A Brief History
On August 26, 1970, the Women’s Liberation movement spearheaded by Betty Friedan held the Women’s Strike for Equality. The event, under the auspices of the National Organization for Women (NOW), was held on the 50th anniversary of the adoption of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, the amendment that allowed women in the US to vote.
The idea of the strike, which featured a 20,000 person demonstration in New York City, was to champion equal rights for American women vis a vis employment (both positions and pay), access to abortion, free child care, marriage rights, political rights, education and all other aspects of life. Other cities had smaller protests.
At issue was a pervasive legal and societal view of women as less than equal citizens compared to men. In those days divorce laws were not nearly so kind to women as they are now, and women made a paltry 59 cents on a dollar compared to men in similar jobs. Even women with college degrees often earned far less than high school drop out men working manual labor jobs. Institutions of higher learned actually limited the number of women allowed to enroll in post graduate classes (!), sometimes to only 5 or 10 % of young men admitted. State and local laws often limited the amount of hours women could work, and the type of work they could do, including limits on the amount of weight they could be required to lift. Legal rights such as obtaining loans, credit cards, and owning certain property were often curtailed by state and local laws. This event occurred in the era before Roe v Wade (1973), and abortion was still illegal in most places. Back then women’s sports in schools of all levels were a mere fraction of those allotted to boys and men. School dress codes that demanded boys and girls wear gender specific clothing had only just been struck down (Tinker v Des Moines, 1969) and “women’s libbers” were advocating for the Equal Rights Amendment. (Note: The ERA was passed by both houses of Congress in 1972, but failed to get support of the requisite number of states for adoption.)
The strike and protests were received with mixed reactions, largely derision from men, but also anger from a considerable amount of traditionalist women as well. The idiocy of many of the laws relegating women to second class status was revealed and over the years many changes have occurred. Women still make less than men in the workplace (around 79% of what men are paid today), and abortion that was once readily available is now grossly limited by conservative states attempting to undermine Roe v Wade. Free day care for the children of working moms has not happened, although certain tax breaks have been inserted into the tax codes to help in this area. Education and school sports are far closer to equality than back in 1970, and political access has changed to the point that the election of a woman as President of the United States in 2016 is possibly a better than 50% chance, although large numbers of women actually support her male opponent.
In 1970 no woman served in the US Senate (a dry spell from 1967 to 1972), and 11 women in the House of Representatives, whereas today those numbers are 20 women in the Senate and 104 women in the House. Still, those numbers are only around 20% of Congress when women comprise 51% of our population.
Today, women are permitted to hold combat positions in the military and are definitely making progress toward gender equality, but how fast and how profound those changes are is debatable. Are you satisfied with the progress of women’s equality? Please give us your opinions on the subject.
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