, Working Women United, met last night, April 2, and kicked off the campaign in connection with the case of a former Cornell University employee, Carmita L. Wood, who has been denied unemployment benefits. It was ruled that sexual harassment and the painful physical side effects she suffered as a result of prolonged anxiety and tension did not constitute good cause for leaving her job. The New York State Unemployment Service said her reasons for leaving were "personal" and "non-compelling". Ms. Wood is appealing the case with the help of the Women's Section of the Human Affairs Program and hopes to get the ruling reversed.
Ms. Wood expressing the feelings of the entire group said:
There is no moral or legal justification for women to have to tolerate this kind of behavior from their male supervisors or bosses. A woman's role in any kind of work situation should be based solely on her ability to perform the job -- not on whether she maintains a sexual rapport with the boss. Pinching, rubbing, leering, sqeezing [sic] or immoral proposals have no place in a work situation. These conditions are as intolerable as poor lighting, safety hazards or insufficient ventilation.
She hopes her case will draw attention to this wide spread problem and encourage other women to come forward
Many of the women in the group had similar stories to tell. Janet Oestreich, 23, of Ithaca related her experience:
Sexual intimidation in a work place occurs not only with the employer and co-workers, but also with customers if one is working in a service job. As a bartender and waitress, I have been
subjected to outrageous displays of sexual abuse, intimidation and even threats. This can be especially humiliating if your employer expects you to tolerate it under the guise of "the customer is always right". As a waitress, one's wage is dependent on the customer's good will. Working for tips makes you more subject to the whims of these men. This is an intolerable way to have to work and strips you of your self-respect and dignity. I feel very strongly that this subjugation of working women to the power of men who have economic control over them must be stopped!
The campaign will culminate in a Speak Out to be held in the Greater Ithaca Activities Center (old Central School building) on Sunday May 4th at 1 o'clock PM. Lin Farley, head of the Women's Section of the Human Affairs Program, which is co-sponsoring the event with Working Women United, explained the purpose of a Speak Out.
When women came forward to tell their stories about rape and abortion it culminated in changes in the New York State rape laws and in a landmark Supreme Court decision. It took women telling the untold truth about our lives to show how wide spread and damaging these problems really are to activate these changes. Sexual exploitation of working women needs the same exposure. That's the purpose of the Speak Out. From all over Tompkins County working women who have chosen to do so will step forward to detail the damage and harm done to them by this kind of intimidation. No media will be allowed at the Speak Out as the goal is for women to be as honest as possible and to speak as freely as possible. Very simply, a Speak Out is women talking to women and turning the spotlight on the wrongs we suffer. In the process a lot of energy gets released. I've never seen one that didn't shake the rafters a little.
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