I stepped from Plank to Plank
A slow and cautious way
The Stars about my Head I felt
About my feet the Sea.

I knew not but the next
Would be my final inch -
This gave me that precarious Gait
Some call Experience.

Emily Dickinson, c. 1864

Sunday, February 3, 2019

The long journey toward equality

Wind churning up Bellingham Bay
I didn't take this picture, but I found it online on Facebook. I'd give the photographer credit, but I cannot seem to relocate it. So please enjoy thinking about NOT sitting on that bench in the wind. We've got something similar coming today or tomorrow, with high winds forecast along with a little snow. And I mean very little, if the forecasts are to be believed. I hope it doesn't make driving difficult.

My friend Judy and I went to see On the Basis of Sex based on Ruth Bader Ginsberg's early life and her first court case about gender inequality. It starts out in 1959, when Ruth was a young mother with a sick husband, and how she manages to attend Harvard as well as cover her husband Martin's classes as well, and take care of her young daughter. I loved the depiction of that time in history, but remember little about how different women's lives were at that time. The movie got me thinking about it, though.

I graduated from high school in 1960, well over fifty years ago now, and I got married in 1961 and became a young mother myself. In fact, that's why I married: I was pregnant and it wasn't like today, when one might decide to raise a child alone. It was a horrible scandal to conceive out of wedlock, so of course we married (a shotgun wasn't in sight, but that's what kind of wedding it was). My husband was in the Air Force, and we moved to Puerto Rico where he was based, and then to his home town of Flint, Michigan. I loved being a mother but was unhappy in marriage.

My options were extremely limited as a young mother. I couldn't possibly survive on my own without a good job. Credit was unavailable to women unless it was in your husband's name, even if you were employed. You couldn't rent an apartment without having a man to sign the lease. The laws were supposedly to protect the "weaker sex." But in reality, any time a woman tried to step outside the roles of mother and homemaker, she was punished. I never even thought about whether women and men should have equal rights, since I had never experienced anything but inequality.

How different it all is today! In many happily married couples, the woman is the breadwinner and the man stays home and takes care of the children. That possibility wasn't even conceived of back then. Although women still don't earn as much as men for the same work, many strides towards equality have been made. It wasn't until I saw the movie and pondered it that I realize how fortunate a female child born today is, when compared to fifty year ago. Times, and the laws, have changed for the better, I think. Ruth Bader Ginsberg is responsible for much of the change we take for granted.

I can understand why so many men are upset that the changing world (at least in the developed countries) has caused them to lose privilege. If you never knew a different world than today's, you might not understand why it seems that those uppity women wanted it different. In the movie, Sam Waterston plays a part that depicts the dean of Harvard Law School, who thinks it's a terrible thing for women to become lawyers and take spots that would normally go to a man. He and his wife have a dinner to "welcome" the women, and he asks each one to explain why she's there. He interrupts them, implying that they don't belong there, and when it's Ruth's turn to speak, she says her husband is also in school and she needed to go in order to be a better helpmate and wife. This was definitely tongue-in-cheek, and the dean was not amused. I was, though.

My life would have played out very differently, if I had been born twenty or thirty years later, I suspect. I would have known my own power in ways I didn't for so very long. My career started as a secretary, but I became more entitled as time went on, and I had a boss who was always willing to give me a chance to do more, learn more, and at the end, I traveled with him all over the world as a colleague. He decided everything, though, and I was happy when I retired to finally have a chance to do what I wanted with each day, and not try to help someone else's dreams come true.

I knew I would have to move away from Colorado and find a new life, and SG and I did just that. We pared down our belongings and made the move to the Pacific Northwest in 2008, and I love being here in my twilight years, enjoying life to the fullest.
No matter how dark the cloud, there is always a thin, silver lining, and that is what we must look for. The silver lining will come, if not to us then to next generation or the generation after that. And maybe with that generation the lining will no longer be thin. ― Wangari Maathai
I got to meet Wangari when she came to Boulder, long before she was famous. We ladies sat around a table and she told us stories of her life in Kenya. Before she died, she was awarded the Nobel Prize and started a movement to plant trees everywhere. She discovered her strength and power and was able to put it into practice, even though she was disparaged for her desire to stand out and become an activist. She has been a silver lining in the lives of many women, all over the world. There are many women like her who light the way for others. Ruth Bader Ginsberg is one, too.

