There is a new movie out which looks excellent, Suffragette, about the women's rights movement in England a hundred years ago. It looks like a movie everyone should see. I posted a video clip of the trailer on Facebook the other day:
My friend Carla Satterfield Hargrove posted this comment in response: "I took a Women's Studies class this past summer. Almost all of the young women professed to be passionate about women's rights but really did not understand when I spoke about life when there were no female sports teams, admittance caps in medical and law schools, and women were limited to professional choices. They could only talk about slut and fat shaming. Not a single one knew who Betty Friedan was." [Friedan "published The Feminine Mystique, which explores the idea of women finding fulfillment beyond traditional roles. Friedan co-founded the National Organization for Women in 1966, and served as its first president."]
When I read Carla's comment, I was HORRIFIED. APPALLED. SHOCKED.
School history classes have become a lot more inclusive and less WASPY. I know this for a fact. I used to read my kids' middle school and high school social studies books, helping them with homework or helping them study for tests. The last time I recall doing that, the text was much more open about the fact that white settlers in Georgia stole land from the Creek and Cherokee tribes. When I was a kid they just said something to the effect of "The white settlers moved onto land that was formerly uninhabited except by Indians." I never questioned that. We tend to just accept what's presented to us.
Textbooks have gotten much more sensitive to presenting black history, and that's a great thing. Clearly, though, it's not enough.
Are History books failing to tell our young girls THEIR history? Based on Carla's comment, it would seem to be true.
So here are some important points that young women under thirty need to know, IMHO:
Hilary Clinton's campaign for the presidency is the culmination of more than two hundred years of women fighting to be treated equally to men. I don't know about her mother, but I guarantee you her grandmother didn't even have the right to VOTE until she was middle-aged. Women in America didn't have the right to vote until 1920. It had been a hard fight, for decades. Men claimed we didn't have the intelligence to vote, or we would just vote for who our husbands told us to vote for - women were considered hysterical and unreliable.
You think fat-shaming is bad? Really? Well I'm not in favor of it, but imagine a world where young women's bodies are abused by corsets, and a woman appearing in public in PANTS would be considered indecent. [Yes, I know corsets are making a comeback but they are really just traps designed to make young women suffer. Corsets constrict breathing. They impede running. They make females less able-bodied and able to resist an attacker and therefore IMHO they are appalling.] In the 1940's when Katharine Hepburn wore tailored slacks in London, Claridge's hotel made her use the back door, because she was so un-ladylike.
Until I was in 6th grade I was not allowed to wear pants to school, except on the rare "snow days" a few times a year. I wore dresses or skirts. My mother never wore pants to school. It was considered improper.
See how things have changed, just in my 53 years? It's staggering.
If you were born in the 1890's instead of the 1990's your life would be very different. You couldn't vote until 1920, but that's not all. Women then weren't allowed to own property in their own name. They couldn't sit on juries. Most women didn't go to college because it was considered a waste of time. Most women just got married and had children, never working outside the home. [Working inside the home was very hard, too - there were no washing machines, no dishwashers, no convenience foods. Clothes had to be sewn by hand or on machines. Cars were luxury items. Telephones and electricity were not common.]
Birth control information was illegal. Want to limit your family two two children? Here are the options: stop having sex or hope you didn't get pregnant. It was illegal for people to try and limit family size. In 1873 Congress had passed the Comstock Act, outlawing the dissemination of birth control devices or information through the mail. [This is why my great grandparents all had families with 8-12 children.]
Want to be a doctor or a lawyer? Forget it. Medical schools and law schools wouldn't admit you, no matter how good your grades. The only two professional paths for women were teaching or nursing. Women who had to work [the working poor] usually worked in factories for very low pay, or they cooked or cleaned for wealthy families.
Sports were not an option either. Girls didn't play on school sports teams. That was true even when I was small. It wasn't until 1972 that Title IX was passed, giving girls access to sports teams. According to the National Women's Law Center: Title IX is the federal law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in schools that receive federal funding — including in their athletics programs. Despite the fact that Title IX has opened many doors for women and girls in athletics, schools across the country are still not providing equal opportunities for girls to participate in sports and are not treating girls’ teams equally in terms of benefits and resources.
Things still aren't right or fair of you're a female.
A friend of mine posted on Facebook that her 12 year old daughter loves basketball and wanted to play on a school team, but there is no girls' basketball team at her public school. She had to try out for the boy's team recently.
We've come a long way in the past hundred years, but we still have a ways to go. "Women working full time, year round in the United States were typically paid only 79 cents for every dollar paid to their male counterparts in 2014. For women of color, the gaps are even larger," according to the National Women's Law Center.
So young women today have many more options. They don't have to just stay home and be housewives, although that may be one option. They can play sports. They can pursue a career. They can wear pants out in public. They can marry or not marry. They can be mothers or not.
The most important thing mothers can do for their daughters is make them aware of history. Our daughters need to be aware of pioneers like Susan B. Anthony, who fought with the abolitionist movement and fought for women to have the same legal rights as men - in the 19th century when women had almost no rights. She dedicated her entire life to making the world a better place:
Susan B. Anthony was born February 15, 1820 in Adams, Massachusetts. She was brought up in a Quaker family with long activist traditions. Early in her life she developed a sense of justice and moral zeal.
After teaching for fifteen years, she became active in temperance. Because she was a woman, she was not allowed to speak at temperance rallies. This experience, and her acquaintance with Elizabeth Cady Stanton, led her to join the women's rights movement in 1852. Soon after, she dedicated her life to woman suffrage.
Ignoring opposition and abuse, Anthony traveled, lectured, and canvassed across the nation for the vote. She also campaigned for the abolition of slavery, the right for women to own their own property and retain their earnings, and she advocated for women's labor organizations. In 1900, Anthony persuaded the University of Rochester to admit women.
Anthony, who never married, was aggressive and compassionate by nature. She had a keen mind and a great ability to inspire. She remained active until her death on March 13, 1906.
Will Hillary win the White House in 2016? I don't know. If she does, she should make it a priority to finish the fight and get women on a truly equal footing with men in this country.