Yesterday was Women’s Equality Day, the 93rd anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, giving women the right to vote. Who knew? Maybe in seven years there may be some fuss about the Centennial, but overall, little attention is paid to this right, one for which women in the past handcuffed themselves to public monuments, went on hunger strikes, were force fed, and even died for (albeit in England, and maybe not intentionally). While the path to voting in this country was not as bloody, it still astonishes me that when my own mother was born, women still did not have the vote.
But then again, when I got my first credit card, it wasn’t mine, really, it was in my husband’s name. Despite the fact that my salary was equivalent to his, I was not allowed to carry a card in my own name. When I had a child, despite returning to graduate school five days after the birth (yes, I was crazy), I was dropped from the program, told that “A woman with a child cannot stand the rigors of research.” My subsequent fifteen year career as a researcher with three children put the lie to that one.
I remember shopping for a car, and being asked when my husband could come in with me. I walked out and found another dealer, where I bought a car, then showed it to my husband. At that point I was already forty years old! Fortunately, because of public records and chatty colleagues, my salary has always been on a par with that of my co-workers, but that was often not the case with other women in my department. While a male colleague might brag that he had demanded a five thousand dollar raise, no woman I knew ever had the temerity to try that, or at least never bragged about it. And today, after some increases, a woman makes ninety-one cents for every dollar a man makes, taking education and experience into account.
The attempt to pass an Equal Rights Amendment came to an ignominious end in 1982. First introduced by Alice Paul in 1923, in 1972 it was finally passed by both houses of Congress, and sent to the State Legislatures for ratification. They had seven years in which to do it.Thirty five states ratified the amendment, out of a necessary thirty-eight. Even President Richard Nixon endorsed it.The approval period was lengthened to ten years, and still the additional three states could not be found. Amazingly, there are still attempts being made to see it adopted.
What does it mean that, in the Constitution of the United States, women, by law, are still not guaranteed equal rights?
An ad trying to lure women smokers in 1968 touted a delicate, thin cigarette, and boasted “You’ve Come a Long Way, Baby.” I won’t even begin to address that cringeworthy “Baby,” or the significance of her hairdo, but it is clear that even today we still have a long way to go.