In 1971 or thereabouts, I became aware of widows (and sometimes widowers) in my state of Washington who were paying exorbitant inheritance tax on their own property. Large farms had to be sold to pay those taxes and it seemed very unjust to me that they could lose their home at such a difficult time. So I got curious and started looking into this.
That led me to see much more social injustice of standards and practices expected of women from which men were exempted. There was a lot of talk about this new concept of Equal Rights Amendment to ensure women of equal opportunity and pay, of the pursuit of happiness, of health care that didn’t punish women for sex while “boys will be boys.” And freedom from unfair taxation.
Prior to this time, girls barely more than children were becoming mothers and becoming a tax burden in many ways: if their families were poor, they were introduced early on to the welfare trap. Sex education? No nice girl ever talked about sex except in a whisper and adult mothers were too embarassed to discuss it. Girls were hustled off to an aunt to hide their pregnancy, then give up custody to strangers. These girls were as haunted by giving up those children as any girl whose family could afford a “D&C” (aka abortion on the q t.)
The young men, some equally naive and some just indifferent, were not required to take responsibility. If they did, now there was a young couple too young to be parents, let alone be in an adult relationship, giving up scholarships, college or professional dreams to struggle through, children raising children, the majority ending in divorce.
There were and are many who believe they deserved to suffer for sinning or being irresponsible. They were stigmatized and shunned by their peers, schools refused to let them back to their former school because they were believed to be a bad influence.
Then women said enough of the hypocrisy and double standard! Enough of shouldering the “blame” and total responsibility for being a natural human being. Attitudes began to change, birth control pills were available, sex education became a norm instead of shame and silence. Job opportunities, technical, male-dominated careers and vocations were challenged, boys-only clubs and sports were challenged by brave women who took a lot of disparagement and harassment. And, in the midst of fear of sharing bathrooms, the dissolution of the family unit, etc., the Equal Rights Amendment was passed by the Congress in 1972, at last, more than 50 years after women finally won the right to vote. Realize this: it has not yet been 100 years since our grandmothers risked all to give freedom of opportunity and the right to vote to we women, young or old, today.
An Amendment to the Constitution requires ratification by 38 of our 50 states. Guess what? It has not yet been ratified to become an amendment guaranteeing our constitutional right to equal treatment.
We are still being disparaged, harassed, treated as inferior, distrusted by each other, disrespected by even ourselves. Men treat us exactly the way we allow them to treat us–the way we treat ourselves, the way we teach our sons and daughters to treat us. I do not blame our brothers and fathers, nor do I exempt them from response-ability to hold women in esteem and respect, as they would also expect.
But this is what I pray:
I urge my sisters everywhere to stand with, not against, one another. To help lift one another up instead of tear one another down. Stop fearing your own strength, power, voice and truth.
Now, perhaps as much as ever, we stand at a crossroads. Do we claim our place or defer to men so they can feel strong and in charge while we stay in the background or wither?
Do we go forward and take responsibility for ourselves and our future or hold back and remain dependent, powerless, victimized, waiting to be invited in from our self-imposed exile? What does the 21st Century Woman stand for? How much value does she put on herself–on yourself, on myself?
I will be 70 years old this year. I’d like my birthday present to be the ratification of that amendment. Id like to know my five granddaughters’ rights are protected and guaranteed in the Constituion of these United States of America.
We still have a long way to go, baby.