Tomorrow, May 3, is my youngest daughter’s birthday. She was born in 1975, when I was 22 years old. While I love my daughter dearly, I wasn’t happy to find out I was pregnant again. My second child was only six months old when I got that news, and I cried for more than three months. Every day. Sobs, not just tears.
On my birthday that year, when Emily was three weeks old, I cried all night long. I remember at the time feeling like all I would ever do was be pregnant and have babies. I had been married less than 4 years and I had three children. I had my tubes tied while I was still in the hospital after she was born, but it was a struggle to get my husband to agree to let me have it done. He wanted me to have one more child, and I had no desire for more. I told him I wouldn’t go home from the hospital with him if I didn’t have it done.
Yes, back in 1975, you had to have your husband’s permission to have a tubal ligation. In 1969, you had to have your husband’s permission to take birth control pills. We as women have come a long long way.
I can remember when I was in elementary school, junior high, and high school, girls were not allowed to wear pants to school. If you got pregnant while you were still in high school, you had to quit school. You were no longer allowed to go to school. You also couldn’t continue to go to high school if you got married before graduation.
When I started working at Southern Bell, in 1970, women were required to wear dresses to work. I remember the day one of my co-workers showed up to work in pant suit, to challenge the dress code set up by the company. All eyes were on her as she was escorted out of the office by two managers. She was sent home without pay because she wore pants to work. One of our co-workers, who was an adult but was not married, got pregnant. She was fired, and told that her health insurance wouldn’t pay for the birth of her child. That was in 1971. If you were married and got pregnant, lots of companies did not have to let you come back to your job.
Once when I was looking for a job in 1977, I was interviewed by a man. I had been looking for work for two years. I started looking when Emily was three months old, and she was well over two years old at the time. Oneof my very good friends had been babysitting for free while I looked for work, because she knew I would start paying her as soon as I started getting a paycheck.
On this particular interview, the guy asked me who was going to take care of my children if they were sick. I asked him “Do you ask men who you interview that question?” He replied “No, because men don’t have the primary responsibility of taking care of their children.” I was qualified in every way for that job, but I didn’t get it because I had children.
When I try to tell my own daughters what it was like being female while I was growing up and as a young adult, they find it hard to believe. I definitely feel that my daughters have a better world than we did back then, but things could still be better for women. If you are older, like me, what were some of the things you faced as a woman over the years that are different now? If you are a younger woman, what changes for women’s rights would you like to see in your lifetime?