A friend in her late thirties asked, “Why are you so upset about the proposed health care bill and the stuff that affects women? I know that women don’t always get paid the same as men, but everything else is okay.” Let me explain why.
Today’s under-fifty-somethings take a lot for granted. When I was married in 1961, a woman could not sign any kind of a contract on her own, apply for or have a credit card in her own name, use contraceptives, buy a house or car without a male co-signer, retain her own earnings, control her own property, serve on a jury, work without her husband’s permission, work during pregnancy — or be hired while pregnant, receive the same pay for doing the same work, or have any recourse against sexual harassment or abuse. Husbands had the right to beat, withhold money and food, isolate, and terrorize their wives, actions that crossed the social spectrum. I grew up in a middle class neighborhood and remember our next door neighbor, an attorney, throwing his wife through their plate glass window. She was badly cut and bleeding. He threatened my father as Daddy helped the badly bleeding woman get away while my mother called an ambulance. It took over 200 stitches to close her wounds. He was not prosecuted. I was 10 at the time, and it was then I decided to fight for women’s rights.
Did change happen overnight? No. Even though women were granted the right to vote in 1920, the Equal Pay Act was not passed until 1963 — it never has been enforced. The Supreme Court established the right for married couples to use contraception in 1965. Unmarried couples were granted the right in 1972. Help wanted ads segregated by sex were banned in 1973. Congress banned credit discrimination against women in 1974, while the Supreme Court ruled that forced maternity leave was illegal. The following year, it ruled that it was illegal to ban women from juries. Employment discrimination against pregnant women was ended in 1978. And in 1981, the court overturned state laws designating the husband as “lord and master of the home with unilateral control of property jointly owned with his wife.”
Did you know that Paula Hawkins, R-Florida, was the first woman elected to the Senate without taking her husband’s or father’s place after their deaths? That was in 1980. The “Year of the Woman” was declared in 1992, when four women were elected to the Senate and two dozen to the House of Representatives, a record number, only 25 years ago! To me, it was yesterday.
For those of us who struggled in the trenches, the potential loss of rights we fought so hard for is devastating. We engaged the battle so our daughters, granddaughters and coming generations of women would no longer be considered chattel and take their place as full-fledged citizens who stand shoulder to shoulder with their men, not walk 10 paces behind them.
Until next time.