Feminism is the radical notion that women are human beings. (Cheris Kramarae)
My mother, a young Doris Day type in the 60’s, was the first female vice-president in her company, (though making 40% less than men in comparable positions). She came home one day and related witnessing something that had outraged her. The CEO’s secretary, (not administrative assistant in that era), was being made to sit behind a six foot tall screen that had been erected around her work area, because gulp, she was pregnant and showing. Her boss actually found her physical state disgusting and wanted her out of his line of sight. That CEO must be turning in his grave; now it’s routine for areas to be set aside for nursing mothers to pump or breastfeed in offices.
In 1978, The Pregnancy Discrimination Act created a ban on employment discrimination against pregnant women. Under the Act, along with not being made to hide behind screens, a woman cannot be fired or denied a job or a promotion because she is or may become pregnant, nor can she be forced to take a pregnancy leave if she is willing and able to work. Men didn’t do that for women, women did.
As a single mother of three by the time she was 22 years old, my mother had no child support from my father (with no consequence) and often worked multiple jobs to make ends meet. Later, in spite of the fact that she, by herself, put together the down payment for a nice home for our family, which at the time included her chronically out of work second husband, my mother was not allowed to be on the loan for that home. Why? Simple, she had a vagina versus a penis.
One of my clients divorced her husband in the 60’s and couldn’t get a credit card though she’d contributed 90% of the funds in their bank account which, by the way, he cleaned out. She related to me how a bank executive back then, kindly allowed her to have a credit card with a limit of $100 to see if she could handle it, telling her he’d raise it to $200 in a few years if she did well.
Once divorced, it was routine for women to lose their credit worthiness, no matter how much they had contributed to the household financially. The Equal Credit Opportunity Act, enacted in 1974, made it mandatory for creditors to consider the credit history of jointly held accounts between spouses. Creditors are also bound to look at the record of any account held only in the husband’s name, if a wife can show that it also reflects her own credit worthiness. I can assure you, women fought that battle.
A real issue even today is pay disparity, in spite of laws in place to prevent it. As recently as 2009, President Obama signed the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Restoration Act, which allows victims of pay discrimination to file a complaint with the government against their employer within 180 days of their last paycheck. Unfortunately, woman are still being paid less than men for doing the same job, a key issue that continues to be a topic in current national news.
Women today are enjoying the fruits of many a battle fought for equal rights, including making sexual harassment or intimidation prohibited in companies, government organizations, and even labor organizations. Only 20 years ago, male co-workers, or a self-entitled boss, could freely create uncomfortable sexual situations for women in the workplace, verbally and physically. By the time I was 20 back in the 80’s, I had been forcibly fondled in an office environment twice. When I complained, the only retribution in those incidents was termination or demotion; not the perpetrators, for me. Today, companies have stringent policies, a long list of rules, and copious amounts of training to prevent even a hint of sexual harassment towards women or men. Women have taken the lead, and the punishment, in speaking out.
Being a feminist doesn’t mean being unfeminine, yet it’s a term that some women are hesitate about, thinking of it as their elders’ battle. That’s a mistake. Women like Margaret Sanger, Gloria Steinem, Betty Friedan, and generations of women devoted their lives to improving the lives of every woman born since 1848, when the first women’s rights convention called for voting rights for women, a long, hard battle finally won in 1920 when the 19th Amendment was ratified.
Excitingly, there’s a resurgence as authors like Anna Holmes, founding editor of the hugely popular jezebel.com, have put a feminist viewpoint on everything from politics to fashion that appeals to a younger generation of women. A recent poll conducted by you.gov revealed 42% of women under 30 are the highest percentage of any age group calling themselves feminists. This is reassuring because being a feminist is a badge of honor, not a burden. It has always been about correcting the inequality and inequity women experience in society and opening up opportunities to women of all ages, races, and economic classes.
Young women unashamedly calling themselves feminists gives hope to the future for all women because there’s a good deal more battle yet to do for women’s equal rights. If we do not understand our past and take for granted how far we’ve come, our daughter’s and granddaughter’s futures will be a loss, not a gain for women’s right for equality in all things.
- A Feminist Man’s Guide To Dating A Divorced Mom
- Job Challenges During Divorce
- Back to Work After Divorce: 10 Skills You Have But Never Realized
- Going Back To Work? You’ve Got This!