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Women’s Rights for the Last 50 Years

As a baby boomer, Denise and millions of others are becoming senior citizens. She explores what it means to be over 60 today.

This is me in 1971 with my sculpture of a paper mache mer-unicorn.

This is me in 1971 with my sculpture of a paper mache mer-unicorn.

In 1971 As I Turned 17

In 1971, I was just beginning my senior year in high school. I would graduate in June of the next year and turn 18 by August. I’ve had young women since then turn 18 and ask me what can I do that I couldn’t do last year? The answer is, a lot more than I was able to do at that same age. My favorite answer is that they can commit a crime and be tried as an adult now, but they usually aren’t very amused by that answer.

For me, that year, there were many things I was looking forward to. I was looking forward to being an adult and being on my own. As many young women can testify, I just wanted to get out from under my father’s roof.

Me in Easter 1971

Me in Easter 1971

Credit Card

As I turned 18, I would not be able to get a Credit Card in my own name. It wasn’t until 1974 that companies were forced by law to issue cards to women without their husband’s (or father’s) signature.


womens-rights-for-the-last-50-years

Vote

It was that summer of 1972 that the law was finally passed that 18-year-olds were allowed to vote. Formerly you had to be 21 years old to vote in a major election in the United States, even though, young men were required to register for the draft and could be sent to die for the country they were too young to vote in. On my birthday in August of that year, I ran right down and registered to vote. It was too important a thing to miss. I voted for the first time in a major presidential election that November. When I told the man at the desk that my birthday was that very day he gave me a Nixon pen as a present. I wish I had kept it. It would probably be worth some money today.

Courtroom

Courtroom

Jury Duty

I didn’t think much about serving on a jury at the age of 18 but it is interesting to know that depending on the state you lived in, a woman was not allowed to serve on a jury in the US. The main reason wasn’t a woman’s fitness to serve but the idea that women were the “center of the home” and therefore primary caregivers with the responsibility to be at home with the kids. Many states believed women to be too sensitive to hear the grisly details of certain crimes and that we are so compassionate by nature that we couldn’t be objective. So I could vote but not serve on a jury. It wasn’t until 1973 that women would be allowed to serve on a jury in all 50 states of the Union. Doesn't that make you squint?

“Your life can be different, Young Ju. Study and be strong. In America, women have choices.”

— An Na, A Step from Heaven

womens-rights-for-the-last-50-years

Pregnancy

I would get a job that next year but if I had gotten married (which I did at the age of 19) and then pregnant, there was no guarantee that I wouldn’t be immediately fired for the offense of being in a “family way.” That law didn’t change until the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978.

“We must raise both the ceiling and the floor.”

— Sheryl Sandberg, Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead

Harvard in Boston

Harvard in Boston

Ivy League Education

I registered for college that year but not an Ivy League College. No. I went to my local Junior College and was happy to go. At that time I was the first in my father’s family to attend any college, and as a woman, I was the first in my father’s or mother’s family history. However, if I had wanted to attend Harvard and had the money to do so, it is interesting to note that they didn’t accept female students until 1977 (probably because it merged with the all-female Radcliffe College at that time). Yale and Princeton had begun accepting female students in 1969, and Brown offered admission to women in 1971.

Military Academy graduation

Military Academy graduation

Military

If I had desired to enter the military, it would have been acceptable for only a few vocations like office work or nursing. Women were not allowed to fight on the front lines until 2013. Women were only admitted into military academies starting in 1976. It’s a good thing I wasn’t that interested in following my father into the Air Force to fly planes or even be a navigator. I would have been regulated to office or support staff.

Sexual Harassment

Sexual Harassment

Sexual Harassment

Jobs for women were available but when bosses or co-workers became a little too “familiar” we simply had to take it or quit. Legal action against workplace sexual harassment was unheard of before the year 1977. More than once I can describe a touch-feely co-worker who wanted to “hug” all the time and was getting more out of it than I was meaning to put into it if you know what I mean.

Birth Control

When I was just 10, I remember meeting a very sweet and lovely young lady who was about 19. She belonged to a San Francisco Ballet troupe and she was a promising young ballerina. I thought she was beautiful and I wanted to be just like her. That year she died. I was so crushed. My ballet instructor told us that she had gotten pregnant and because abortion was not legal at that time, she got a “back-alley” abortion so she could continue her career. It was a botched up job and she hemorrhaged and died.

To be honest, it was surprising that I even got to hear about what happened to her because reproductive things were very taboo and very rarely discussed openly. In 1960 the birth control pill was approved as a contraceptive. It was prescribed to my mother after my brother was born in 1963 probably because California was a rather progressive state when many states didn’t approve of “family planning.” It is again surprising that I was even let in on these facts given that most reproductive information was taboo.

