Sharing History: Gender Roles

The birth control pill went on the market in the sixties, and was one of the most potent forces changing the status of women. Control over their own reproductive functions liberated millions, allowing them freedom and choice. The new Women’s Movement started in the sixties and took off in the 1970s. NOW, the National Organization of Women, was formed in 1966, to improve the status of women and strive for equal pay for equal work, and other important rights. MS Magazine began in 1972. Names such as Gloria Steinem, Bella Abzug, and Betty Freidan became famous, and now are legendary. Women’s “consciousness raising” groups spread across America, and millions of women started paying attention to the inequities visited upon them. Some burned their bras as a symbol of their commitment to the Cause. Sexual discrimination was named, defined and legislated against. “Sex object” became a popular term, referring to the degradation of women. “Male Chauvinist,” or even more descriptive, “male chauvinist pig” were terms applied to men who could not admit that women were equal to them. The Equal Rights Amendment was hotly debated until it was defeated in 1978.

Several of the female participants in my classes have written about the difficulties in breaking the glass ceiling in the business world. Typical is the story of “Patricia,” who graduated from college in 1967 with a cum laude degree in electrical engineering (the only woman in her graduating class), and watched her male classmates find good jobs while she looked and looked and was always passed over. Finally she was hired by a prestigious firm – but only upon the condition that she pass the typing test.

If you are a woman who came of age in the 70s, how did your role change during the women’s movement? Were you inspired by women such as Gloria Steinem or Jackie Kennedy? Did you have a female hero? Did you work outside the home? Did you have aspirations for a career that was traditionally “male”? What barriers hampered you in achieving your goals, and how did you overcome those barriers? Did you go to consciousness raising meetings or groups? Did you read MS Magazine? Were you for the ERA? How did you feel when it was not ratified? Did you vote for a female political candidate? What did the men in your life think of the women’s movement? Did you identify yourself as a feminist?

If you are a man, what were your beliefs during the sixties and seventies about women’s roles? Were you ever called a “male chauvinist pig?” Did you support the women’s movement, or did you not understand what all the fuss was about? Did you help or mentor your female co-workers?

And if you were born after the 1970s, what about your mother, grandmother, father, grandfather? How did the women’s movement change their lives? Because when it changed theirs, it changed yours too.

If you’d care to share a story about this topic, please leave a comment here. At the end of each month I’ll gather up the Sharing History comments and pick one at random from a drawing, and send the winner of the drawing my e-book: your choice of a Making History Workbook.

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One thought on “Sharing History: Gender Roles

  1. My best friend in high school (early 70’s) was female. She showed me what it meant to be a woman and equal, though I barely understood.

    I was raised in an essentially all white environment by folks who routinely offered up racial, ethnic, and gender-based slurs in a matter of fact way (the men did anyway). Stereotyping came naturally. And of course there was the news coverage of the “women’s movement” contrasted with daily home life. Yet. I never got the sense that we were really prejudice. There was no emotion behind any of the language. I certainly never felt prejudice and I never felt superior to women: it didn’t occur to me.

    The “women’s movement” is one of equity and issues of equity abound. Fairness and equality are conventions that have to be worked out in the context of current reality and historical context: there isn’t a pre-set, concrete, black and white, right and wrong. Seen in the context of all time and everywhere, women’s right’s issues are doing pretty well. Seen from the perspective of a woman who is aware of all the inequities, there is surely much yet to be done.

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