In my lifetime, I have seen a woman run for president, had numerous women doctors, professors and bosses and watched award-winning films that women directed.
I have seen self-sufficient women that are economically independent from men, who work hard and make their own choices. I have seen women on Fortune 500 lists, become self made billionaires and become CEOs of major companies.
I have felt equal to men.
Yet, to this day I am not legally equal. The Equal Rights Amendment, an amendment proposed in the 1970’s, was created to ensure the equal rights of women (to men) in America.
Though in many ways men and women have reached a level of equality in our nation, this amendment has never been ratified into the United States’ Constitution (in the past numerous states ratified it but the amendment has never gained complete acceptance, aka: women are not legally equal to men).
Recently, I read the book, When Everything Changed: The Amazing Journey of American Women from 1960 to Present by Gail Collins which outlined numerous injustices towards women and the subsequent feminist victories that have been made in 52 years.
Reading about the narrow range of lifestyle choices, lack of opportunity and autonomy and inferior status of women due to their sex made me realize how much myself and the women around me take for granted.
Growing up I was able to wear anything I chose, play sports with the boys, study whatever subject I desired, be heard and respected, make my own decisions and never think twice about doing so.
When looking back to the 1960s it is clear much has changed, the facts below are just a few that inspire me never to take for granted the place women have secured in society now:
- 1. I always used to think it was cute that I only ever saw my grandmother wearing dresses or skirts until I began to realize why that was. She never put on pants because she grew up in a time during which slipping into a pair of trousers was not really a choice.
- In 1960 (only 52 years ago) women were shunned for wearing pants. In her book, Collins outlines one instance of a secretary going to court to pay her boss’ speeding ticket but was kicked out and ticketed herself for wearing pants in the courtroom.
- 2. The majority of law and medical schools banned women from their classrooms or limited the number of women allowed to participate to less than a handful. Today, I have numerous girlfriends going to medical and law schools.
- 3. In 1960, it was legal and publicly acceptable to discriminate based upon sex. Women were considered the inferior sex so discrimination against them was common (it can be argued that in some places in America it is still publicly acceptable to discriminate against women, because it happens often. However, it is not legal for an employer to not hire a woman simply because she is a woman).
- 4. Airline stewardesses were evaluated regularly based on their appearance, height, weight and single status (and fired if the results were not what their company deemed acceptable).
- 5 . It was common for bars to refuse service to women who sat alone in fear that they were prostitutes.
- 6. Society accepted the idea that women and the work they did were not worth paying more than men, so women were paid less, even if the work they did was equal. There is still a pay gap today, but significantly different than in the ’60s.
- 7. When women became overly interested in their studies, academics or a certain subject other than homemaking, it was considered bizarre and extremely unfeminine. They were discouraged by rigid social norms from trying to obtain a man’s job (job postings were even sexualized, for example signs would read “Help Wanted—Men” or “Help Wanted—Women”).
- 8. Sex was greatly misunderstood as it was not talked about and education regarding the subject was poor. Women, especially, were discouraged from sexual activity or talking about it which led to major misconceptions in their understanding of it.
- 9. Even in the 1970s, when women did work outside of the home it was seen as failing because they were not married.
- 10. Abortion was illegal in all states except Arizona and only legal in Arizona when the fetus threatened the mother’s life. Women had little control of their reproductive rights.
Note: This is by no means an exhaustive list and doesn’t go into detail, as the book did, of the heightened struggles for women of different races, ethnicities, sexual orientations and lower economic status.
These women had to fight for equality against the people that were close to them, their husbands, brothers and fathers. Women have come a long way since 1960, it is something to embrace and be proud of.
In the future, women have much to look forward to as they continue to obtain higher paying jobs, exercise autonomy and stride closer and closer to complete equality. Personally, I am excited to see where we are headed, I have only the highest hopes for such a diverse and inspiring group of people.
Hayley studied journalism, politics and international media at the University of Colorado—Boulder. In between juggling school and various jobs, she makes time to snowboard, travel, write and craft. She surrounds herself with people that motivate and embrace her as she strives to make a difference in anyway she can. Follow her on twitter.