I am exactly old enough to know women who did not come out of their bedrooms in the morning without makeup, a girdle (look it up), stockings (look that up, too), heels, a dress with crinoline (you know the drill) all so they could make breakfast for a husband and the kids. There was a pair of white cotton gloves on the stand beside the front door for when she went for groceries. Plus a hat.
I was maybe five or six and that was the 1950s American woman. I wanted to be her.
What’s fascinating about her and the women of her generation is that they reared their daughters, intentionally or otherwise, to reach for more than housekeeping in heels. A decade later, we were whipping up bacon — in the pan and in the work place — thanks to Peggy Lee in 1963 and Enjoli in 1978. Oh, go ahead, click the links. You need those earwigs.
In the late 1960s, my girlfriends scrambled for back alley abortions or were whisked away to “homes” where they gave their children up for adoption and were forced to pretend nothing had happened. Or they married swiftly and often inappropriately and pretended not to notice raised eyebrows and not-so-subtle shunning. No one shunned the boys. It was always the girl’s fault. Girls and boys aren’t equal. Then, or sadly, now.
The 1970s and 1980s were heady times to be a woman as legislatures, Congress and the judiciary recognized women as individuals entitled to equal access to education, financing, sports and health care. President Richard Nixon signed Title IX in June 1972, guaranteeing that “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”
In January 1973, the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark Roe V. Wade decision “recognized that the constitutional right to privacy extends to a woman’s right to make her own personal medical decisions — including the decision to have an abortion without interference from politicians.” We think of Roe V. Wade as the ruling that made abortion legal, which it did. We often miss the foundational component: Women have a constitutional right to privacy to make our own medical decisions, a far more significant consideration. Remember, before that decision, a woman’s husband, father or male guardian had to give permission for all of a woman’s health care decisions.
Then came the February 1986 publication of Canadian author Margaret Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale.” In it, women slowly find their rights to education, health care, financing and careers reduced to no more than being child bearers, maids and servants. Handmaid’s Tale, now Hulu’s block buster television drama, was entertaining fiction in the ’80s when no one could imagine a dystopian future. Re-reading it a couple months ago was chilling and prophetic. (Thought you might enjoy the original book review from the New York Times.)
There is no Constitutional protection for women — with the exception of the right to vote. There is no Equal Rights Amendment guaranteeing women the same rights as men. The rights women take for granted today are legislative and judicial. And those rights can be wiped away with the stroke of a pen or an executive order. Any so-called Constitutional protection comes from the Supreme Court interpreting the Constitution and its amendments in favor of women’s rights when disputed legislation arrives before it.
A Supreme Court, a Congress and a legislature believing in sync that women should not have equal access to education, jobs, financing, sports and health care can simply say otherwise. They can simply decide women cannot control their lives, that they are, once again, the possessions of men.
One hope keeps me out of the rabbit hole. Women have the same vote as men. The 19th Amendment, ratified on Aug. 18, 1920, guarantees women the right to vote.
In January 2017, while explaining why I supported the Women’s March, I put together this list. It still works. I march — and I vote — because:
- Because too little has changed since I wore my “first woman who” sashes in the early 1970s.
- Because in 1973 I had to write front page stories in order to get a credit card in my own name — my unemployed spouse was the bank’s preferred underwriter on the card that read “Mrs. So-And-So.” My beloved owner/publisher told the complaining bankers they could stop future headlines by giving me the card. They did. I learned the power of important reporting to change the world.
- Because I bit my tongue every time a male boss called me “girl” or hugged me with wandering hands or suggested I be more ladylike and “friendly.”
- Because the nuns measured the length of my hemline before letting me student teach in their junior high.
- Because I couldn’t sign for a car loan or a mortgage without a man holding my hand and signing alongside.
- Because I was paid less than the guys.
- Because I paid more for health care insurance for no reason except my gender.
- Because women and children are too often as much an afterthought today as we were when we were legal property.
- Because Title IX and every piece of legislation or court decision that ensures equal rights and protection for women and LGBTQ, for the elderly and the young, for people of color and for those with disabilities, for those who are different, can be wiped away with a single vote in a local, state or national legislative body or court. What Congress and SCOTUS giveth, Congress and SCOTUS can take away.
- Because I believe in the Equal Protection clause of the 14th Amendment and it is under attack through a thousand cuts. Here’s what it says in case you’ve forgotten: “No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”
- Because there is no Equal Rights Amendment.
- Because a couple hundred young women in my newsrooms had to work harder, be smarter and act nicer to stay even with the men — and that was in a workplace where women executives were common.
- Because the young women and men in my life need to know I will do whatever I have to do to protect their futures.
- Because Social Security, the Affordable Care Act, Medicare and Medicaid prevent millions of our poor, our middle class, our young and elderly from perishing in place.
And so I repeat: One hope keeps me out of the rabbit hole. Women have the same vote as men. The 19th Amendment, ratified on Aug. 18, 1920, guarantees women the right to vote. Use it wisely.
Linda Grist Cunningham is editor and proprietor of KeyWestWatch Media, which publishes Key West Island News.