Thursday, February 2, 2012

We Won't Go Back

I try to stay away from certain subjects on this blog. I avoid religion and politics as much as possible, BUT yesterday was my birthday and there's something I need to say. I'm probably older than most of my readers and I know you won't all agree with me, but please bear with me this time. There is much at stake.

I've been involved with the Women's Rights Movement for a long time. My involvement has been in four areas, education and employment, social and reproductive rights. Many of you are too young to realize how recently things have changed. My grandmother didn't have the right to vote. Once women attained the right, she never let us forget how important it was to exercise that right. We received a phone call every election day to remind us to vote. I've never missed an election.
I had always planned to become a veterinarian. I had the grades and was accepted at the school of my choice, but there was a quota on the number of women accepted into the veterinary school and I was placed on a waiting list. The work was considered too physical for women. I chose not to wait and left school to enter the business world.
In the 1960s and 70s classified ads in newspapers were divided into male only and female only jobs. The main jobs for women were teaching, nursing and clerical. The employer decided if he wanted to hire a woman. Job applications asked if a woman was married or planning to marry, if they had children or were planning to have children. If an applicant said she planned to have children, she was asked when, how many and what plans she had for child care. Men were not asked these question. I remember a job application for a bank that I applied to in South Carolina that had a whole section of questions on my menstrual cycle.
Women were expected to wear skirts to work, regardless of the job or weather. Pants were not allowed and a woman would be sent home to change if she appeared in pants. Women were paid less than men for exactly the same work. Men were assumed to be supporting families and even if a woman was a single mother due to death or divorce, she was paid less. There was no mandated maternity leave. If a married woman became pregnant and left to have her baby, she was replaced. A single woman who became pregnant could be fired simply for being pregnant.
I worked as a bank auditor in Central New York and was taking notice of the women's groups that were forming and legislation that was being discussed. Although the Feminists made news by symbolically burning bras, they proposed a day for women to stay home from work demanding the right to wear pants to work. Along with a group of the younger female bank employees, I stayed home and the bank agreed to our terms, to a point. We were allowed to wear pantsuits, trousers with matching jackets. The bank also reviewed salaries and brought women's wages up to match those of men doing the same jobs.

Along with some friends I attended some rallies and heard speakers such as Gloria Steinam and Bella Abzug speak It was a heady time. In Syracuse where I lived, there were two restaurants with cocktail lounges that allowed no women unless they were escorted by men. These were not private clubs, but public facilities closed to women. We picketed these facilities and managed to get television news and local newspapers to cover our complaints and eventually both restaurants opened their doors to women. I remember the first day they did so, a girlfriend and I ate lunch at one of them and toasted our success.
Women who married were expected to take their husband's surname and were referred to as Mrs. Whatever. In my genealogical research an obituary from the 1970s would read John Smith was survived by his brother William Smith and his sisters Mrs. James Jones and Mrs. george Brown. A married woman was stripped of her own identity and became an appendage of her husband. As you know I chose to keep my name when I married and add my husband's name after a hyphen. In the 1970s I would not have been able to do that.

The subject that pulled me deeply into the Women's Movement was, of course, the right to make decisions about my own body. At that time there was no date rape or spousal rape on the books. A married woman was under her husband's control. He decided if and when she would have children, if and where she would work outside the home. A single woman who found herself pregnant thru rape or birth control failure had the choice of having the child or risking her life in a back alley with someone who might or might not be a medical professional, or risking her life by self aborting.
I volunteered at Planned Parenthood, organized rallies and talked to everyone, especially the men in my life. We needed them to understand what was at stake and join us in trying to make changes. Things did change slowly and we acknowledged every small change and celebrated the big ones. I even was able to file charges against an employer who discriminated on the basis of sex and won my case.
A lot of good women suffered and yes, died because change didn't come in time for them. Today I see young women taking many of the rights they have for granted and I see opponents chipping away at them. I fear that the hard won victories will be lost and society will return to times when women are not valued as individuals and their choices will be restricted. We need to pass our history on to generations coming after us and they need to stay on guard against those who would rescind our rights as women.
Thanks for hearing me out.


Anonymous said...

Thank you Sue for speaking up for all women. Womens rights like many others were hard won and unfortunately in this political climate easily lost. Not only are women under attack. The Right Wing of our country have no heart for the poor, are reducing the middle class into the condition of the poor, and women's rights seem to be a very high target on thier list. Ladies stand up and let your voice be heard. This is Sue's husband, we are of one voice on the subject of women's rights and the rights of all citizens.

The Life of Riley said...

I agree with all that you say. In fact I even posted on my blog ("Mum told me about Kate" in November 2011 )

about how New Zealand women had to fight for the right to vote and were only granted that right in 1893 (27 years before American wommen could vote) which is why I always vote. Have a read.

