It's no secret that 2017 has been a particularly painful year for women's rights in the United States. Worldwide women's marches in January, while certainly inspiring, also demonstrated that there exists an intensive concern among women (and men) about infringement on women's rights. That said, when reflecting on these current challenges, it's crucial to recognize how far the American women's movement has come in such a short amount of time. When you ponder the simple things women could not do even 50 years ago in the United States, it certainly conjures up deep appreciation for the advocates who so readily achieved change — but also, perhaps, intense frustration at the notion that women had to fight so hard for these basic rights.
Currently, the persistent threat of Planned Parenthood being federally defunded, not to mention the massively negative implications the proposed "Obamacare replacement bill" would have for women, represent some of the challenges that 2017 has presented for women. For example, Erica Sackin, the political communications director for the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, bluntly characterized the Republican health care bill as "the worst bill for women’s health in a generation.”
50 years ago was 1967, and women in the United States also had trouble accessing things like birth control or abortions. But they could also not engage in many activities which women in 2017 now do on a regular basis. The below examples reflect only some of these activities and endeavors, including categories as far-reaching as education, law, health, fitness, and banking. Life has changed for American women in a relatively short span of time, but it's clear that society and the law have sought — and still seek in some ways — to regulate women in all areas of life. Here are some things women in America couldn't do 50 years ago:
1. Serve On A Jury
Many women could not serve on juries 50 years ago. According to Marie Claire, women in many states were not approached for what is now considered standard civic duty for both sexes, as it was supposedly considered inappropriate to ask women to leave the home and/or view graphic courtroom images. Women were not universally permitted to serve on juries until 1973, when a federal law was passed that allowed them to do so countrywide.
2. Get A Credit Card
Women could not get a credit card in their own name until 1974, when the Equal Opportunity Act was passed. Married women needed their husband's signature in order to secure a card and single women were, unfortunately, pretty much out of luck.
3. Easily Accessible Birth Control
The birth control pill was approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 1960. However, all American women were not guaranteed access to the pill until 1972, when a Supreme Court case, Baird v. Eisenstadt, established that married people and unmarried people have the same and equal right to access contraception. The case overturned a Massachusetts law prohibiting the distribution of contraception to unmarried individuals.
4. Run The Boston Marathon
Women were prohibited from running in the Boston Marathon until 1972, when marathon organizers officially changed the rules to allow women to participate. Prior to the rule change, women lobbied race organizers for years to change the policy — and also "illegally" ran the marathon several times prior to 1972 in hopes of securing this change.
5. Buy Women's Athletic Shoes
Speaking of fitness, women were also not able to buy athletic shoes specifically designed for women until the 1980s, when Reebok produced its first shoe specifically designed for female runners. Prior to that point, women had to make do with athletic shoes designed for men.
6. Have The Option Of Attending Co-Ed Ivy League School
50 years ago women were still barred from attending most Ivy League schools as undergrads, with the University of Pennsylvania and Cornell University (which admitted women in the late 1800s) being the notable exceptions. Several Ivy League schools, like Harvard and Columbia, did have affiliated women's colleges — Radcliffe for Harvard and Barnard for Columbia. However, Harvard and Columbia did not become co-educational until 1979 (when Harvard and Radcliffe merged) and 1981 (when Columbia officially became co-educational and Barnard still remained a women's college). Yale and Princeton, the former of which had less-direct affiliations with formerly all-women's college, Vassar, did not allow women's admission until 1969.
7. Keep Their Job If They Became Pregnant
Until the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 was passed, women could technically still be fired by their employer if they became pregnant. The 1978 law mandated that employers could not discriminate “on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions."
8. Attend A Military Academy Or Fight In Combat
Women were not permitted to attend military academies, like West Point, until 1976. Interestingly, women were not allowed to fight in combat until nearly 40 years later, when, in 2013, Secretary of Defense Leon E. Panetta overturned a Pentagon rule banning women from combat.
9. Practice Law
Women could still technically be barred from practicing law until 1971, when a U.S. Supreme Court ruling (Reed v. Reed) finally made it illegal for states to prohibit women from practicing law.
10. Refuse Sex With Their Husbands
Shockingly, all women in America could not legally refuse sex with their husbands until 1993, when marital rape was outlawed nationwide.
11. Legally Obtain An Abortion
Roe v. Wade, the U.S. Supreme Court case which prohibited states from outlawing or regulating abortions during a woman's first trimester of pregnancy, was not decided until 1973, meaning that, prior to then, American women were not legally guaranteed the right to have an abortion in the United States. While acquiring an abortion is certainly not a "simple" task (as the title of this article may suggest), having the legal right to do so is something that many think of as a given now. But that was not the case less than 50 years ago.
12. Take A Stand Against Sexual Harassment
Sexual harassment was not considered a legal offense until 1977, when a woman brought her boss to court for firing her after she refused his sexual advances — and won. However, according to Bustle, the Supreme Court still did not hold companies financially liable for sexual harassment until over 10 years later, in 1988.
13. Take Legally-Mandated Maternity Leave
Astonishingly, American women were not legally guaranteed any type of maternity leave until 1993, when the Clinton administration passed the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA). However, the FMLA has very specific stipulations about qualifications for maternity leave, which, according to Tech Republic, only cover around 59 percent of women. Moreover, FMLA only guarantees women unpaid maternity leave. There are still no laws in the United States that guarantee American women paid maternity leave.
While this list is likely frustrating for many, hopefully it will also provide some inspiration for those presently fighting for women's equality, since it offers evidence that change can indeed occur.