In Ms. magazine’s Winter 2012 issue, the 40th Anniversary Issue, there is an eight- page long timeline of the last 40 years of feminist history in the United States. As someone who is still under 30, the timeline woke me up. Recall some of these significant accomplishments in recent history:
• 1972: Title IX passes prohibiting sex discrimination in educational institutions that receive funding from the federal government
• 1973: The Supreme Court decides in Roe v. Wade that states cannot ban abortion.
• 1986: The Supreme Court rules that sexual harassment in the workplace is sex discrimination.
Beyond these obvious accomplishments, there were some events listed in the chronology that honestly shocked me:
• There was no shelter for battered women in the entire United States until the first one opened in 1974 in Minnesota.
• Women were not permitted to get credit cards and accounts in their own names until Congress passed a law against this in 1975.
• The word “Ms.” was finally used by the New York Times in 1986 instead of identifying the marital status of women mentioned in newspaper articles.
Women of my generation and younger: is this not shocking to you?
I find it so hard to believe that less than 10 years before I was born women could not get credit cards without a man’s name on them!
I continue reminding myself of the privileges I have, but I also must urge those in my generation to learn about our own history and just how late in the game we obtained these rights, which to us seem so inherently natural. We are privileged because of women and allies in previous generations taking their struggles to the streets and the courts.
Some of us do not believe that we have any obligations to the women’s rights movement, but I disagree. I have obligations to the women who struggled so that I can have a credit card in my name and even to those in earlier eras who fought for my right to vote and own property. The purpose of studying history is to ensure that we remember the past and utilize it to build a better future.
My role is no longer to fight to legalize abortion on the federal level, but I must make sure that this right is upheld. I do not have to prove that sexual harassment is discriminatory, but I have to make sure to speak up when it happens to me or under my watch. We are not equal yet, not under the law, not socially, and not culturally. Abortion is still highly contested, limited, and regularly attacked. Even birth control is back at the frontlines.
On Thanksgiving my family and friends go around the room and say what we are all thankful for this year. For me, it will be my rights, my freedoms, my voice. But with these come responsibility and it is up to my generation to ensure that we are aware of our history and to continue the struggle. I am ecstatic that there is an unprecedented amount of women in Congress this year, but we have yet to achieve anywhere near 50 percent. I am grateful that abortion is legal in the state of California, but I must stand in solidarity with abortion clinics that are operating in constant fear of assault in other U.S. states. I am lucky to be able to work in fields in which women in previous generations were courageous pioneers, but I must remind myself that we are still only getting paid three-quarters of what men are paid in those same fields. Equality means full equality under the law, within societal structures and institutions, and within cultural and social contexts.
Thank you to all the generations of women who stood up for my rights. Happy Thanksgiving!