My mother (who claimed she was for women's rights in the 1970's) and father told me not to study for the career I wanted as females should not work in the construction industry or set foot on building sites - they made me study commerce instead (supposedly to get a job before I married and reproduced), but I left home, completed an architecture degree and passed my professional qualification to be an architect. Where I worked in London in the 1990's females were not allowed to wear trousers where clients or the public could see although in the back rooms, out of sight, it was OK. This was written policy and included site visits, so I took to wearing overly long (compared to the fashion at the time) skirts with boots while climbing ladders on windy building sites just to make a point!

Like you I have never changed my surname - I am who I am, not a possesion of the male I've been with for over a quarter of a century (or someone to be "given away" by my father).

In the 1980's there was a campaign (by the Human Rights Commision) here in NZ "Girls can do anything" - that is still something to aim for as there is a long way to go. We have nieces who believe females can't do certain jobs (like flying a plane or being an electrician - both of which females can do!) because that is how they have been brought up to think but I try to challenge thier thinking (and the beliefs of thier parents who are even more set in their ways!).

I'm getting off my soap box now.

STELLA and RORY from Down Under said...

I agree with you too but the women I know (including my three daughters) all believe we can do whatever we choose. Thanks to women like yourself you paved the way for my daughters. I have never been as outgoing as yourself but have always believed I could do anything.

My father (who is 86) is a strong minded man but always felt women were equal and admired women who were high achievers so I suppose this helped in my own mindset.

My mother was a stay at home mum but encouraged me to do whatever I chose. I did take my husband's name when we married but didn't feel it was because I was his possession. It was just because I wanted to. We have always had a great partnership. He is a husband who does housework, helps with the child rearing etc so maybe I am lucky.

Happy Birthday to you. Thanks for an interesting post and for sharing your views with us. No worries, and love, Carol (and Stella and Rory)

H Ski said...

Thank you so much for posting this. I am almost 30, and I agree that many woman my age take the rights we have for granted. I know I do at times. It is posts like these and remind me to be grateful and extremely thankful to the older generation of women and women who are no longer with us that have done so much for us today.

But like you, I see the things some of our Representatives are trying to do to our rights and sickens me. Why is it always woman's rights that questioned and not men's? Why do we deserve less? Why can't we decide what is right for our bodies and/or our family's without the government? I am worried for what rights may be taken away from my future kids.

Thank you again for posting this and the work you have done for woman's rights. People like you do not get the praise for the work you do. And it cannot be easy.

Border Collie Mom said...

Thank you for your post- I appreciate the reminder.
The only thing I question is the photo of the women in burkas. I think it gives the impression that all women in burkas are dressed that way because they are opressed. Would you feel the same about a photo of a Pentacostal woman in a dress, or a nun in a habit? I'm just curious.. I happen to know that some Muslim women feel that western women are opressed because we are "forced" by men to dress provacatively. Sort of a different way of looking at things...
But thanks again for post!

bichonpawz said...

Agreed. Totally.

Bella Roxy & Macdui said...

Enjoyed your post. As someone who started university wearing dresses...though it was all women. Having an argument when I applied for my first mortgage that only 2/3 of my salary would be accepted though I was the one buying it.

I worry when I see some of the Barbie dolls of today, who don't seem to realise what they have or have interest in preserving it, I worry.

Great work that is unfinished.

SissySees said...

Thank you, Sue. As one of the trailblazers for women in the fire service - and now, women in the water well industry - you know I feel it is important that we never forget. In a way though, the complacency that seems to be washing over our hard-fought progress is a sign of our success.

HOWEVER. I think I have a book for you to read. As soon as I get my copy, I'll let you know. There are still glass ceilings out there, and organizations like Girl Scouts and the Junior League need to keep educating and training women to LEAD. Until we have a better balance at leadership levels (in business, non-profits, politics, etc.), we're not done!!

gMarie said...

Wow! First - I'm positive you aren't that old! Second - I did not live through the same issues that you did being born in the early 60s. But I know - thanks to my grandma who was widowed very young about all of those things. She worked hard to make my mother and aunts women who could stand up for themselves, make informed decisions and live a life based on the rights they fought so hard to gain.

I won't make this political - but will say that I have noticed some things in the news lately that are very, very scary. My last point - I don't care what your personal opinion is on abortion - I don't believe in it personally. However, it's not up to me to make a decision about anyone else's body, life, etc except my own. I think everyone should have that right - male or female.


That being said - I know a woman who still works in the financial industry in New York. Based on her comments - the dress code hasn't changed that much. She is still required - yes required - to wear skirts, dresses or pants suits to work.

