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