6 Things Women Couldn't Do In 1920 That They Still Can't Do Today

by Eliza Castile
Alberto E. Rodriguez/Staff/Getty; Library of Congress

Americans like to think they've come a long way on gender equality. It's 2017 -- women can legally vote, sign up for credit cards, and terminate a pregnancy, although the latter has come under fire lately. What more could we want? As it turns out, the answer is "quite a bit." All too many things women couldn't do in 1920, the year the 19th Amendment was ratified by Congress, remain barred to them even in 2017.

Friday, Aug. 18, marks 97 years since women were granted the right to vote across the United States, rather than in a handful of states. Technically, the right was extended to all American women, but the reality was rather different. Native Americans were unable to vote until several years later, and women of color were forced to navigate a labyrinth of laws designed to prevent them from voting for decades afterward. As a result, the first female voters were primarily white, well-to-do women.

But voting isn't the only right for which women have fought (and continue to fight). Historically, married women have been forced to adopt their husbands' identities, from citizenship to finances. (Single women, meanwhile, were left under the "care" of male family members.) It wasn't until 1998 that the Food and Drug Administration approved the morning-after pill, and credit card companies required a husband's signature as recently as the 1970s.

The right to vote is obviously worth celebrating, so throw all the suffrage-themed parties you want this August. But while you're at it, remember that even today, women are still disenfranchised.


Easily Access Abortion

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Roe v. Wade made abortion legal in 1973, but that doesn't mean women can access the procedure. Ever since it was legalized, conservative politicians have fought to restrict women's ability to easily get an abortion by cutting funding to clinics and forcing impractical requirements on medical professionals. Last year, 14 states passed laws making it more difficult to get an abortion, and our current vice president is the man who declared war on Planned Parenthood years ago.


Take Guaranteed Paid Maternity Leave

In 2010, Australia passed legislation requiring companies to offer paid parental leave, and the United States became the last developed country to offer no such option. At this point, the U.S. is one of the worst countries in the entire world for paid maternity leave.

Although the Family Medical Leave Act of 1993 allows employees to keep their jobs for up to 12 weeks after the birth of a child, that time doesn't have to be paid. In fact, just 12 percent of private companies offer paid leave. It's a better situation than 1920, when family leave wasn't required at all, but things are still pretty dire.


Live With Their Boyfriend

Living with your boy- or girlfriend is common these days, but two states still criminalize unmarried cohabitation: Michigan and Mississippi. Despite some efforts to repeal it last year, Michigan's law appears to be in place:

"Any man or woman, not being married to each other, who lewdly and lasciviously associates and cohabits together, and any man or woman, married or unmarried, who is guilty of open and gross lewdness and lascivious behavior, is guilty of a misdemeanor punishable by imprisonment for not more than 1 year, or a fine of not more than $1,000."


Buy Sex Toys

The Comstock laws, passed in 1873, restricted the circulation of "Obscene Literature and Articles of Immoral Use." This was often use to suppress the use of contraception, but it extended to sex toys and erotica as well.

Believe it or not, the sale of sex toys is still regulated in some states today. In Georgia, ordinances require an educational or medical reason to purchase a sexual device, and in Texas, possessing or promoting the use of more than six dildos is banned. While sex toys can be used by people of all genders, they tend to be associated with women.


Receive Permanent Birth Control

Until the '70s, women needed their husband's permission to undergo tubal litigation, also known as having your tubes tied. Today, that's no longer the case, but doctors can (and frequently do) refuse to perform the procedure on young women. Often, their reasons imply that the women in question will change their mind and want a family later. Legally, doctors are free to refuse such procedures as long as their reasons are not based on religion or ethnicity.


Get Equal Rights Under The Law

In 1923, three years after women were granted the right to vote, feminists tried to pass the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) prohibiting discrimination based on gender. It didn't pass — and 94 years later, it still hasn't.

Currently, laws have been passed to prevent discrimination based on ethnicity, religion, or ability, but the ERA is notably missing from American legal protections. Some states (23, to be exact) have enacted laws to protect women, but the fight to pass the ERA continues even in 2017.