Women in the World
By NANCY PATRICK
In my youth, American society did not set aside a month during which to honor women for their contributions to the world. In 1987, Congress established March as the official month to do so. As a woman, I shamefully admit my ignorance about the historical status of women in American society.
I would venture to say that most women of my generation shared that same ignorance. As I became educated and discovered feminist literature, I also learned that politicians, editors, and publishers had successfully censored feminist literature and philosophies by banning many of these female authors. I did not meet writers such as Kate Chopin, Zora Neale Hurston, Mary Wilkins Freeman, Willa Cather, and Toni Morrison—to name a few—until graduate school in the late ’70s.
My eyes opened to an entire genre of writing that I refer to as feminist literature. I greedily read as much as I could of these feminist writers. They wrote about the lives of women and their families. I learned to appreciate the sacrifices my predecessors made in order for me to live a more independent and fulfilling life—one with choices about education, family, career, and gender.
I don’t want this article to sound as if I’m bashing men in any way. Many men find their own roles in life difficult and daunting at times. As a matter of fact, I do not envy the males of our society, for I have often thanked God for making me female.
I do, however, want to applaud the strength, intelligence, discernment, commitment, pride, and sacrifice so many women have made throughout history as they forged path after path for those of us who followed them. The world still produces such women in every generation.
Women have long been assigned the roles of wife and mother. Though biology plays the major role in that regard, some women do not want husbands or children. For many generations, fathers and husbands owned their daughters and wives. Procreation and nurturing consumed most of these women’s time and energy.
For the women who fulfill these roles, I thank you. Yours is truly one of the most, if not the, most impactful influence on the world’s children. Some of you sacrificed your own dreams of education and career to ensure the health, happiness, and security of your children.
Before women could vote, their husbands expected them to stay silent about political and social matters. If the women did speak about such topics, they should echo the beliefs of their husbands. Even if men loved their wives, many of them considered their wives weaker than they— physically, emotionally, spiritually, intellectually, and politically. Beliefs such as these created marriages that lacked equality.
In March 1776, Abigail Adams wrote a letter to her husband John, who served as the Massachusetts representative to the Continental Congress in Philadelphia. Only weeks before, on March 17, the British had evacuated from Boston, a preliminary sign of the Revolutionary War’s eventual success. This letter shows Abigail as a woman of unusual boldness and insight, as she urges her husband to “remember the ladies” in an age when society viewed women in strictly domestic roles.
Although her husband might have intended humor in his response, he really reveals his attitude about women with voices and power. He wrote Abigail that men have “only the name of masters,” suggesting that women already “ruled” in their homes. He further said men would never give women suffrage because men would then be “completely subject to the despotism of the petticoat . . ..”
Abigail and John exchanged these letters in 1776, and the nineteenth amendment, which granted the right to vote to women, was not passed until 1920. If you have not seen the movie Iron-Jawed Angels, I recommend it as an excellent depiction of what many women sacrificed and suffered for the rights of all women.
Writing about and discussing gender roles is difficult in today’s society. Because culture assigns gender roles, breaking away from these norms can feel dangerous and painful. As a baby boomer, I was born shortly after WWII. During the war, vast numbers of men had to leave their homes and families to fight a war largely staged in Europe.
When all these men left their jobs at home, women had to step into jobs they had never previously considered. They became factory workers, engineers, truck drivers, bookkeepers, welders, farmers, and filled countless other jobs. These women not only discovered they could do the same work as men, but that they could also parent their children in the absence of their fathers.
When the war ended and the men came home, the men wanted and needed their jobs back. Imagine the chagrin of the women who were told to go home and make babies so the men could work and the women could replenish the population lost to the war. Today, this sounds preposterous, but it happened, and women did what they needed to do. But they had tasted independence and the pride of earning a living in dollars and cents. That taste ushered in the Women’s Movements that followed.
I find myself in a quandary today as men and women find it more and more difficult to draw the appropriate lines between themselves in the work place. However, the goal of equality between men and women must remain with the two sexes respecting each other for the uniqueness each possesses.
Nancy Patrick is a retired teacher who lives in Abilene and enjoys writing