Marjie said...

You know that my oldest daughter is now an attorney. Because there aren't any attorney jobs out there to speak of, she's opened her own office (and we're helping her out while she gets up and running). I doubt she'd have been able to do that 50 years ago.

The clock can't be turned back on women's rights, at least not in western world. I applaud you for having been out there doing what you wanted to do, instead of what others wanted you to do. It's paved the way for my daughter and others like her.

charlie girl said...

What a great post! I am so happy you wrote it, so many young women take for granted our rights, basic as they may seem now a days, they should have the understanding of them and how they came about!
I have a real problem listening when women are against re-productive rights, I shutter to think how much of a backwards step we would be taking saying no government, go ahead, choose that for us! Geeze!
Thank you for this post!

parlance said...

Great post.
I'd have to disagree with Marjie, though. The clock can be turned back for women. I remember a colleague who was Malaysian going home for a visit (from Australia) and being horrified to find the restrictions that had suddenly happened on fellow female professionals.

We have our first female Prime Minister and as far as I'm concerned, the male-dominated media are crucifying her because she is a woman.

Belinha Fernandes said...

Sue, let me translate this to Portuguese language and post to my Portuguese language blog -
I also worked in social areas and learned about women rigts and teached women to empower themselves. I did this for a short period of my life, 3 years maybe. But until that moment I had no idea about women's rights evolution. I was a lawyer once and yet I had no idea of how bad things were for women before our Carnation Revolution in 1974. I am younger than you, I turned 45 on 1st February. I was a child when dictatorship and conservative ideas ended and Portugal started to change.I still can't believe what women undergo in Africa or Middle East when I read about it. But even today, here, women face discrimination in many ways.And in times of hardship like the ones we're facing now things will always get worse for women. Women here still get less money for the same job, and still have to prove a lot if they are in a leadership position. I still can't believe that we had a lady prime-minister once.Well, well, I'm glad I dropped by the blog!This is so important issue.
About what your husband wrote, the same is happening here. After a crazy socialist Government that acted as a Government from the Right wing, we have a Right Wing Government destroying middle class, going after social rights that were won over Carnation Revolution like our National Health Service beneficts!Now everything costs a lot. And this is ok for the rich but the poor can't deal with it. Monthly money for old people that worked a lifetime is being reduced and prices are going up a lot. The poor and the middle class are paying for mistakes of maybe 10 years of bad government and politicians are all well and laughing. They were not presented to Justice even if they spent to much and bad. How I hate that.The wealthy are untouched. How can this be?Really, I sometimes would like to leave this country even if I like it here.I see no future for me, I'm considered old.And being a woman. And in the present situation I fear for the future...

Dianne said...

Great post, Sue. I don't think you are much older than I am, and I too remember the classifieds for male and female jobs. Being raised in a conservative Baptist household, my parents believed (and still do) that the man went to work and took care of his family, and the woman stayed home to take care of the children. For that reason, my brother was the only one encouraged to go to college. My father saw secondary education for females as a waste of time. Luckily, the three of us girls did indeed go to college, working at the same time to pay for it ourselves. My married sister has been the main breadwinner all of her married life, and my other sister and I never married. Good thing we had an education...

Belinha Fernandes said...

Thank you very much Sue. A great post and a great life.

Jed and Abby in MerryLand said...

Right on, sister! And belated Happy Birthday! Sounds like we're about the same age. I remember all the things you do: the not being able to go to the university I wanted [UVA] because although it was a state school supported by my parents tax dollars, it was for men only; and having to wear a suit [with as skirt], nylons and heels to college football games. History is very clear that progress can be reversed and rights can be lost; it's happened over and over and over again. I think we're seeing that repression occur in this country at an accelerated speed, starting in the 1980's and getting worse every decade. I try to be a tolerant person, but I have no patience with those who are trying to drag us back to the 1880's, which seems to be the target society the Republicans want to reproduce and force on all of us. I appreciate that the pet blog world is largely apolitical, but in the real world we can't afford that luxury. Thank you for venting, and allowing us to vent.

And your husband is a real keeper!

Jed & Abby's mama

Belinha Fernandes said...

Hello again Sue! People are enjoying your writing! A friend of mine, male, asked me what is happening there, what women rights are being restricted? I said I would ask you but I also wrote that probably it's about reproductive rights. I'm aware that there's great pressure to give rigths from fertilization on and not only after birth. It's happening there, in Brazil, in Spain this month the Government announced a law review that might go that way too...
Happy Birthday too you too! Forgot to say that. Now I know 2 persons that have their birthday the same day as me!:)

Krista/Ruca said...

Sue, terrific post! I'm with you all the way!