Our History is Our StrengthMarch 2, 2011 Marina Y Sanchez Freelance Columnist
March isn’t just about Mardi Gras and St Patrick’s day. It is also Women’s History Month.
As early as the 1970’s, women’s history was unknown in school curriculum. In the week of March 8th, International Women’s Day, was chosen as the focal point of the observance.
The theme for the National Women’s History Project this year is Our History is Our Strength. This project continues to teach and make aware of all past generations of women who made a stand, pressed for change, and made a difference in their society for all women.
To think of all that has changed since the mid 1800’s. It all started with wanting to voice their opinions. After all, they lived in the land of the free. Why were there restrictions for women? At the time the specifics were:
- Married women were legally dead in the eyes of the law
- Women were not allowed to vote
- Women had to submit to laws when they had no voice in their formation
- Married women had no property rights
- Husbands had legal power over and responsibility for their wives to the extent that they could imprison or beat them with impunity
- Divorce and child custody laws favored men, giving no rights to women
- Women had to pay property taxes although they had no representation in the levying of these taxes
- Most occupations were closed to women and when women did work they were paid only a fraction of what men earned
- Women were not allowed to enter professions such as medicine or law
- Women had no means to gain an education since no college or university would accept women students
- With only a few exceptions, women were not allowed to participate in the affairs of the church
So women like Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Matilda Joslyn Gage and Lucy Stone were among many who pioneered in the 19th-century women’s rights movement.
Many at the time didn’t feel women should not be allowed to vote, work or own property. They did all they could to block women’s efforts for a change. Yet the movement persevered despite persecution and they won.
Decades later, another fight for women was risen. The most dramatic impact of the women’s rights movement of the past few decades has been women’s financial liberation. Do you realize that just 25 years ago married women were not issued credit cards in their own name? That most women could not get a bank loan without a male co-signer? That women working full-time earned fifty-nine cents to every dollar earned by men?
Help-wanted ads in newspapers were segregated into “Help wanted – women” and “Help wanted men.” Pages and pages of jobs were announced for which women could not even apply. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ruled this illegal in 1968, but since the EEOC had little enforcement power, most newspapers ignored the requirement for years.
So the National Organization for Women (NOW), had to argue the issue all the way to the Supreme Court to make it possible for a woman today to hold any job for which she is qualified. And so now we see women in literally thousands of occupations which would have been almost unthinkable just one generation ago: dentist, bus driver, veterinarian, airline pilot, and phone installer, just to name a few.
Women, however, were still trying to define the law. More complex issues surfaced.
To name a few:
- Women’s reproductive rights. Whether or not women can terminate pregnancies is still controversial twenty-five years after the Supreme Court ruling in Roe v. Wade affirmed women’s choice during the first two trimesters.
- Women’s enrollment in military academies and service in active combat. Are these desirable?
- Women in leadership roles in religious worship. Controversial for some, natural for others.
- Affirmative action. Is help in making up for past discrimination appropriate? Do qualified women now face a level playing field?
- The mommy track. Should businesses accommodate women’s family responsibilities, or should women compete evenly for advancement with men, most of whom still assume fewer family obligations?
- Pornography. Is it degrading, even dangerous, to women, or is it simply a free speech issue?
- Sexual harassment. Just where does flirting leave off and harassment begin?
- Surrogate motherhood. Is it simply the free right of a woman to hire out her womb for this service?
- Social Security benefits allocated equally for homemakers and their working spouses, to keep surviving wives from poverty as widows.
Today we have young women who are referred to as “the third wave” that are confronting all these touchy topics.
Yet despite what we believe, we would never give up the legacy of personal freedoms and expanded opportunities women have won over the last 150 years. Whatever choices we make for our own lives, most of us envision a world for our daughters, nieces and granddaughters where all girls and women will have the opportunity to develop their unique skills and talents and pursue their dreams.
And that is all what it is about: the choice. The freedom to choose for ourselves. Everytime we wake up for work that in itself is a privilege. Everytime we take our daughter to soccer practice. Everytime we buy a car, a house, rent an apartment. We are free to decide.
We are now that living legacy of women’s rights that seven generations of women before us have given their best to achieve. How will you cherish it?
I woke up today in my house. Took my daughter to school so she could get an education. I went to work where I get paid just as well as anyone there. A job where my opinion is necessary and needed. I came home to a house that my husband had cleaned.
All little things that were once big things that were fought for.
Our history is our strength.