Conversation regarding ‘equal rights’ not over
Women’s issues are front and center these days. Thousands gather for ‘women’s marches, the #MeToo movement has brought females from silence to testimony, statistics abound comparing the conditions for men and women and political advocates are coming forth as both candidates and advocates for legislation and regulations to address female grievances.
With women comprising 50.8 percent of the USA population and 47.8 percent of the labor force, there certainly is need to sit up and take notice of what is a major awakening in our country.
We like to think of ourselves as free thinkers and independent in actions. But, more and more, I have come to believe that we are a lot more programmed by the times we live in and the social mores of the community and families around us than we like to admit. We rarely take our assumptions from the back of our minds and examine them in today’s light.
I grew up in a family with a German background. My mother very clearly told me what ‘good women’ did. Her interpretation was drawn from her community in the early 1900s mingled with World War II fallout. To her, ‘good women’ made all their own clothes, waited on their children and husband’s needs and wishes, cooked all their meals from scratch and took care of every household and child-rearing task by herself.
I think most people, and women in particular, want to be what they perceive as good human beings. Traditional roles for men and women were very well defined in my mother’s years.
I took a course in college titled ‘Educating Women for a Modern World.’ I remember the day our professor told us that women would be working out of the home in the future and putting their children in large organized day-care centers. I thought the teacher was nuts. That was 1957.
Later that year, I enrolled in a religious seminary that had been all male for a hundred years. I didn’t wish to attend there to break down gender walls, but because it was close to my home in Corydon. Going to school with 400 men brought me in contact with the first signals that women were not welcome everywhere in a male-run society. It wasn’t much better when I became a stay-at-home mom for the following years. The funny part to me is that I wanted to apologize to anyone who thought I was trying to invade a world that should be left to men. I wanted to be a ‘good woman.’
Through the years with technology, globalization, medical breakthroughs and increased education of women, the image of a ‘good woman’ has changed. I realize we need all available skills to solve our problems and maximize our opportunities.
Women have always been adapters and innovators. In this age when information is at our fingertips, what we need are visions of how to develop and use all that data to create a better world. The old caveman attitude that emphasizes physical strength and power is no longer helpful.
While riding a train recently, a petite woman of about 40 years sat down across from me in the diner. She was on her way to being discharged from the military. I imagined her as a nurse or secretarial provider.
‘I am a fighter pilot,’ she responded, ‘and have been shot down over Iraq two times.’
She proceeded to show me and my husband, Don, her scars. It does not take muscles to fly a plane; brains, coordination and training make that happen.
It is more than written rules and regulations that keep women from achieving their highest contribution to society. There is great power in intimidation and social disapproval. Women and men still want to be good people.
Supreme Court Justice Ruth Ginsburg has stated that when she entered the court in the early 1970s, she had to sensitize the male members as to the actual existence of a national bias against women.
We see the conditions of the world through the lens of our own experiences. During the past five years, this has been repeatedly brought to my attention by sharing our home with an 89-year-old husband and a 23-year-old feminist granddaughter. We’ve had great discussions. Sum them up with this exchange: Don said to Demi that he was not at all condescending or controlling toward women. Demi retorted with this: ‘When you open the car door for Granny, it is an action of control.’ Don declared he was showing respect for me. Said Demi, ‘It looks to me like you don’t think Granny can take care of herself and that when you put her in the car she will stay where you want her to be while you drive.’
Lest we think the battle for equality in gender expectations is over, remember these following facts: The ‘Equal Rights’ amendment to our constitution is still not ratified. Women get paid 80.5 cents for every dollar earned by men doing the same job. Working women carry a disproportion of the workload for a family with children. Women are often the last to be hired and first to be fired. Our legislative bodies have a small percentage of women members. Most large companies are headed by men.
The conversation is not ‘ and should not be ‘ over.