When I reflect upon the fact that a hundred years ago, American women were not even allowed to vote, and on August 18, 2020, we will celebrate a century of women's suffrage with the ratification of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution. In many aspects, although we have come a long ways, there is still a long way to travel toward universal rights for women. I hope I live long enough to see it, but I doubt it. Just like a world without war, I must imagine it and hope that I can do a tiny part to put it into motion. Little baby steps.

And now it's time for me to consider the rest of my day. I'll be hopefully bundled up enough to brave the coming winds and freezing temperatures. I've got a one-hour personal session with my yoga teacher coming up this morning. I won it in a raffle and had been considering what I want to learn from her and feel confident it will be well worth it. First, however, I'll be enjoying my excursion to the coffee shop and the company I love so much. Life is good, and of course my dear partner is still sleeping next to me as I type this.

Until we meet again next week, I hope you will enjoy good health and feel the love of those around you, including me, reaching out to you through the ether, giving you a virtual hug and wishing you all good things. Be well.


Trish MacGregor said...

Great post! Women have come a long way - and there's more ground to cover!

Linda Reeder said...

After watching this RBG movie, which Tom and I both loved, I contemplated what gender equity issues I encountered. Surprisingly, I did not notice many. I graduated high school in 1962, and left my rural life in Oregon to attend Seattle Pacific College here in the big city. We had strict rules as college women living in dorms, very unequal to the guys, but once I graduated and entered my teaching career I entered a world predominated by women. Sure the principal was a man, at least at first, but we made our own day to day decisions. My roommates and I had no trouble renting apartments. It never occurred to me that I should ask a man for permission, like when I was the first teacher in my school to start wearing pantsuits. In some places they did. Why?
I understand that it was not the same in the wider work world, and this movie was a good reminder of that.

Rian said...

DJan, I graduated high school in 1963 and went on to LSU Baton Rouge to study Veterinary Medicine (not many women in that field back then). We didn't have a Vet School at that time, so you got your BS in Animal Science. There were only 2 of us in the A.S. classes back then and yes, it wasn't always easy (the good ol' boys club wasn't easy to break into). But one good thing that worked well for me was that at that time, the women weren't allowed to wear pants to class (we also had to be in the dorms for 10 PM, not allowed to attend off campus parties, etc.)- but because we worked with animals, I was able to go to class in jeans! Yes, times have changed. Nowadays I would guess that there are more women Veterinarians than men.
Change takes time... and although it seems like baby steps in many ways, it is happening.

Elephant's Child said...

We have indeed come a long way and I am grateful to so many pioneering women. We still have a way to go, and I hope they pioneers keep coming.
I hope your week is wonderful - and look forward to hearing about your one on one yoga class.

William Kendall said...

Well said. And there is still more work to be done.

gigi-hawaii said...

It's good you saw the movie. David liked it a lot, too.

Marie Smith said...

I hope to see that movie soon.

I trust my granddaughters will have it easier than we did. However, we made the planet sick and I fear for the future for all children.

Arkansas Patti said...

I am a huge fan of RBG and will definitely get that DVD--no near theaters here in Ar. I entered the work force in 1957 and didn't realize how limited my choices were then. I guess I just accepted them.
It wasn't till I was an officer in a bank and realized I could earn more money as a beginning meter reader for the electric co. When I told our personal manager at the bank, he informed me as a friend that had I been a man, I would have been making $6000 more a year which was a lot in those days.
Sometimes it takes a movie like this to realize just how pushed down we were and how a lot of us, myself included, just accepted it.

Red said...