At the age of 19, in 1973, I began taking the birth control pill and even at that late date, my pharmacist (and the nurse in the doctor’s office) frowned on me and gave me dirty looks to be taking this immoral and “unnecessary” drug.

“How important it is for us to recognize and celebrate our heroes and she-roes!”

— Maya Angelou

Equal pay for equal work

Equal pay for equal work

Equal Pay

It has always been so and is just something we women don’t really think about as much as we should, but women still are not paid the same as a man for the same job. Even more than that, a woman could not get health insurance at the same monetary rate until 2010. Even elected officials at the Federal level are not getting health care at the same rate. Women have to pay more and the thought is that women don’t mind paying more than men for health insurance. It was a long time coming to see that kind of discrimination outlawed, but we are still waiting to see the same equal pay problem solved. How long?

womens-rights-for-the-last-50-years

Final Thoughts

Women are not equal in so many areas still today, but we have come a long way, ladies. When a woman says to me that she doesn’t think she will bother voting, I feel like hitting the roof. Don’t you realize how many people suffered, were beaten, jailed, and even died for our right to vote. Don’t you dare take that lightly!

Comments

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on June 17, 2020:

Anupam Mitu,

I'd be happy to read about your thoughts. We ARE all family and you are my distant sister. Glad to meet you. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on June 17, 2020:

Arthur Russ,

That is all fascinating information. I feel like we are really behind here in the US. Your system seems much better for women than ours. I'm jealous. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Anupam Mitu from MUMBAI on June 17, 2020:

Dear Denis, you made me too emotional with all these details that you have provided from your life's journey. It is sad to know that the situation of ladies have been same worldwide. I will be sharing a story on gender inequality in India soon.

I am from India and recently joined Hubpages. I am really overwhelmed to find here readers and writers from all over the world.

The Sanskrit quote "Vasudhev Kutumbakam" which means the whole earth is family looks very real in today's time, where we all are able to communicate with each other even living in distant worlds.

Please read my story once free and give your comment, though a naive here and learning from each and everyone around me. Thank you.

Arthur Russ from England on February 20, 2020:

A fascinating article; it reminds me of the Women’s Liberation Movement in the UK during the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. I’m also a Baby-Boomer, and I met my wife in June 1976 (when she was 17), we got engaged in Feb 1977 and bought our first house in June 1978, which we moved into when we got married in May 1979.

I find it quite encouraging that the fight for women’s rights has followed a similar pattern of progress, and timeline, throughout the free world.

For example:-

The birth control pill was approved in 1960 in the USA, and was available in the UK on the NHS to married women in 1961, becoming available to all women on the NHS in 1967.

Abortions became legal, and available on the NHS in Britain in 1967 (but not Northern Ireland). Abortions did not become legal in Northern Ireland until October 2019 (last year).

EQUAL PAY:-

Equal pay has always been a complex subject in the UK, because although since it became law in the UK in 1970 so that men and women doing the same job do get the same pay, there is always lots of arguments that (for example) there are more men in more senior posts etc.

Notwithstanding the above, the Ford sewing machinists’ strike of 1968 in Dagenham, England led to the passing of the Equal Pay Act 1970, which was replaced by the Equality Act 2010. Therefore, when I met my wife in 1976 we were both doing similar work on similar pay.

EMPLOYMENT PROTECTION:-

It was interesting to read that before the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 in the USA, women could get fired for being pregnant.

Three of the important Acts of that period that protect workers’ rights in the UK are the

• Trade Union and Labour Relations Act 1974

• Employment Protection Act 1975, and

• The Sex Discrimination Act 1975 (protected people from discrimination on the grounds of sex or marital status)

The result of these laws is that from 1975 until 2012, once you’ve worked for your employer for more than 12 months, it was extremely difficult for them to sack you. In 2012 the Conservative Government changed to law, so that now you don’t get that protection for the first two years of employment with a Company.

HEALTH INSURANCE:-

I noted in your comments about Equal Pay that women didn’t get health insurance at the same monetary rate until 2010. Of course that’s something that doesn’t apply in the UK because we’ve had the NHS (National Health Service) since 1948; the NHS being government owned and financed by the Government from the taxes, so ALL Healthcare is Free to Everybody, at the point of use, in the UK.

MATERNITY LEAVE:-

I’d be interested to know what the current laws are for maternity leave in the USA.

In the UK:-

• The mother is entitled to 52 weeks maternity leave; of which 39 weeks is paid leave (Statutory Maternity Pay).

