This week I have been reading a book about the women's movement in the United States from 1960-2008. I was fairly uneducated on all of this, having heard snippets of "bra burning" and "ERA marches" but not really knowing the details of any of it. When Everything Changed by Gail Collins is 400 pages long and I have devoured it in a week. It is fascinating.
As I gain a better understanding of the status quo in 1960, I sympathize with why those feminists were so radical. They had to be. Women fought for 100 years to get the right to vote, but even after that they were limited in many ways. For example, a woman (even a single woman) could not get a credit card or loan unless she had her spouse (or father) to co-sign with her. One principal proudly explained that he loved hiring women teachers because they were just as good as the men "but I can pay them half as much!" As late as 1972, a woman senator was literally forced to share a chair (with a black male senator) in committee, because the committee chairman considered them each to be "only half a person."
Wow we have come a long way. And yet in some areas we continue to fight exactly the same problems. Although I love being a stay at home mom, I recognize that not everyone wants to do that, or is able to do that. While the economy struggles, more and more women feel that they need to work, even if they want to be home with their children. Most women in this country (and certainly teachers) now get paid more than half of men's wages...but the national average is 78%, so the gender gap is still there. Women are half the population, but only 17% of the US congress. Is this because fewer women run for office? Or because the citizenry believe that men are more capable? Regardless, it does mean that most of women's concerns are underrepresented in federal legislation. In households where both parents work, usually the woman is still expected to handle the majority of the housekeeping and cooking. In broken families, women usually keep the children, but about a third of fathers do not contribute financial or other child support. Only 3 of every 100 rapists ever spends even one day behind bars. In other words, we still have a long way to go.
And so in that spirit, I would like to share a list of things that this feminist is grateful for this week
- That my husband (both financially and otherwise) supports my desire to be a stay at home parent.
- That my parents (especially my mother) taught me frugality and sustainability as a way of life, so that I have the skills to live modestly and within our means.
- That I have sufficient education (and in an appropriate field) that I could support my family if I needed too.
- That I and my family have been able to take advantage of programs such as WIC and medicaid to help us make ends meet when we were struggling.
- That, in spite of how notoriously low teacher's pay is, that it also comes with good medical benefits.
- For the many women--and men--who went before me, fighting battles for women (such as getting the right to vote, or to get loans, or own property, or escape abusive marriages) so that there is a little less left to fight for now.
- For the many women--and men--who are still fighting the good fight, in their many ways. Whether they are teaching their daughters that they are equally important with their sons, or giving them the skills and education to go somewhere in the world. Whether they are making laws or catching babies or counseling victims. And for the many who will continue to do these things in the future.