In 1968, the slogan “You’ve come a long way, baby” was used as a provocative tagline for Virginia Slims, a new thinner cigarette marketed specifically to women. Younger women may find it hard to believe that when the “feminists” burst on the scene in the ‘60s and started burning their bras (I never saw the sense to that) they were angry — and rightfully so.
“A woman’s place is in the home” was the unspoken slogan of the ‘50s. After all, we had the perfect “Father Knows Best” Anderson family to emulate. The “mom” of moms, Margaret, was impeccable, vacuuming in her shirtwaist dress. And get this: she never lost her cool — ever! The dad, Jim, offered sage advice whenever needed. Dinner was on time and served with a smile. Their kids — Princess, Bud and Kitten were kids that we only saw on TV. They never existed in the really-really world. (Neither did their names!)
Another family “golly gee” fairy tale was “Leave it to Beaver.” Here again, the dad doesn’t stop for a beer with the boys and always gets home in time for dinner. Perfect mom June cleans the house wearing a dress and pearls. Wally and “the Beav” are wholesomely good. These TV moms’ only career goal was to get their kids off to school.
Motherhood is a noble profession and kudos to those moms who choose to be stay-at-home- moms. However, nowadays, it’s a rarity; most women work out of necessity. Back then, it was an anomaly for a women to want a career. I remember telling my husband that I wanted to go back to college and earn a degree. He fully supported me, but his mom, told my husband: “Too much education is not good for the family.” Huh?
Back then, employers legally paid women less for the same work as men. While attending a conference in New York City, I was seated next to a male counterpart. We both held the same position; however, his salary was substantially higher.
When I brought this discrepancy to my employer, he shrugged it off and admonished: “He’s the head of the family. You have a husband.” If there was ever a time for bra-burning it was then. I was livid!
Believe it or not, in the ‘70s banks and credit card companies denied married women credit or loans. Radio and TV producers believed that women didn’t have the credibility to anchor the news. Few women went to medical school, ran big corporations, worked as firefighters or police officers. None sat on the Supreme Court. And get this: All hurricanes had female names. The view of day was women brought chaos and destruction.
Sexual harassment was tolerated; victims of rape were often treated dismissively — it reeked of the “she asked for it mentality.“ Although women were drawn into the workforce, they suffered discrimination and exploitation as well as shouldering the double burden of family and childcare. What a bunch of foul-smelling stuff!
The Equal Rights Amendment, designed to guarantee equal rights for women, was first proposed in 1923 by the National Woman’s political party. It was passed by the U.S. Senate in 1972 and the states had 10 years to ratify it. During the next five years, 35 states approved the amendment. A proposed amendment becomes part of the Constitution when approved by three-fourths (38) of the 50 states and so the ERA fell three states short.
Imagine, after 225 years, the Constitution still does not guarantee women equal rights? This, folks, is a grievance that may meet the bra burning criteria.
March is women’s history month. The staggering challenges, changes and advancements for women we see today encompass a wide range of professions. Women are in government. They are ordained clergy. Women are lawyers, physicians and athletes. Women fight in the military and run corporations.
However, these changes happened because women mobilized, and refused to no longer be passive. Through women’s groups, lobbying, public speaking, marching and non-violent protests, we arrived here.
The glass ceiling has been cracked but not broken. Significant changes in the availability of maternity and paternity benefits, flexible hours and the right to return to work continues to be a work in progress. Encouraging business to embrace women for executive roles is still a hard climb to that ceiling. A guarantee of our reproductive rights should be a given but remains a bone of contention.
On January 21, women united in Washington along with men and children. Other cities in the U.S. and around the globe held sister marches to send a bold message to the world that woman’s rights are human rights—and when those hard-earned rights are threatened, we roar.
Although Helen Reddy released “I am Woman” in 1971, it’s every women’s song and worth a listen:
“I am woman, hear me roar, in numbers too big to ignore. And I know too much to go back and pretend. ‘Cause I’ve heard it all before. And I’ve been down there on the floor. No one’s ever gonna keep me down again.“
Women must stand in solidarity to protect our hard-earned and God-given rights. We women recognize that our diversity and spirit are the backbone of this country.
Yup, we’ve come a long way, baby, but we still have a long way to go.
Celia Iannelli is a native New Yorker enjoying a second career — in ‘retirement’ — as a freelance writer. She lives in Jamesport.
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