Wednesday, January 9, 2013

U.S. Women Have More Options Now…

There is a notable dichotomy that we occidental types fall back on when speaking of women’s rights and issues here at home. We all know that in countries like Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan and Pakistan women play an extremely limited role in society at large.We tend to forget things about our own society that are part of our own very recent history.

I was in Mexico this past summer. There, as in many countries, women play a limited role in the work world. Employee wanted signs in shop windows specify often that they want a female employee who is unmarried and around 28 years of age. This is a completely legal request, as it was in the USA up until the mid-sixties. The work that young women do in Mexico now and in the U.S. of the recent past, centers around receptionist, hotel-clerk, salesgirl and other low-level often clerical or service jobs. And sometimes those women with some foreign language skills can procure employment in the travel industry.

Growing up in the fifties and sixties, I was told in so many verbal and non-verbal ways, the work that I could do. The most important job was to marry and reproduce but, beyond that, my choices were limited to teacher, nurse, librarian, secretary and possibly for the strivers, something like social worker. A woman required tremendous external support combined with inner resources to move beyond the confines of her situation. 

And a generation earlier it was even worse. My mother, who was quite a bit smarter than my father, worked for Kelly Girls as a secretary. She had been a business major in college and the highlight of her working life was when she lived in New York City and worked as a buyer for Bloomingdales. The pay scales for male buyers were much higher than for female ones because those guys “had to support a family.”

She could not get her own line of credit or secure a mortgage loan to buy property. Those rights were not extended to women. To be sexually assaulted or raped carried with it a major stigma of shame. Women who were violated were routinely questioned as to why they were in the place where they were attacked and what provocative clothing were they wearing.

It’s true we still don’t have equal power or the kind of parity in government that we would like to see. In the United States women have never held top offices like they have in so many other countries around the world. But things have gotten better. It’s imperative that we hold our ground and not let them slide backwards to an era that is being somewhat romanticized. Those of us who lived it know the truth and it wasn’t pretty.