When Women Weren't People

 I’ve been spending some time with teenagers and young adult women lately and it’s become obvious that most of them don’t have any idea of their own gender’s history.   It’s difficult for many young women today to imagine there was a time when women couldn’t vote, own property, or keep the money they earned or have their own bank accounts. The public education system being somewhat compromised in most states, saddled with test-taking rote education and electronic googling of facts, most of which are forgotten within 15 minutes and surely within 15 days, the historical struggles of women for equality are mostly forgotten by the right now generation. But, it wasn’t that long ago, and many of the effects of being second class citizens, which is what women were, are still around in many practices and places today.  Going back, and not all that far, takes us to Handmaid’s Tale territory and worse. Women had few legal rights in most countries, including the US, until the 1850s.  They, and any property they owned, became the property of their husbands when they married, and were under their father’s jurisdiction prior to that.  It wasn’t just the law, but the revered churches and esteemed “scientists”, including Sigmund Freud, who deemed women to be unfit to manage themselves.

I’ve been spending some time with teenagers and young adult women lately and it’s become obvious that most of them don’t have any idea of their own gender’s history.

 It’s difficult for many young women today to imagine there was a time when women couldn’t vote, own property, or keep the money they earned or have their own bank accounts. The public education system being somewhat compromised in most states, saddled with test-taking rote education and electronic googling of facts, most of which are forgotten within 15 minutes and surely within 15 days, the historical struggles of women for equality are mostly forgotten by the right now generation. But, it wasn’t that long ago, and many of the effects of being second class citizens, which is what women were, are still around in many practices and places today.

Going back, and not all that far, takes us to Handmaid’s Tale territory and worse. Women had few legal rights in most countries, including the US, until the 1850s.

They, and any property they owned, became the property of their husbands when they married, and were under their father’s jurisdiction prior to that.  It wasn’t just the law, but the revered churches and esteemed “scientists”, including Sigmund Freud, who deemed women to be unfit to manage themselves.

Force_feeding_Suffragette_in_Prison.jpg

Women were “earthy” (deemed so because they were smaller and therefore closer to the earth), temptresses who led men into sin, should suffer in childbirth in payment for the carnal sin that led them to become pregnant in the first place. They had smaller heads than men, and therefore were not as intelligent. Women are ruled by their emotions, medicine said, and lost their heads, as well as their ability to make decisions every month when they bled, losing too many nutrients.  Hysteria was their lot, (from the word “hyster” which means “womb”), and being locked up in insane asylums was considered to be the correct cure for any woman who was disagreeable, depressed or upset. This practice died out in the 1920s, but still surfaces now and again in one form or another, disguised with many names.

It was not until the early 1900s in the US that all the states allowed women to own property, and not until 1920 that women could vote.  In Ireland, it wasn’t until 1976 that women were allowed to own property by themselves.

Women now have legally the rights they deserve, and “to obey” isn’t in most marriage ceremonies anymore, although it does hang on in some. But, thousands of years of thinking completely the opposite by men (who still seem to be in charge of just about everything), is a hard nut to crack, no matter how enlightened most are. There are plenty of misogynists out there, of all different stripes – religious, political, and cultural. I think of racism as a river of hatred that runs underground, occasionally spilling over its banks and becoming visible, much more so lately, and misogynism is exactly the same, erupting with domestic violence, rapes and the silliness of having women’s reproductive and health care debated by men in power. It’s a holdover, even if not consciously recognized as such, of the bad old days. Time is passing, but not fast enough. Let’s speed it up, get rid of it forever, but know how it began, and never forget what was.

Raven

#equality #metoo #suffragettes #womenshistory #misogyny