• The father is entitled to 2 weeks paid paternity leave.

However, at the discretion of the mother, she can give any amount up to 50 weeks of her maternity leave to the father (shared Parental Leave) e.g. so that the father looks after the baby while the mother returns to work shortly after the birth; although by law she must take at least the first two weeks after the birth maternity leave.

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on October 17, 2019:

Bill Holland,

It is incredible that it's taken so long for some of these changes to happen. I do feel we are headed in a more positive direction, even if it is a snail's pace. Thanks for commenting.

Blessing,

Denise

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on October 16, 2019:

I've got you by a few years. I marvel at how slowly meaningful change happens in this country. The "rights" women now enjoy should have been "rights" hundreds of years ago. It makes no logical sense and yet that's just the way it is in the Land of the Brave. Thankfully change does appear to be happening, so we have that positive note to cherish.

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on October 03, 2019:

Lorna Lamon,

Thanks for sharing your suffragette heritage with me. As far as I know, no one in my family marched but I would be so proud if they had. I don't take it for granted. I know people suffered and even were beaten and died for my rights. It frosts my cookies for people to just flippantly say "I'm not going to vote". I could just shake them! Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on October 03, 2019:

Dana Tate,

I'm with you on the jury duty. I've been too fragile and "delicate" to actually live through some of the things I've seen... but then I did live through it so we are actually much stronger than even we know. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Lorna Lamon on October 02, 2019:

Such an interesting and informative article Denise. Yes we have indeed come a long way, however, I feel woman have had to fight every step of the way and to a certain degree still do. I agree that we should never take our voting rights for granted. My Great Aunt Becky was a suffragette who risked being jailed every time she marched. I don't believe she would have cared if she had been jailed it would simply have strengthened her resolve. Thank you for sharing your memories of this time Denise.

Dana Tate from LOS ANGELES on October 01, 2019:

A wonderful and informative article Denise.

Sometimes, we forget how far we've come as women, something the younger generation will never understand. It was not so long ago that women were denied equal opportunities.

People have different opinions on whether equal rights were a good thing but I say the choice to be dependent or independent is the best thing that happened to women.

Personally, I wish women were still considered "too delicate" to do Jury duty, I just hate it,

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on October 01, 2019:

Thank you, Mary. I feel like we have come a long way and I can do so many things today that I wouldn't dream of before. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Mary Norton from Ontario, Canada on October 01, 2019:

I like the way you approached the issue. We do take for granted what only a few years past, people died for these.

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on October 01, 2019:

Linda Lum,

Yeah, things have changed in that area too. I got to go back to college online by taking out my own loan. However, the cost of college is much MUCH, higher than ever before. Oh well. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on October 01, 2019:

Virginia Allain,

Oh dear, truer words could not be said. We have to be vigilant and not think "the work is done." It's too easy to relax and imagine things will stay the same but it always gets better or worse. Nothing stays the same. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on October 01, 2019:

Lora Hollings,

I agree with you. Things do need to change. I grew up in a very conservative family but I can't forget Sally the ballerina. Her death wrecked me and I can never turn my back on girls who want protection. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Linda Lum from Washington State, USA on October 01, 2019:

How far we've come, but the MeToo movement shows that we still have a long ways to go. I wanted to go to college but both of my parents were already retired and I couldn't/wouldn't ask my dad to co-sign a loan for me.

Virginia Allain from Central Florida on October 01, 2019:

Ah, the Good Old Days which were much better for men than for women. I know that many young women do not identify as feminists. They don't realize the struggle that has gone on to gain the rights they now have. They don't realize that these can slip away from us again if we aren't vigilant.

Lora Hollings on September 30, 2019:

A wonderful article Denise on the progress of women's rights through the years and how young women were denied access to family planning and because of this many had to give up their plans for higher education or a career! What a tragic story about the ballerina. It should never have turned out that way! We still have a long way to go. Women should get paid the same as men for doing the same job! What about women who are single and have the sole responsibility of providing for their children? I hope that this soon changes. Gender equality is essential in order for societies to advance. Thanks for sharing this enlightening article!

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on September 30, 2019:

John Hansen,

I think when so many focus on how far we have to go, we forget how far we have come. When I think of those things I went through, I remember we have come a long way. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

John Hansen from Queensland Australia on September 30, 2019:

This is a wonderful article, Denise. I love how you used what was happening at different stages of your life and what women could and couldn't do at the time. The world is pretty crazy at the present time and even though there is still a way to go in regard to women's rights, now we have a lot of other "genders" to worry about.