Sunday, July 6, 2014

A Giant Step Backward

My mother used to say I was the first “Women’s Libber” she ever met. I wasn’t though. I was much too selfish to worry about any other woman and her equality issues. And honestly, it never occurred to me there was a problem. I was never led to believe that I couldn’t do a certain thing because I was a woman—none of my parents, all three of them, ever said, oh no, that’s just for boys. So I played with a hammer and nails when I was little, I helped my dad paint houses and later I got jobs that only men had (though unbeknownst to me I was paid less, much less.)
I was one of the first female liquor “salesman” in Northern California – and the only one that had not inherited the job from their husband. I was twenty-one years old at the time. Later, I had other jobs that were predominantly male, but I never thought about it. I just did what I wanted. If I bulldozed my way, it was only to get the job, never realizing I was competing with men.
My Great –Grandmother was my role model. Though married, she was self –sufficient. She came to the United States from Germany in 1906, on her own at age 17 and with the help of her brother secured a job, and took care of herself. She married my Great –Grandfather and still worked at Sutro Baths giving swim lessons, saved her money and opened her own general store/bakery in San Francisco. Later, after he cheated on her, she divorced him—in a time when divorce was not usually an option, she chose to go it alone. She later remarried, a sweet man and together they bought a small chicken farm in Santa Rosa. I don’t recall in my life ever seeing him do anything but sit in the kitchen and play solitaire (often with me in his lap) – my Great-Grandmother did everything from chopping wood, to mending fences, to planning and planting flower and vegetable gardens and sharpening her ax on the stone pedal sharpener. She cooked, she cleaned, she sewed, she farmed, she worked and she owned her own business—so why would I ever think that as a woman, I could not do what I wanted?
Physically, I was extremely strong when I was younger. My Dad used to call me a powerhouse. I’m not big, no taller than 5’3” and at my physical prime 110-120 pounds. (Much more now.)  I was just strong. As a liquor salesman and later a bar manager I could pick up boxes of booze and move them around the storeroom with ease, or change a beer keg (160 lbs) with no sweat.  
I never minded a man opening a car door for me (and still don’t mind) but any boyfriend that tried to run my life soon became an ex- boyfriend and I didn’t feel the need to marry because it was expected of me. I never married because I never found the right person for me.  I have nothing against other people’s marriages.  I just couldn’t imagine a caucus over car purchases or dinner or anything. For the most part, when I was young—that is what married people did. Someone was always in charge of the money—and that seemed weird to me. I work for it—I’ll spend it. In retrospect—maybe I could have used a partner with better money sense—or maybe just a good accountant.
I was not intentionally a women’s libber and I may have misunderstood the movement in its infancy– if not then though- I will call myself one now.
Now that I’m a little less selfish, I feel like I should help the next generation and the ones after that too, understand how hard fought (and not quite won) the right to be an independent woman was and is.  I didn’t even know I was fighting it—but of course, I was and now I am again. I have a son, and nieces and nephews and I feel obligated to make sure that the girls know they can do anything they want to do—and they can do it for the same amount of money the boys make. And, I want the boys to know that while they are in charge in their “spaceship” the girls are in charge of their own. I want them all to know, that it’s brains, not brawn and not feminine wiles that will help you succeed in life and indomitable fortitude, that will keep your head above water when everyone else is drowning.  
The political conservative viewpoint is chipping away at the strides women have made in the last 50 years because we relaxed. We thought it was all good… we thought we won – even though women by and large still don’t make the same salaries as men, even though women are still abused,  without appropriate recourse, even though, we don’t vote for women because if they are tough minded they are bitches—but their male counterparts are smart.
We still have some work to do.
The Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision was a good smack in the head for those of us who care about equality. Those of us that care about our daughters, and our nieces and our granddaughters and all the women to follow.  The ruling undermined a woman’s choice—the very foundation of the woman’s movement—the very foundation of our independence and equality. We can argue about the separation of church and state all we want and it's a great argument and one I believe in—and we can argue that a corporation cannot have a religion – but the fundamental flaw with this ruling is that it removed a woman’s right to be able to make their own choice without interference from a patriarchal employer, or anyone other than their own physician.  The ruling- in essence made someone else’s religion more important than the federal law or me as a person.  (Quitting your job and going to work somewhere else, as some have suggested, is not a choice it’s an ultimatum.)
Any one of the numerous precedents that Justice Ginsberg cited in her descent should have been enough to change the outcome of this ruling-- now we have taken a giant step backward and it will take years to fix it.
You don’t have a choice—if the choices are taken off the table. You don’t have a choice if someone is making it for you.
I want my girls, the girls in my life and the girls in their lives, to have choices. I hope they don’t have to make some of these choices… but if they do, I sure as hell want them to be available.
You can be socially or politically conservative and choose to not use contraception—but you cannot be a liberal woman and choose to use it if it’s not available—that is where the flaw is.  That’s where equality goes out the window and we catapult back to the patriarchal dark ages.
I’m going to be keeping an eye on this and other issues that chip away at our freedom to be independent, self -sufficient women.  I hope the younger generations will join me in making sure we don’t slip farther back and do leap forward.
Miami 1973