Today's topic is important to me. As a teacher I worked with more women than men. My eyes were opened very early in my career that women could do things every bit as well as men. In many cases women had the inequality so ingrained that they did not take opportunities. Equality? It'll never happen in my lifetime. the past few years we've made big steps backward.

Tabor said...

We still need the law on our side and many white men in power will not toe the line until the ERA is passed

Far Side of Fifty said...

:) Here in the sticks some women are still fighting for equality. I hope you have a good week:)

Galen Pearl said...

That is a remarkable reflection. I haven't seen the movie, but I did see RBG and loved it. I went to law school in the late 70s. It was not unusual by that time for a woman to go to law school, but we were still a distinct minority, and some law firms would not hire women associates. But I was lucky and always found jobs that suited me and allowed me to thrive. Still, I see a lot of progress even since then. My granddaughter will grow up in a very different world than I did.

Linda Myers said...

First, I don't think of you being in your twilight years.

I graduated from high school in 1966, went directly to college and married two months after graduation. I can only remember a few instances where I was discouraged because I was a woman. I do remember I was working on an MBA and had a problem with a class. Went to talk to the professor. He said, "You have no business being in this program." I was one of nine women out of 150. I was so discouraged I quit. I would most certainly not allow that to happen to be today.

Mary said...

On the Basis of Sex was a fabulous movie, but even almost better I saw last night was The Green Book! And we think we women had it rough! Superb movie!

Rhapsody Phoenix said...

Its interesting the contrast in worlds. In the Caribbean women have always worked both in and outside of the home. Though certainty patriarchy had and to some degree still had its foot hold our survival as a family unit dictated that we work. All the women in my family worked. My grandmother worked and build her own house. My mother worked and was a single mother raising my brother, sister and I. My aunties worked. In fact all the women I grew up with and around worked both inside and out side the home. There were few that were singularly housewives/homemakers.

You've come a long way and certainly have capitalized on the opportunities once available.

Rita said...

I remember growing up how my mom couldn't get a charge card without dad's signature. Really annoyed her. When she got a job she got her own separate checking account (not sure if dad had to sign for her--probably--LOL!) His money was the family's money. Her money was her money. So funny! She then decorated the house in furniture she loved and he hated (chrome and Naugahyde and glass), but she used her money so he couldn't complain about it. Jane's rules. She was her own woman, that's for sure.

As a young waitress I put up with extremely low pay, men who grabbed your butt, pulled you down on to their laps (sometimes with wives and girlfriends sitting next to them laughing), and always making lewd comments. You were supposed to act flattered and flirt as part of the job and to get the tips to supplement your $2 an hour. Managers defended the customers, of course, if you complained.

I learned how to navigate the boy's club, watch for grabbers, and basically retain my innocence. Times were so different. Applying for jobs they could ask you if you had a boyfriend, were you planning to get married--if you were married, did you plan to have children, were you pregnant? Just the way it was. So glad things have changed. I have to see that movie! :)

Glenda Beall said...

I went to work as a teacher in 1963. I bought a car but had my brother help me. I didn't have a charge account until after I was married and at first he was the primary card holder and I could use his card. I remember my sister trying to use their credit card and being told that her husband had to sign. She was no allowed. I had been brought up in a family of men so I knew about inequality early one. My older sister was punished for going off with the boys to play although she had done nothing wrong. Often girls were dominated by boys or men because the males used the excuse they were protecting us. In the early seventies I worked in a "man's job" where I called on parts managers in automobile dealerships. I was treated terrible by many of the "good ole' boys" but some of the older men were nicer. I know so many women who were passed over because of their age. Even in my own family I was told that only young women were hired in the office because they worked for far less than men.
Although the women's movement of the seventies is scorned by some, without the women who finally stood up for equality the young women of today would not have the opportunities. Even my own brother said his daughter in law should not have been allowed to go to medical school because she just got married and got pregnant later. He is of the generation that women should get married young, have children and never do anything for their own fulfillment. No wonder so many older women, widows, and single women are happier after the age of 60 now. No one is telling them what they should or have to do.