Women’s history was mostly unheard of in the K-12 curriculum in the public schools until the 1980s, when President Carter proclaimed March 8, 1981, National Women’s History Week.
Fourteen states embraced teaching the historical contributions of women, not without a fight, and, as the momentum grew, the week expanded into a Women’s History Month.
Students can now learn about Dr. Mae Jemison, the first black woman astronaut; Melba Patillo, one of the eight African-American students to integrate Little Rock; and Effie Hobby, 107 years old in 2004, who tells of what it was like to vote in the first U.S. presidential election open to women. Students can hear the words of 19th-century African-American Sojourner Truth, proclaiming, “Ain’t I a woman,” to the 1973 women’s fight in Roe v. Wade, challenging the courts for the right to control their own body, to Gerda Lerner who, as late as 1963, was finally able to offer the first regular college course in women’s history.
Progress has been made.
And though the Protections for Domestic Violence Act of 1994 lapsed a year and a half ago, President Obama made history Thursday by signing an expanded Protections for Domestic Violence Act into law. Since one in five women will be raped and/or sexually assaulted in her lifetime, one in three if she is in the military, the revitalized act assures victims the right to safety.
Lilly Ledbetter, one of the first female supervisors at the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co., sexually harassed and earning less than her male counterparts, brought legal action that resulted in the Lilly Ledbetter Act of 2009, a law that prohibits unequal pay for the same work.
In that same year, in our backyard, female Richland School District teachers were earning less than male teachers, resulting in a lesson that, when you pay men and women differently for the same job, you just might have to pay the $1 million settlement that Richland paid (“Richland settles lawsuit; 22 teachers will share $460,000,” Nov. 18, The Tribune-Democrat).
The list of female historical contributors is as endless as women’s time on earth.
Yet, despite Ledbetter, women still earn only 77 cents on the dollar, up from 58 cents in 1967, that men make, and they are 34 percent more likely to be impoverished in a country where poverty rates are higher than in most other high-income countries (Legal Momentum). At the current rate, it will take women 45 years to close the wage gap (Center for American Progress). Apparently, though helpful, laws are no guarantee of equality.
Pay for working mothers even lags 7 percent behind that of childless females.
More than 160 countries offer paid family leave (not just for women); the U.S., with the exception of a few states such as California, is not one of them. If taking care of children were considered an important societal function, the United States, like its European counterparts, would help families take care of them. (Maybe women should be paid for taking care of children.) Paid family leave would be a truer support of women than any policies against contraception and abortion.
If the worth of a society is measured by how well it treats its women, our society is lacking. We must push for the Paycheck Fairness Act, which builds on the Lilly Ledbetter Act, to make salaries transparent, to help equalize pay and to challenge the wage gap.
Two modern-day elected congressional females who should be recognized – Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) and Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) – are currently fighting for the Paycheck Fairness Act.
As the list of historical females continues to grow, we, as a thinking society, must continue the revolution to make a world in which all women are economically and physically protected.
Debra Taczanowsky of Richland Township is president of the Johnstown chapter, National Organization for Women.